NO ACCIDENT – Review by Liz Braun

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No Accident is a shocking film. The HBO documentary from director Kristi Jacobson examines the legal aftermath of the 2017 white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman died and dozens were injured.

The film connects the dots among various acts of U.S. violence backed by white supremacists; this is a bewildering and infuriating document about the state of the union.

In August, 2017, members of various alt-right groups — neo-fascists, neo-nazis, KKK types etc. — gathered in Charlottesville for purposes of mayhem. The infamous tiki torch parade through the grounds of the University of Virginia drew the nation’s attention.

The next day, August 12, a self-declared white supremacist drove into a peaceful group of counter-protesters, injuring 30 people and killing 32 year old Heather Heyer.

Then-president Donald Trump then threw gasoline on the fire with his gobsmacking, “very fine people on both sides” speech.

New York lawyer Roberta Kaplan describes herself as a hardened litigator but says in No Accident that she was shocked by what she saw unfold in Charlottesville — and by Trump’s speech. Convinced nothing much would be done about it, especially as Jeff Sessions was U.S. Attorney General at the time, Kaplan enlisted fellow lawyer Karen Dunn and together they filed a civil lawsuit against 17 white nationalist leaders and organizations on behalf of nine plaintiffs.

(Some 50 extremist groups are said to have been represented at Charlottesville.)

The suit claimed that white supremacist organizations present in Charlottesville were part of an organized movement that had spelled out in advance their intent to cause chaos. As well, participants were to try to pass off any violence they caused as acts of self-defence.

Using the defendants’ phone records and on-line communications, the lawyers built their case, despite the delays and restrictions that Covid imposed. No Accident fills in details about some of the unprepossessing figures in the world o’ white supremacy — Richard Spencer, Matthew Heimback, Christopher Cantwell — and gives them enough rope simply by showing their depositions.

Several of the plaintiffs are also featured, including Liz Sines, April Muniz, Natalie Romero, Devin Willis and Marissa Blair; they address the horror and violence they faced during the events in Charlottesville.

Legal proceedings fold animated segments into the movie, as Covid restrictions meant no cameras in the courtroom.

Although a jury finds that there was indeed a conspiracy involved in the events in Charlottesville and awarded millions in damages, No Accident is not exactly a tale of victory.

Jurors could not reach a verdict on two separate federal conspiracy charges (under the KKK Act) related to whether organizers conspired to commit racially motivated violence.

The hate speech, racism, anti-semitism and general ignorance on display in No Accident are beyond disturbing. None of that has gone away.

The film meanders a bit but nonetheless presents a handful of terrifying little moments: the offhand references to the security issues faced by the lawyers, who had to consider the physical safety of their families before taking on this case; lawyer Michael Bloch saying in passing, during jury selection, that the most surprising thing to him was hearing how many people were legitimately concerned about racism against white people; Dr. Deborah Lipstadt (an Emory University history professor who gave expert testimony on antisemitism at the trial) explaining white replacement theory.

Then there’s the fact that you can draw a straight line from Charlottesville to U.S. synagogue shootings and the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This is hair-raising material that suggests none of us should ever sleep well again. Besides Charlottesville, there were recent white supremacy killings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, not to mention the Tree of Life Synagogue deaths and the El Paso Walmart shooting —how do you keep track?

Domestic terrorism and right wing extremism are on the rise. No Accident should be shown in schools — children need to see what it means to stand up to hate.

The film is on HBO Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 9 p.m.

Let your children stay up late to watch it.

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.