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A Former Far-Right Extremist Testified About How “Unite The Right” Rally Organizers Planned For A Racial Holy War

Samantha Froelich said she overheard white nationalists discussing “right-wing death squads” for the 2017 Charlottesville rally and the legality of using cars as weapons against counterprotesters.

Posted on November 2, 2021, at 3:27 p.m. ET

Ryan M. Kelly / AP

People fly into the air as a vehicle is driven into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.

Right-wing death squads and RaHoWa. The OK hand gesture and “see Kyle.” Soldering weapons to flag poles and debating whether they could legally ram counterprotesters with vehicles if they got in their way.

A former extremist on Tuesday gave the jury a crash course on white supremacist terminology and codes, and she provided frightening insight into one of the alt-right groups being sued in federal court as the “Unite the Right” civil trial in Charlottesville continued into a second week. Her deposition was followed by testimony from one of the neo-Nazi defendants, who discussed the monthslong planning effort for the deadly rally that included his failed attempts to draw in other hate groups from around the world.

Those developments followed a wild first week in court in which a contentious jury selection went a day longer than expected, defendants representing themselves in court went off the rails, and the first plaintiff to testify gave an emotional account of being run over by a sports car driven by one of the white supremacists she’s suing for damages in the landmark case.

The lawsuit, brought by civil rights nonprofit Integrity First for America on behalf of nine plaintiffs who were attacked by “Unite the Right” rallygoers on Aug. 11–12, 2017, alleges 24 white supremacists and groups conspired to commit violence motivated by racial animus. The plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages that they and civil rights groups hope will dismantle and stop violent extreme-right movements. The trial is expected to go through Nov. 19.

On Tuesday, the plaintiffs played for the court a video deposition of Samantha Froelich, a former member of Identity Evropa who was the live-in girlfriend of defendant Elliott Kline through much of 2017. Kline, who also goes by the name Eli Mosley, and Identity Evropa are defendants in the case. Identity Evropa was founded in 2016 by Marine Corps veteran Nathan Damigo, another defendant. The organization aimed to recruit “white, college-aged men and transform them into the fashionable new face of white nationalism,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Froelich described Identity Evropa’s recruitment methods and strategies employed to attract its members.

“When you’re interviewing someone, make sure that the room is clean. Speak with eloquence. Don’t use racial slurs in public,” she said, describing the instructions that she was given. “They wanted to look presentable, they wanted... I would say that it was like being wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Froelich said she interviewed hundreds of Identity Evropa prospects. She said the group’s members often used code words, phrases, and hand signals instead of explicit racist and violent language and symbols to avoid turning off applicants.

“See Kyle” meant "Sieg heil," she explained, and was usually followed by a subtle Nazi salute toward someone in the distance was “a way to 'Sieg heil' in plain day.” The common “OK” hand gesture was a way of covertly identifying a fellow white nationalist.

A successful tactic for luring people into Identity Evropa and fascism more generally was using offensive humor, Froelich said.

“They say, 'It’s just a joke' … [but] they are not jokes. It’s a cover. It’s how you get away with saying what you actually think by using a light tone,” she explained, adding that it created “plausible deniability” about the group’s racist and antisemitic views.

Inside the group, Identity Evropa members were more explicit about what they believed and wanted, Froelich said. She testified that Kline, who worked at a pest control company at the time they lived together, liked to call himself an “unironic exterminationist” and a “Judenator,” as in Jew hunter.

“He wished he was killing Jews instead of cockroaches,” Froelich said. “We once went to my hometown, and he was upset that he couldn’t oven all the Jews… He was excited about killing Jewish people.”

Steve Helber / AP

Mourners gather for a moment of silence at the memorial for Heather Heyer, who was killed during the "Unite the Right" rally in 2017.

She also said that the group’s leadership spoke openly about their infatuation with fascism and violent aims. Kline and others in Identity Evropa, she testified, dreamed about creating an all-white ethnostate and were inspired by The Turner Diaries, a novel written by William Luther Pierce about a violent revolution that leads to the downfall of the US government and a race war that sees all people of color hung by ropes from lampposts.

She said they also held up as a “martyr” and a “saint” the mass murderer Dylann Roof, who killed nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Froelich said Kline and Identity Evropa regularly spoke about RaHoWar, or a racial holy war, including in the context of the “Unite the Right” rally while they were planning it. Kline, she said, saw the event as “his chance to lead white people into battle.”

“In his mind, this was the start of RaHoWa,” she added. “He wanted that war. He wanted to prove he was a good general.”

Froelich testified that she first became aware of the “Unite the Right” rally plans via a post on the messaging platform Discord from white supremacist defendant Jason Kessler. Kline and others representing several alt-right and neo-Nazi groups soon joined in. In preparation for the August rally in Charlottesville, Froelich said she heard about “right-wing death squads” — neo-Nazi groups who seek violence — being organized.

“Anytime there was an event with a need for security or something would happen, someone would say, ‘Yeah, right-wing death squads are coming,’” Froelich said.

Froelich said she also met Richard Spencer at a smaller Charlottesville event in May 2017 and engaged in a sexual relationship with him. That closeness led to her being invited to events with Spencer and other white nationalist leaders. At a party at Spencer's home one night, she said, “Unite the Right” organizers discussed whether it was legal to hit counterprotesters with a car.

At the rally weeks later, one white nationalist, James Fields, rammed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other people.

Froelich didn’t attend “Unite the Right” because, she said, she believed it would be violent; she hoped the city would shut down the rally. After the event, Kline returned back to their home in Leesburg, Virginia, and told her about himself, “Your boyfriend is a fucking war hero.”

Her testimony could help persuade jurors who must ultimately decide whether a racially motivated violent conspiracy existed ahead of the Charlottesville event.

Amy Spitalnick, Integrity First for America’s executive director, tweeted at the conclusion of Froelich’s video testimony that “Samantha’s deposition perfectly illustrates the vile hate and clear intent for violence at [Unite the Right].”

Following Froelich, the plaintiffs called defendant Matthew Heimbach as a witness. Heimbach is a neo-Nazi who led the Traditionalist Worker Party at the time of the “Unite the Right” rally. The SPLC describes it as “a neo-Nazi group that advocated for racially pure nations and communities and blamed Jews for many of the world’s problems.”

Heimbach told the court about his infatuation with Adolf Hitler, even saying that when his son was born and opened his eyes the first thought he had as a father was about the former German dictator. Heimbach offered a detailed view of his views and his organization, which he said was “inspired” by various fascist regimes.

Heimbach, who was hostile and uncooperative at times while being questioned by the plaintiffs’ attorney Karen Dunn, admitted to providing white supremacists from his Traditionalist Worker Party with shields at “Unite the Right.”

Dunn read aloud to the court conversations between Heimbach and another white nationalist in which they discussed preparations for the rally on Aug. 11 and 12, 2017, in Charlottesville.

“If we don’t take the park, it’s over before it began,” Heimbach wrote in a Discord message to another man ahead of the event.

Dunn pressed him to admit to that being evidence of a plan for violence against antiracists counterprotesters, but Heimbach argued that it suggested self-defense.

Dunn asked Heimbach about another Discord message that seemed to suggest the potential existence of a conspiracy among the white supremacists to commit violence at the rally. “Best to leave sensitive planning to voice whenever possible,” read the message. Heimbach also suggested switching to Signal, where messages would be encrypted and disappear.

Dunn noted to the court that Heimbach didn’t turn over any Signal messages as evidence in the case.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.