25 million reasons to be thankful in Charlottesville, where there’s accountability for hate

Two days before Thanksgiving, a civil jury in Charlottesville, Virginia, found white supremacists liable under state law for conspiring to organize a violent “Unite the Right” rally-turned-riot that left one woman dead and dozens injured in 2017.

It has been a long and sorrowful four years. And in many ways, we are more divided as a nation than we were on that fateful weekend when white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and white supremacists took to the streets of idyllic Charlottesville to spew hate.Along the way, they maimed and killed.

Remember, this was a planned event to protest the decision to remove a statue of white supremacist and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the public square. They carried torches, stirring disturbing imagery of past mob lynchings and Ku Klux Klan rallies. Their actions were intentional. They wanted to send a message.

At the memorial for Heather Heyer, who died during the "Unite the Right" rally in 2017.

And as hundreds of them marched through the streets, they chanted:

“You will not replace us.” 

“One people, one nation, end immigration.”

“Blood and soil.”

“Our streets.”

“White lives matter.”

“Jews will not replace us.”

Those weren’t chants about a monument. They weren’t there to challenge the removal of a statue. They were there to lay claim to their America – their white,Christian America. They were there to proudly wear their racism on their sleeves.

And now they will pay.

Every single penny of the more than $25 million the jury awarded in punitive damages to those counter-protesters who were injured sends a much-needed signal in America: Racist and repulsive actions will be held to account.

Memorial for Heather Heyer at scene of her death in Charlottesville, Va.

“This case has sent a clear message: Violent hate won’t go unanswered. There will be accountability,” said Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, an organization that organized the civil lawsuit.

Our country needed some closure and healing. I couldn’t think of a better week to find it. And for that I am thankful.

National columnist/deputy opinion editor Suzette Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board. Contact her at shackney@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @suzyscribe

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