Key to White Supremacists' Lingo: the Guise of Humor

Charlottesville trial includes testimony about the strategy
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 19, 2021 9:12 AM CST
Key to White Supremacists' Lingo: the Guise of Humor
A file photo of white nationalist Richard Spencer, who is defending himself in the civil trial.   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

The Kyle Rittenhouse and Ahmaud Arbery trials aren't the only cases involving volatile race issues winding down at the moment. Jurors in Charlottesville, Virginia, begin deliberations Friday in a civil trial over the deadly violence that broke out at the Unite the Right rally in 2017, reports CNN. Details:

  • The suit: In the trial, nine people injured in the violence are suing 14 white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacist groups, per the AP. They allege that rally organizers conspired ahead of time to foment violence. Prominent alt-right figures including Christopher Cantwell (the "crying Nazi,") Jason Kessler, and Richard Spencer are among those being sued.

  • In court: Closing arguments in particular were wild, as USA Today encapsulates in its opening paragraph: "One defendant compared himself to Jesus. Another ranted and showed videos of protesters chanting, 'White lives matter.' A lawyer played a five-minute neo-Nazi propaganda video." (The Jesus comparison came from Spencer, who is defending himself. He also cited in court former President Trump's statement that there were "very fine people on both sides.")
  • Defendants: Generally, the defendants and their attorneys are using a number of arguments: They deny any organized "conspiracy"; even if their statements are vile, they are protected by the First Amendment; they thought there might be scuffles and fights but nothing deadly. James Kolenich, who is representing Kessler and two others, told the jury: "Hearing all this testimony or hearing all this from the plaintiffs, I want you to say, 'So what.'" The injuries suffered by the plaintiffs "don't prove a conspiracy."
  • Plaintiffs: Amy Spitalnick of Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization that is supporting the lawsuit, counters: "Our plaintiffs have provided overwhelming evidence that Unite the Right was never intended to be a peaceful protest—rather, it was a meticulously planned weekend of racist, antisemitic violence."
  • Humor strategy: The Washington Post notes that jurors learned how white supremacists deliberately cloak violent rhetoric in humor. One researcher who testified called attention to guidelines via the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer: "The tone of the site should be light. Most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, nonironic hatred. The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not." It adds, with a derogatory reference to Jewish people: "This is obviously a ploy and I actually do want to gas k---s. But that’s neither here nor there." The idea, says the researcher, is that they can talk about violence but later play it off as a joke.
  • Coded language: Along those lines, the juror also heard how white supremacists used phrases such as "RaHoWa,” which translates to "racial holy war" as well as the innocuous-sounding "Did you see Kyle?" which is a play on “Sieg Heil.”
(More Charlottesville, Va. stories.)

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