Jeff Pillets, a longtime New Jersey reporter, has started a new job as deputy director of research at Integrity First for America, a group that recently filed a federal lawsuit against neo-Nazis and white supremacists who terrorized and harmed residents of Charlottesville, Virginia during the violent marches of August 11-12, 2017, violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and various other statutes.
Pillets was previously an investigative reporter and Statehouse correspondent for North Jersey Media Group and the Bergen Record.
The lawsuit was filed by residents of Charlottesville, including a Christian minister, University of Virginia students, and others who were injured as a result of events planned and executed by neo-Nazis and white supremacists during the weekend of August 11-12.
Two of the plaintiffs had their legs broken when the car driven by defendant James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio crashed into civilians on 12 August, when hundreds of white nationalists convened in Charlottesville to protest against the removal of a statue of Gen Robert E Lee, who had fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the US Civil War.
These groups, which include the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and other white supremacy organisations, coalesced under a banner of the so-called “alt-right” movement. They were challenged by anti-fascist and counter-protesters and the rally erupted into violent clashes.
Defendants in the civil action include over twenty-five prominent white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and hate groups that planned and executed the events of August 11-12.
Among the individual defendants are Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Christopher Cantwell, and Fields, who was charged with the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The League of the South and the Traditionalist Worker Party are two of the hate groups named as defendants.
Pillets spent over 20 years as an investigative reporter in New Jersey writing about corruption and pay-to-play politics.
Heading a team of reporters at The Record, Pillets was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2008 for stories revealing how taxpayers lost $50 million in a doomed plan to build a luxury golf village on trash dumps in the Meadowlands. The stories led to several investigations, criminal indictments, and new state laws.
Pillets also detailed how the Kushner family rose to political power by channeling political donations through a real estate empire of strip malls and garden apartments.
Pillets’ work has won numerous honors, including citations from the Associated Press Managing Editors and Society of Environmental Journalists and the New York Deadline Club’s Daniel Pearl Award for Investigative Reporting.
Plaintiffs in the anti-Nazi lawsuit are represented by nationally-renowned attorneys Robbie Kaplan and Karen Dunn.
Kaplan is best known for defeating the so-called Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court with her client Edith Windsor. She is the founding partner of Kaplan & Company, LLP.
Dunn is an experienced trial attorney who served as a federal prosecutor in Virginia. She is a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP. This is the first time that Kaplan and Dunn have worked together.
According to the complaint, the defendants “conspired to plan, promote, and carry out the violent events in Charlottesville….[T]hey have joined together for the purpose of inciting violence and instilling fear.” The suit states, “the violence in Charlottesville was no accident.”
The case, filed in the United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, is a project of Integrity First for America (IFA), a new nonprofit organization dedicated to defending democratic norms and ensuring equal rights for every American.
The organization is headquartered in a small office in the Empire State Building, a fitting site for its ambitions of holding the Trump administration accountable and combating what it sees as the erosion of democratic norms in the United States.
“We cannot in this country normalize the acts of racists and Nazis,” said IFA Board Chair Monica Graham. “Dr. Nathan Rutsein said, ‘Prejudice is an emotional commitment to ignorance.’ Americans are better than that.”
“IFA is proud to be working with Robbie Kaplan and Karen Dunn to bring this historic case on behalf of the people of Charlottesville,” said Executive Director Ambia Harper. “IFA was founded to protect our democracy through public awareness and litigation. This is our first lawsuit. In the months ahead, we will continue to use the laws on the books to strengthen longstanding principles of our democracy.”
“Hate groups are a growing and real threat to our democracy,” said IFA Communications Director Brett Edkins. “This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about left and right. White supremacists and neo-Nazis are traitors to our most basic values. What they did in Charlottesville was domestic terrorism, plain and simple.”
For more information about IFA, visit www.integrityfirstforamerica.org.
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