I’m about to indulge in what the late, great Greg Peters called “lazy quoting of better writers.” Nobody does legal analysis better than Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick:
In no small part because the trial was not broadcast—listeners could instead dial in to a line capped at 500 participants—there was no platform to amplify and rebroadcast the Nazism that the defendants sought to display. To be sure, some of the white supremacists did their best to drum up publicity during the trial, appearing on each other’s podcasts and threatening to dox the witnesses, but for the most part, their racism as expressed in court was puerile and dumb (yawn-inducing references to Mein Kampf and dropping the N-word). While some of the defendants tried to liken themselves to Jesus Christ and other free speech martyrs, nobody will walk away from Sines v Kessler with the sense that the jury found them to be first amendment paragons. They were tagged, every one, as cut-rate Nazis, which renders them both unsympathetic, but more importantly, uninteresting.
Some of the most shocking days of the defendants’ antics at trial proved to be about as riveting as seventh period health class at a middle school. Even as they mounted a chaotic and undisciplined defense, they unerringly seemed to prioritize personal fame and branding over argument and analysis. In the end they achieved neither fame nor branding nor analysis. The message was ultimately both contained in the theater of public opinion, and condemned roundly by the jury. The jury saw them for what they were: sad little violent white men begging for relevance if nothing else. They failed even at that.
The Charlottesville Nazi civil case is an excellent argument for NOT televising trials. We were obliged to read about the uncivil antics of the defendants in this civil case instead of watching them. That led to muted coverage of the trial, which was a good thing. Who wants these cretins to have a forum for their bigotry and half-baked Nazi notions? Shock value is what televising the case would have provided. If you want shock value, watch Tucker Carlson.
I’m not always against televising trials, but prefer it be decided on a case-by-case basis. Cameras tend to evoke emotional responses both inside and outside the courtroom. They tend to inflate the importance of a given case. A recent example of this phenomenon was the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. It was a case with no precedential value in Wisconsin or anywhere else. The media coverage degenerated into another episode of Own The Libs Theatre. Unfortunately, the libs took the bait and made the case more significant than it should have been.
The featured image is of one of my legal heroes, Justice Robert Jackson as he gave the opening argument in the first Nuremberg Trial. That was a case about real Nazis, real war criminals, not the bargain basement Nazis who were found liable for damages in the Charlottesville civil case.
It remains astonishing to me that any American can style themselves a Nazi. We fought and won a war against the Nazis. The uncle I never knew died fighting them,
I have a theory as to why American losers are attracted to the biggest loser of all, Adolf Hitler. It’s all in the imagery. The Nazis were masters at staging epic, mock-heroic images. It’s all there in Triumph Of The Will, which was the apogee of Nazi propaganda at its most artistic. Goebbels, Riefenstahl, and Speer were masters of illusion and made that 1934 Nuremberg rally look like a lost part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
The Nazis gift for imagery is why the best way to learn about that horrible period in history is to read about it. The untutored viewer is apt to be sucked in by Nazi stagecraft despite all the images of the Holocaust out there. They’re so shocking as to be written off as fakes by your basic American Nazi even though the Nuremberg defendants believed them to be real. They were much smarter than modern American Nazis. Who isn’t?
I also think that the use of Nazi imagery by anti-Vaxxers and other wingnuts is part of their ongoing campaign to own the libs. What’s more outrageous than wearing a Yellow Star to protest COVID restrictions? Substance is meaningless to the pro-Trump extremist right, style is everything. Owning the libs is more important than the truth.
The last word goes to Robert Jackson with an argument for accountability and the rule of law:
The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.