Just over a year ago, hundreds of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Va. for a rally. By the end of the day, one woman was killed after a man ran his car through a crowd of counter-protesters. Even more were injured. Today, two women are leading the court battle against that man and the rally organizers.
“It’s the first—or at least the first famous—criminal conspiracy that happened online,” said Robbie Kaplan, founding partner of law firm Kaplan, Hecker & Fink. “Because technology can be both a blessing and a curse, as we all know, one of the things it did is it allowed them to coordinate on a scale they never had before.”
This allowed Kaplan and Karen Dunn, partner at law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, to comb through messages relating to the organization and planning of the rally on chat server Discord to identify the leaders, and eventually name defendants in the case, the pair explained Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Dunn and Kaplan represent 12 people who were affected, including University of Virginia students who were attacked the Friday before the rally when they were surrounded by white supremacists who threw tiki torches at them. Four of Dunn and Kaplan’s clients were injured by the car that James Alex Fields Jr. drove into counter-protestors, including Marcus Martin, who saved his then-fiancée, now-wife by pushing her out of the car’s way. The incident was captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.
The work comes with risks, however. Kaplan and Dunn told a ballroom of executives that they’ve since faced harassment and have needed to take security measures as they move forward with the case.
“There are a lot of things you can attack me on,” Kaplan said. “I’m an open lesbian. I won this big gay rights case. I’m a New Yorker. I’m a woman. I’m a lawyer. You name them—the list goes on and on. But the number-one thing that clearly focused the attention of these defendants, and has been the focus of the attacks on me, is anti-Semitism.”
“I had to ask my husband: ‘What do you think? Should I do it?'” Dunn said. “And he said: ‘You can’t not do it.'”
On the same day that the women spoke at the Fortune summit, four men were charged with violating a federal rioting law in connection to the events in Charlottesville. Kaplan and Dunn said their case will go to trial.
“There’s no settlement to be had,” Dunn said. “What sort of settlement can you imagine would be had with the white supremacists who delivered such violence to the people in Charlottesville, including our plaintiffs, all of whom were injured by what happened here, some of them very grievously?”