What Really Happened at Charlottesville, Part II – American Renaissance

F. Roger Devlin, American Renaissance, October 15, 2021

Source: What Really Happened at Charlottesville, Part II

Anne Wilson Smith, Charlottesville Untold: Inside the Unite the Right Rally, Shotwell Publishing, 2021, 396 pages, $24.95 paperback, $5.00 e-version from publisher.

Part I can be found here.

On the evening after police cancelled the rally, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe held a press conference and said:

I have a message to all the White supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth . . . . You came here today to hurt people, and you did hurt people . . . . But my message is clear. We are stronger than you. You will not succeed . . . . There is no place for you here. There is no place for you in America.

As Mrs. Smith writes, the Governor’s remarks were outrageous for at least five reasons:

  • His characterization of Unite the Right attendees as “White supremacists and Nazis” that was sure to inflame ire against all participants.
  • His assertion that the citizens whom he disfavors should not be allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to assemble and speak.
  • His order that protesters “go home” when in fact many attendees were from Virginia, and at any rate he has no right to close Virginia to residents of other states.
  • His unjustified accusation that attendees “wanted to hurt people.”
  • Worst of all was: “There is no place for you in America.” McAuliffe was proposing the cultural cleansing of political enemies, many of whom want only to protect their culture and history. If these people have no right to exist in America, what is to be done with them?

The word “bias” does not begin to capture the character of media reports: They portrayed the victims as aggressors and the aggressors as victims. The general tone can be gathered from headlines:

“Charlottesville Reels After a White Supremacist Rally Turns Deadly” – Politico

“Shocking Photos from the Violent White Supremacist Rally in Charlottesville” – BuzzFeed News

“How A White Power Rally in Charlottesville Turned Deadly” – The Daily Beast

“Ted Cruz Condemns Charlottesville Terror: ‘The Nazis, the KKK and White Supremacists are Repulsive and Evil’ “ – PJ Media

“Terror in Charlottesville: Woman killed as car rams into anti-racist protesters at White nationalist rally” – Salon

“Two Virginia State Troopers Killed in Helicopter Crash Tied to White Supremacist Rally” – Fox News

The crash was due to mechanical failure and happened five hours after the rally was stopped.

Everywhere, the impression was that Unite the Right attendees were violent fanatics. Many stories did not even mention that the rally was to defend the Lee statue; readers were left to assume that the only purpose was “white supremacy” or “Nazism.”

For his own safety, Kessler spent the evening after the rally at a family member’s home, watching the day’s events as reported by Fox news.

He called a reporter he knew who was with the Fox affiliate in Charlottesville, Doug McKelway, to ask for an opportunity to address the public. McKelway informed him that the station had deemed him “too toxic” to be allowed on air. Kessler . . . suggest[ed] they put him in a contentious setting, such as on an opinion show like Tucker Carlson, so it would not appear the station was sympathetic to him. “I don’t care if they want to yell at me. I can take it. I just want a chance to speak.” McKelway said he would pass along the suggestion. Kessler never heard back.

Pres. Trump speaks

Many of Pres. Trump’s detractors complained that he did not address the public quickly enough once news broke of the “deadly white supremacist rally.” Trump explained: “Before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”

Other politicians in his party had no such scruples. Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted: “Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #Whitesupremacists . . . . The organizers of events which inspired & led to #charlottesvilleterroristattack are 100% to blame. . . . They are adherents of an evil ideology which argues certain people are inferior because of race, ethnicity or nation of origin.”

Senator Cory Gardner tweeted, “Mr. President — we must call evil by its name. These were White supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

Senator Orrin Hatch said: “We should call evil by its name.”

None of these public figures seemed to know or care that the rally had been organized to defend a monument.

That evening, the President said “We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides.”

As we have seen, most of the displays of hatred and violence originated on the side of the counter-protestors. But relative to other public statements by prominent persons, Pres. Trump’s words were remarkably fair.

Two days later, the President gave an interview. He rambled a bit, but made at least four important points left out of most media accounts:

  • There were many supporters of the Robert E. Lee statue among the Unite the Right protesters.
  • Unite the Right had a permit to assemble, unlike the counter-protesters.
  • There were people on both sides responsible for violence, including an aggressive left-wing contingent.
  • Removal of Confederate statues is likely to lead to removing the Founding Fathers.

Pres. Trump was denounced by many whose comments on the events were far less truthful or fair. One such denunciation came from Joe Biden, who later claimed he was inspired to run for president by Trump’s supposedly inadequate reaction to the “white supremacist violence” of Charlottesville.

Jason Kessler was “ecstatic” when he first heard Trump’s remarks, noting that the President had spoken “simple truths that the American public had not been given.” He briefly imagined it might be possible to win the battle for public opinion. Later, he managed to get interviews on a few alternative news outlets with hosts such as Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes, but even there his reception was hostile. He recalls that “they wanted to slit my throat.”

The backlash

In the days following the suppression of the rally, as Mr. Kessler explains, “Heyer’s death was used to stoke a moral panic about the boogeyman of ‘White supremacy’ which has led to an unprecedented, un-American wave of political censorship against right-wing political dissidents and immigration patriots.” Even an ADL representative acknowledged: “I cannot think of another incident to which the backlash has been nearly so widespread.”

Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, GoFundMe, Uber and the gaming chat app Discord all removed countless accounts associated with the rally and its attendees, as well as some that were not.

Mr. Kessler explained the process behind the de-platforming trend: There are groups that:

manipulate our language, lie about the things that we’re saying, like, omitting things that have to do with the self-defense aspect. And then they go to all these different companies in Silicon Valley and they’re giving lectures as if they’re authorities, and as if their case has been proven. They’re doing one-sided prosecution with these tech companies.

Companies do not investigate such claims before acting on them.

Banning Unite the Right participants and many perceived allies was an important precedent for banning a sitting president from nearly all social media after the Capitol was breached on January 6, 2021. Mrs. Smith writes:

How might things have been different if Trump and other conservatives had stood up to the wave of censorship that took place after Unite the Right by passing legislation to protect the ability of dissidents to access online public forums? Unfortunately, most of them — weak-willed, short-sighted, and unwilling to be associated with the pariahs of Charlottesville — ignored or even applauded the purge.

Another aspect of the backlash to Unite the Right was the doxing campaign against participants. Hours of video of the events of August 11 and 12 were uploaded to the internet almost immediately, and Antifa and its sympathizers got to work identifying participants:

Within days, or in some cases, hours, Unite the Right attendees were doxed and their identities widely publicized. National news outlets amplified and celebrated the public shamings. “A Twitter account identified this Unite the Right participant. Now his family’s disowning him,” gloated Vox.com in an article dated two days after the rally. The article reports that “[t]he protester’s father says their family loudly repudiates his son’s ‘vile, hateful and racist rhetoric and actions.’ ”

Credit Image: © Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

One rallygoer estimated that “hundreds of people” lost jobs or became estranged from their families because they were at the rally. Mrs. Smith interviewed some of them for Charlottesville Untold. One man was reported to Child Protective Services by Antifa in an attempt to have his children taken from him. Andrew Dodson, an engineer who develops clean-energy technology, was driven to suicide by his ordeal; the man who doxed him was invited to appear on NBC News!

Criminal cases

A number of criminal trials resulted from Unite the Right, and the difference in treatment for participants and counter-protesters was stark. Corey Long is a black Charlottesville resident who doused some rally participants with what one described as “some kind of paint thinner” and attacked them with an improvised flame thrower made from a bottle of hairspray. A man on the receiving end testified he had feared becoming a “human torch.” Celebrated by media outlets such as the New Yorker and The Root, Long was sentenced to just 20 days in prison.

Richard Preston is a Ku Klux Klan member from Maryland. When he saw Long brandishing his flame thrower at passing demonstrators, he drew his handgun, pointed it at him, and screamed at him to stop. Loading a round into the chamber, he fired a single warning shot into the ground next to Long, hurting no one. He then holstered his gun and walked away. One person assaulted by Long called Preston a hero, suggesting his action saved lives that day. Mr. Preston was sentenced to four years in prison.

But perhaps the most egregious example of both media mischaracterization and politicized criminal justice involved a black man named DeAndre Harris and four white men charged with assaulting him. As the author writes:

A viral photo from Unite the Right depicted a group of White men holding weapons and standing over a Black man, Harris, as he lay on the ground. This photo, usually provided with no context whatsoever, was exploited by the media to help contribute to the public impression that Unite the Right attendees were violent racists on a rampage, looking to brutalize any non-Whites in sight.

Carefully omitted from such accounts were the events that led up to the photo.

It is common for Antifa militants to entice blacks to participate in violence by giving them simple weapons. DeAndre Harris had been given a “Maglite,” a long, heavy brand of flashlight, by an Antifa activist on the morning of the rally. Just before the viral photo was taken, Harris was following a group of departing attendees back to a parking garage in the company of Corey Long (who used the homemade flamethrower) and another black man. Sneaking up behind the attendees, Mr. Long tried to steal a Confederate flag while DeAndre Harris hit rallygoer Harold Crews over the head with his Maglite.

Brad Griffin of Occidental Dissent describes what happened next:

As [the three black men] are forced back into the parking garage, a Black male in a blue shirt runs up from behind one of our members, clubs him and knocks him unconscious. He continues to beat him with another Black male. THIS provokes the parking garage fight . . . .

The fake news was only interested in DeAndre Harris because he was Black and could be portrayed as a ‘victim’ of ‘White supremacists.’ They ignored the White kid who was bludgeoned with the club in the parking garage by DeAndre Harris’s friends which provoked others to rush to his defense . . . . Dan Borden and Alex Michael Ramos came to the aid of a League of the South member who had been clubbed and knocked unconscious in the parking garage . . . . What do the Charlottesville Police do? They issued warrants for the arrest of Dan Borden and Alex Michael Ramos. . . . [T]hey charged people who were forced to defend others.

A witness to the fight writes: “[Harris] clubbed one of our people and took off running . . . . They didn’t pick him out because he was Black. They picked him out because he ambushed someone from behind.”

DeAndre Harris was subsequently able to raise over $166,000 on GoFundMe, supposedly to cover his medical expenses. Soon after, he mysteriously starred in a professionally produced rap video “driving a Mercedes Benz and sporting a $2,000 pair of Nike Air Jordan Retros.” For two months, police failed to arrest him. Finally, the man he had struck from behind, Harold Crews, took the initiative to press charges. Harris was found not guilty of misdemeanor assault and battery by a judge who accepted his claim that he had intended to hit the flagpole, not Crews. The four men who retaliated against Harris received sentences of two, six, six, and eight years’ imprisonment.

Brad Griffin compiled a series of videos reconstructing the exact sequence of events surrounding the assault on Harris:

I contacted The Daily Progress [of Charlottesville] and NBC 29 about the video. I sent it to detectives at the Charlottesville Police Department. I told the Associated Press what really happened in Charlottesville. I played the video in person on my smartphone for a news crew from Atlanta that was interviewing me about the arrest of Alex Michael Ramos. We bombarded reporters with the video of DeAndre Harris attacking with the MagLite on Twitter. No one was interested in investigating or reporting the truth . . . . The media refused to report on it after gleefully showing the out-of-context video.

James Fields can hardly be said to have received a fair trial either. Just two days after the event, Pres. Trump treated his guilt as an established fact: “the driver of the car is a murderer.” A month later, the US Senate declared him a domestic terrorist. Potential jurors were inundated for over a year with coverage by a hostile media. More than one courtroom observer noted that his attorney failed to defend him aggressively. Despite considerable grounds for doubt regarding his intentions, he received a sentence of life plus 419 years.

Credit Image: © Michael Nigro/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

Civil suits — offense

There were even more civil suits than criminal cases. Jason Kessler was, of course, sued, along with other rally organizers and participants who allegedly conspired to deprive onlookers and bystanders of their civil rights (see below). Mr. Kessler remembers calling every law firm in Charlottesville and not finding a single one willing to defend him. When he tried to do legal research at the law library of his alma mater, the University of Virginia, he was banned from campus. Eventually a sympathetic lawyer contacted him. He has spent most of the last four years trying to defend himself and to hold the city of Charlottesville accountable.

A fierce advocate for the First Amendment, Kessler was determined to sue the City of Charlottesville for violating his civil rights and the rights of all Unite the Right participants. He sought support for his suit from other people associated with the event, but found most of them either wanted to distance themselves from the residuum of Charlottesville, or were struggling financially and unable to help with legal expenses. Out of everyone involved with Unite the Right, Matt Parrott of the Traditionalist Workers Party is the only other named plaintiff on the lawsuit.

On the second anniversary of Unite the Right, Messrs. Kessler and Parrot filed suit against the City of Charlottesville and three named officials, charging that stopping the rally was a denial of free speech. Six months later, Federal District Judge Norman K. Moon dismissed the suit, ruling that law enforcement has no obligation to protect people when other parties attempt to suppress their speech. Mr. Kessler called this “a pretty novel ruling. We were floored when we got it.” Within a few days, he appealed, and is waiting for a ruling.

The principle at stake is called the “heckler’s veto.” This happens when authorities stop protected speech on the grounds that it might provoke a violent reaction. Mr. Kessler and many civil libertarians believe the government should not be able to appeal to such possible violence as grounds for failing to protect free speech. “The [prohibition of the] heckler’s veto has in some ways been established for a long time, then in some ways the details of it need to be fleshed out,” says Mr. Kessler. He adds:

If the police aren’t obligated to protect people, the First Amendment is done. The people who defended themselves [at Unite the Right] were not the aggressors and they should not have been put in the situation by police that they had to defend themselves. That’s what this case is about. Something like Charlottesville should never, ever happen again. Those effing cops need to show up and separate the groups and protect the First Amendment. It’s that simple.

We’re already four years in and they’re trying to wear us down by wasting our time, wasting our money . . . . We’re just at the Fourth Circuit. It could be years more before we’re done with this. But if — IF — we win, it will establish a clear heckler’s veto precedent across the land.

Mr. Kessler and his legal team are optimistic. They think their case is strong and that even if they lose the current appeal, the Supreme Court could look into the matter because standards on this issue vary in different federal districts.

As part of his efforts, Mr. Kessler has also filed a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to get records, some of which authorities claim have been lost or destroyed. He notes allegations by the Heaphy Report that former police chief Al Thomas and the Charlottesville PD command staff deleted text messages relevant to their investigation. He asks:

Why did they destroy this evidence? They also went in and doctored certain documents to make it seem like they had done certain preparations that they really hadn’t done. That is a class-one misdemeanor that should, if these people were convicted, bar them from future public service. Of course, the government is not going to police themselves. So who is going to hold them accountable? That’s where I come in. I’ve been filing FOIA requests for the past 3 or 4 years.

When Mr. Kessler requested text messages from city manager Maurice Jones, he was told that no such messages existed. This assertion was proven false by former mayor, Mike Signer. In his book about Unite the Right, Cry Havoc, Mr. Signer gave details of his exchange of emails and text messages with Maurice Jones. Mr. Kessler cited Mr. Signer’s book to demand release of the data. A week before a FOIA-related trial was to take place, Mr. Kessler received a letter with a link to 1,200 pages of email, along with an apology claiming that Mr. Jones had misunderstood what was included in the request.

The fight continues:

We want an injunction to keep them from ever destroying more evidence like this again and we want them to recognize that these text messages are public documents and they need to change their practices forever because of this situation. We’re [also] asking for the judge to order them to hire an electronic forensics firm to go over their hard drives, their phones, with a fine-tooth comb and reconstitute destroyed messages so we can find out what the hell it is that they were saying in the first place that they so badly didn’t want anybody to see.

The Virginia public records act says that the city manager communications are never supposed to be destroyed. They’re supposed to be kept permanently in agency. . . . And no one in the media is holding them accountable, and even a lot of people who went to the rally are just moving on, like this doesn’t matter anymore. It does matter. People were set up. . . .

And so that’s why we filed this newest lawsuit dealing with FOIA and the Public Records Act, and to address that letter where they admitted they destroyed evidence. We’re trying to set some pretty exciting precedent for open government in Virginia because it’s such a murky area where precedent hasn’t been set.

Civil suits – defense

The most important civil suit against rally organizers and participants is Sines v. Kessler. The suit alleges that 10 organizations and 14 named individuals:

conspired to plan, promote, and carry out violent events in Charlottesville. . . . Starting at least as early as the beginning of 2017 and continuing to today, they have joined together for the purpose of inciting violence and instilling fear within the community of Charlottesville and beyond.

James Fields is listed among the defendants; the plaintiffs claim that the death and injuries from the ramming were the result of a conspiracy between Fields and the rally organizers. Kessler notes:

[T]hey are saying the rally was just a pretext to violently attack counter protesters, specifically racial minorities. Yet they have no evidence of that. They say that we conspired with James Fields, and yet there is no evidence of that. They’ve gone through all of our text messages, all of our emails, all of our social media. . . . We have the head investigator with the CPD Steve Young testifying under oath that there is not only no conspiracy in the death of Heather Heyer, but that there was no communication with James Fields whatsoever.

Many defendants suspect the suit really amounts to “lawfare,” i.e., a “factually baseless attempt to use bad-faith litigation to cripple them reputationally and financially.” This interpretation finds some support in lead attorney Roberta Kaplan’s response when asked what she hoped to achieve with the suit:

We absolutely can and will bankrupt these groups. And then we will chase these people around for the rest of their lives. So if they try to buy a new home, we will put a lien on the home. If they get a new job, we will garnish their wages. The reason to do that is because we want to create a deterrence impact. So we send a message to other people that if you try to do something like this, the same thing will happen to you.

The lawsuit is being financed by Integrity First for America (IFA), an organization that boasts that the case “is the only current legal effort to take on the vast [!] leadership of the violent White nationalist movement.” Among their donors are LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, and actress Natalie Portman. Even though public records list no fewer than 33 lawyers working for the plaintiffs, the money will not run out any time soon.

Mr. Kessler says that “in nearly four years, IFA haven’t proved a single thing except that they can mug and beat down defendants who can’t afford attorneys and those who can’t afford researchers, expert witnesses, and evidence collection software to defend themselves on the same footing.” Yet media reports continue to portray the plaintiffs as plucky underdogs standing up to a powerful “white supremacist” movement.

As part of discovery, defendants have been required to turn over all email, messages, and social media posts about the rally, an onerous burden for some of the more active organizers. Matt Parrot, also a named defendant, calls this:

an ongoing fishing expedition where they’re desperately looking for some sort of evidence of criminal conspiracy to initiate violence in Charlottesville. They’ll find nothing. Essentially, they know they don’t have a case, but they have unlimited financial resources and they’re leveraging them with the hopes that we’ll eventually trip ourselves up on a technicality or run out of funds for our legal support.

In conclusion, the author remarks:

Even though an immense amount of data is available about the defendants’ communications and their activities the weekend of Unite the Right, none of the numerous defendants in the Sines civil suit have been criminally charged with anything remotely resembling a conspiracy to commit violence. If they are guilty as the Sines plaintiffs claim, why not?

The Heaphy Report

The City of Charlottesville paid $350,000 for an independent investigation of what happened at Unite the Right. It was carried out by the law firm Hunton & Williamson under the direction of Timothy Heaphy, and resulted in a 207-page report called Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, VA, known as the “Heaphy Report.” As the author of Charlottesville Untold notes, “In a healthy media environment, the results of this review would have been headline news all over the country.” However, because it did nothing to support the official story about a “violent white supremacist rally,” it got little attention.

The report is a damning indictment of many public officials, but especially the leadership of the Charlottesville Police Department (who bore primary legal responsibility) and the Virginia State Police. The author paraphrases the report: “Neither agency deployed available field forces or other units to protect public safety at the locations where violence took place. Command staff prepared to declare an unlawful assembly and disperse the crowd. The City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety on August 12 . . . . This represents a failure of one of government’s core functions — the protection of fundamental rights.”

The Charlottesville police chief at the time was Al Thomas, the city’s first black chief. Two people told the Heaphy investigators they heard Mr. Thomas say, at the first signs of violence, “Let them fight, it will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.” The report stated that “Chief Thomas’ slow-footed response to violence put the safety of all at risk,” and accused him of deleting text messages relevant to the investigation and trying to limit what subordinates told investigators. In the wake of the report, Chief Thomas resigned.

Matt Parrot notes that the Charlottesville police brass bear primary responsibility for failure, not ordinary officers:

The police all appeared angry, frustrated, and confused as I’ve never seen them before. While I was furious at them at the time, it’s clear that they were the victims of an egregious leadership failure which also imperiled them. They were not able to keep up with the entirely unnecessary chaos they had been ordered to unleash and then ordered to deal with.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe later published a book about Unite the Right. In it, he had a great deal to say about:

the historic sins of the state and the duty he felt to rectify them. He spoke about the “deep legacies” of racism, and described Richmond as “the capital of the Confederacy, spearheading the resistance to freeing slaves in the Civil War.”

He rebuked the words of Robert E. Lee’s great-granddaughter at the dedication of the Charlottesville statue of Lee in 1924, “remembering her ancestor as a man who she said represented the ‘moral greatness of the Old South.’ For her, the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about differing ‘interpretations of our Constitution’ and differing ‘ideals of democracy.’ She was wrong. It was about slavery and it was about treason, pure and simple.”

He wrote at length about his pet issue of restoring voting rights for felons, describing their disenfranchisement as “a legacy of Jim Crow, a variation of the poll tax,” adding, “I never whitewashed Virginia’s sordid history. In June 2015, I used my executive authority to remove the Confederate flag from Virginia license plates [which were available as a type of vanity plate].”

Readers may not be surprised to learn that the New-York-born McAuliffe was worried that when he first decided to run for governor, he “might have a hard time convincing Virginians I was truly one of them.”

Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer also wrote a book about Unite the Right filled with contempt for what he called “rebel flag-wearing defenders of ‘southern heritage.’ ” Mrs. Smith writes:

He hailed Nikki Haley’s efforts to remove the Confederate flag in South Carolina as a means to “repudiate [Dylann] Roof’s twisted, demonic project” and wondered, with regards to the Confederate statue issue, how he would feel “as a Jew, if I had to walk by a statue of Adolf Hitler.”

Such are the men who run the Old Dominion.

Mrs. Smith notes another aspect of Unite the Right that has not been adequately noted, namely:

the astounding amount of restraint showed by the attendees. Open carry was legal in Virginia, and there were hundreds of militia members and Unite the Right attendees bearing arms that day. Despite hours of being pummeled by hard projectiles and chemical weapons, those hundreds of armed Unite the Right attendees exercised remarkable self-control and restraint by NOT drawing their firearms.

The only shot fired by an attendee all day was Richard Preston’s warning shot intended to keep Corey Long from using his flamethrower.

Anne Wilson Smith’s Charlottesville Untold is the first comprehensive, objective study of what happened at the aborted rally on August 12, 2017. She has done a duty ignored by literally thousands of professional journalists who appear to have no interest in knowing the truth or informing the public.

What Really Happened at Charlottesville, Part I • American Renaissance

F. Roger Devlin, American Renaissance, October 12, 2021

Source: What Really Happened at Charlottesville, Part One

Anne Wilson Smith, Charlottesville Untold: Inside the Unite the Right Rally, Shotwell Publishing, 2021, 396 pages, $24.95 paperback, $5.00 e-version from publisher

Credit Image: © Michael Nigro/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

Nothing has quite brought home to me the dishonesty of American journalism like watching the major “news” networks tell us what was happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. As a thousand or so American citizens tried to gather peacefully to protest the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee, the press regaled the country and the world with a hair-raising tale of neo-Nazis attacking a peaceful Southern town. This legend persists, a case-study in support of the old adage that a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on. Now, over four years later, the first accurate and detailed account of what really happened has finally been offered to the public by a tiny pro-Southern publishing firm in Columbia, South Carolina. The author is the daughter of Clyde Wilson, a distinguished scholar of the American South.

Jason Kessler campaigns to save the Lee monument

The Charlottesville rally, officially known as “Unite the Right,” was the brainchild of Jason Kessler, a local resident who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2009. Mr. Kessler had little involvement in politics before getting wind of the antics of Charlottesville City Council Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, who in 2016 began agitating for removing the Lee statue and renaming Lee Park in which it had stood since 1924. As Mrs. Smith writes, “Bellamy presented himself as a champion of equality, but his social media posts revealed an open hatred of White people.” Examples:

“I DON’T LIKE WHIT PEOPLE SO I HATE WHITE SNOW!!!!! FML!!!!” @ViceMayorWesB 12/20/2009

“I HATE BLACK PEOPLE who ACT WHITE!!! (B U NIGGA) – Jeezy Voice!” @ViceMayorWesB 11/17/2009

“White women=Devil” @ViceMayorWesB 3/3/2011

“Lol funniest thing about being down south is seeing little White men and the look on their faces when they have to look up to you.” @ViceMayorWesB Tweet 10/13/2012

Jason Kessler discovered these tweets and wrote about them on his website on November 24, 2016, resulting in Bellamy’s forced resignation from the state Board of Education. Mr. Bellamy issued an apology three days later, claiming the postings were made “many years ago,” although some were too recent to be dismissed as youthful indiscretions.

Mr. Kessler was not satisfied, and collected 527 signatures for a petition to have Mr. Bellamy removed as vice mayor. Local anti-white groups such as SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and the Anarchist People of Color Collective began organizing to defend Mr. Bellamy and oppose Mr. Kessler. In March, 2017, a judge dismissed the petition for Mr. Bellamy’s removal on the grounds that not enough signatures had been collected.

The following month, Mr. Kessler met Richard Spencer, a prominent leader of the Alt-Right, which had emerged during Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign. Although the two men never became close, they agreed to cooperate to preserve the statue. Mr. Spencer staged a torchlight march in support of the monument on May 13, 2017, while Mr. Kessler reported on the event for the Daily Caller. Marchers gathered at the monument chanting things such things as “You will not replace us,” and “Blood and soil.”

The next night, a group of “anti-racists” gathered in response. Mr. Kessler showed up and was surrounded by Antifa, one of whom reportedly spat on him. Police arrested Mr. Kessler on a charge of disorderly conduct, but the prosecutor declined to pursue the case, saying that Mr. Kessler’s actions were free speech.

In the aftermath of this first demonstration, activists began posting “Know your Nazi” flyers around town and encouraging businesses to deny service to Mr. Kessler and his supporters. On one occasion, a mob of about 30 people surrounded Mr. Kessler and his associates at a restaurant.

Preparations for Unite the Right

The Unite the Right rally was born of a determination to stand up to this kind of intimidation. On May 30, Mr. Kessler applied for a permit for a “free speech rally in support of the Lee monument,” to be held August 12 from noon to 5 pm for an estimated crowd of 400 people. Six days later, he publicly announced his plans at a tense City Council meeting. In the course of his brief speech, a number of counter-protesters began shouting “fuck white supremacy” and showing their middle fingers; they had to be physically removed.

Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, VA, ca. 2006.

Altogether unrelated to plans for Unite the Right, a Klan group from North Carolina applied for a permit to hold a rally in Charlottesville on July 8 to gather around a statue of Stonewall Jackson. Mr. Kessler charged that the leader of this group was an FBI informant “paid by left-wing groups to discredit legitimate conservatives.” About 50 Klan members were met by between 1,500 and 2,000 counter-protesters, including members of SURJ, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and religious organizations. The following month, some “news” outlets broadcast video of the Klan event as footage of the Unite the Right rally.

Police managed to keep the two groups apart, but protestors threw things at the Klansmen as they returned to their cars. The Heaphy Report — an extensive independent review commissioned later by the City of Charlottesville — nevertheless found that local law enforcement’s “training efforts to prepare for the Klan event were fragmented, unfocused and inadequate,” foreshadowing similar failures at Unite the Right. Yet at the time, groups including the ACLU protested what they called a “highly militarized law enforcement presence” and “the outsized and militaristic governmental response” to counter-protesters.

There were complaints that the police were there “only to protect the Klan,” as if 50 people were going to attack a huge crowd of counterdemonstrators. Governor Terry McAuliffe later wrote that the ACLU letter “really had city officials nervous,” and that in the run-up to the larger Unite the Right rally “[t]he mindset for the Charlottesville City Council was to be wary of any strong law enforcement presence.” This was a bad mistake.

As Mrs. Smith notes: “Clashes between right and left-wing groups had been occurring all over the country over the previous year, so the Charlottesville Police Department was able to draw from the knowledge and experience of other jurisdictions for information about what to expect.” The Heaphy Report adds: “Those contacts suggested that the Alt-Right groups were generally cooperative with law enforcement, but also that the opposing groups needed to be physically separated.” Even so, Charlottesville Police Captain Victor Mitchell later acknowledged that “the input from outside jurisdictions was not a factor in planning for August 12th.” The report further found that “Efforts to train police officers ahead of August 12th were meager if not nonexistent . . . . There was no field training of any kind.”

Virginia State Police were somewhat better prepared, but communication between state and city police was poor. As the Heaphy Report found, “No officers were assigned to open areas in which protesters and counter-protesters would interact,” which meant that potentially violent contact was inevitable. Nor were any officers present along the route between the Unite the Right attendees’ shuttle drop-off locations and Lee Park, where most injuries would occur. The report continues:

We spoke to multiple officers at all levels who expressed concern that normal arrest procedures would put officers in harm’s way. In the week before August 12, the Virginia Fusion Center shared credible threats that members of Antifa would bring soda cans filled with cement and might attack police. Then, on the morning of August 12, rumors circulated among CPD [Charlottesville Police Department] that Antifa might attack officers with fentanyl. Out of concern for officer safety, Lieutenant Brian O’Donnell instructed his officers to avoid engaging attendees over “every little thing.” Officer Lisa Best told us that officers “were not going to go in and break up fights” or enter the crowd to make arrests “unless it was something so serious that someone will get killed.” This concern is reflected in our review of body camera footage, which reflects multiple instances of officer uncertainty about potential engagement with the crowd. Rather than engage the crowd and prevent fights, the CPD plan was to declare the event unlawful and disperse the crowd.

In other words, Charlottesville Police never had any intention of defending the constitutional rights of Unite the Right attendees to free speech and assembly. They would let Antifa attack and use the ensuing melee as an excuse to declare an unlawful assembly and stop the rally.

Police tried to talk with counter-protest organizations about safety. According to the Heaphy Report:

Efforts to contact local Charlottesville residents associated with counter-protester groups were met with extreme resistance. Officers attempted to speak with members of Standing Up for Racial Justice and Black Lives Matter, resulting in demands by a local attorney that such contacts cease. As a result, detectives were instructed not to reach out to anyone affiliated with those groups. Officers told us that they were frustrated that their safety-focused information-gathering actions were construed as harassment against vocal members of the community.

“In contrast to the defensive and secretive counter-protester organizations,” notes the report, “representatives of Unite the Right were in open communication with law enforcement in the weeks leading up to the event.” This particularly includes Jason Kessler and two designated security agents. According to the Heaphy Report, “Each told [local police] that he expected a peaceful rally and hoped the police would protect Alt-Right groups from violent counter-protesters.” Mrs. Smith quotes several leaders of groups in attendance who, in view of the large police presence, anticipated a peaceful event. The plan was for ten men (including Mr. Kessler and Mr. Spencer) to speak in defense of the Lee monument and then for everyone to go home.

A number of private militia groups came to Charlottesville in a neutral peace-keeping capacity, despite discouragement from local law enforcement. This turned out to be fortunate; as Mrs. Smith writes, “the militias provided the only semblance of peace-keeping and law enforcement in Charlottesville that day.” They made clear their intention to protect free speech and discourage violence from both sides, and most witnesses, including some police officers, report that they behaved in a fair and responsible way. Yet the City of Charlottesville later filed suit against them. Because some militia members were wearing military style clothing and patriotic emblems, many counter-protesters assumed they were there to support the rally. Some “news” organizations also called the militias “far-right.”

Despite the name Unite the Right, there was a great deal of conflict among the organizers, and a lot of unedifying information came to light during the discovery phase of the many lawsuits that followed. An associate of Mr. Spencer’s named Elliot Kline was maneuvering to commandeer the event by spreading rumors that Mr. Kessler was Jewish and/or insane. Mr. Spencer himself wrote of Mr. Kessler: “After c ville, we need to drop him. He’s just stupid and crazy.” Some parties wanted David Duke to speak and withdrew their support when Mr. Kessler told them no.

Almost at the last minute, city officials became concerned the event would be too large for Lee Park, and tried to move it to McIntire Park, a larger venue a mile away. This created confusion, but the day before the rally, a judge granted Mr. Kessler’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the move.

Unite the Right rallygoers and their motives

One valuable chapter in Charlottesville Untold is based on interviews with a cross-section of 10 rallygoers. As the author writes: “These people have been accused by the most powerful voices in the nation of being ‘Nazis’ and every other despicable name imaginable. None of them have ever been offered a platform to refute these accusations and tell their own version of the story.” Here are some of their stories.

Luke is a graduate of Virginia Military Institute who had visited Charlottesville as a child and seen it gradually fill up with non-Virginians and radical liberals who “hate everything about the city, about the state, and about our history.” He learned that Unite the Right had protest permits, and he had faith the Virginia State Police would keep control. He had an old photograph of his grandmother with his great uncle in his WWII uniform in front of the Stonewall Jackson statue in Charlottesville. He kept it in his pocket throughout the rally to remind him why he was there. When things got heated and he thought about leaving, he remembered the photo and resolved to stay.

Steve grew up in a typical Republican but not very political family in Charlottesville and was disturbed when he heard about efforts to remove the Lee statue. “I grew up with that statue. I didn’t want them to tear it down . . . . The philosophy behind ‘Unite the Right’ made sense to me – Let’s get all hands on deck. No matter what ideological differences we may have, we all oppose the leftist assault on our identity. I think we all knew it was an assault on White people in general.”

Tom grew up in East Tennessee and was active in local government from an early age, where he found that traditional views like his were often ridiculed. Hearing of Unite the Right, he expected “we would picket and get our side heard.” He thought that since the rally was permitted, it would be safe. One friend offered him a shield to take along, and another offered a helmet, but Tom declined both, believing “ain’t nothing gonna happen.”

Chris, a young man from Appalachia, considered himself a political moderate and a Trump Republican. Hearing about Unite the Right on Facebook before the page was taken down, he expected the rally to be attended largely by others like himself, with a focus on defending the Lee statue.

Nathaniel grew up in Delaware, a conservative who had soured on the Republican Party for its failure to follow up on its promises. Gradually learning more about the Civil War, he came to respect and sympathize with the Southern cause. He thought the rally “seemed like it was going to be a lot of fun,” and he hoped to meet some online acquaintances. He knew the organizers had been working with law enforcement, so he expected both sides of the conflict to be kept apart. On the drive to Charlottesville, he listened to the audio version of a biography of Robert E. Lee.

Jim was born in New York to an Irish immigrant family. His political views began to change when he became disgusted with media coverage of the Michael Brown riots, and later by the attack on all things Southern following the Dylan Roof murders. When Jim saw how rioters were celebrated as heroes while Southerners were vilified, “It got my Irish up.” He joined the League of the South and went to Charlottesville expecting to defend the constitution and the monument of the “great man” Robert E. Lee, and then go home.

Bill, an oilman who had lived all over the South, had been a yellow-dog Democrat most of his life, but when people in New Orleans began pushing to remove monuments and rename parks, he joined a group dedicated to preserving them. In the course of this fight, Mr. Kessler and some of his associates had supported him. He decided to go to Unite the Right to reciprocate, because “those boys had helped me out.”

Gene grew up in a traditional Southern family in Nashville. He had done enough reading to know that the things the television said about the South and the Civil War were biased. Gene knew antifa would be at Unite the Right, and he expected hostility and shouting, but not violence. He hoped to tour Monticello after the rally.

Ayla Stewart, known online as Wife with a Purpose, was given the middle name “Lee” at birth in keeping with a family tradition of honoring the Confederate general. Bearing his name brought her derision in some parts of the country, so she often had to defend Lee’s honor. “I felt completely safe rallying behind this,” she explains. “This is erasing our history based on wrong information.”

The evening before

On August 11, the eve of the publicly announced rally, a group of rallygoers gathered for a torchlight procession from an athletic field on the University of Virginia campus to the UVA statue of Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Kessler explained that the Jefferson statue was chosen to make the point that not only Confederate symbols were under threat. Unlike the next day’s rally, there was no permit for this procession, which was planned in secret so as not to give counter-protesters time to organize. However, word leaked out and about 20 counter-protesters gathered at the Jefferson statue beforehand. Around 5:00 pm, organizers discovered the leak and informed local police. Some groups withdrew from the procession out of safety concerns, but about 300 people marched in orderly fashion, reaching the Jefferson statue around 10:20 PM.

Credit Image: © Shay Horse/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Mrs. Smith writes:

Certainly, there were peaceful college students among the counter-protesters. However, what is omitted from most reporting is the small but vicious group of Antifa who antagonized marchers with pepper spray and other weapons. For example, one video captures an unidentified Antifa lighting and throwing a Molotov cocktail into a crowd. Studying video of the event, researchers have identified a number of known Antifa, some with serious criminal records, who were among the counter-protesters that evening.

After fighting broke out, local police called for support, but by the time it arrived, the fighting was over and marchers were dispersing. Both marchers and counter-protesters spoke with disgust about the passivity of the police. Black celebrity academic Cornell West marveled: “We were there to get arrested. We couldn’t even get arrested, because the police had pulled back, just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other.”

Many “news” outlets portrayed the counter-protesters as innocent victims of a “Nazi” attack. The author comments:

Unite the Right organizers had planned the torchlight march in secret for the explicit purpose of avoiding conflict, then voluntarily informed the police of their plans after learning counter-protesters would be present. Are those the actions of people with malevolent intentions?

As at Mr. Spencer’s torchlit procession in May, participators chanted “you will not replace us,” but on this occasion some changed the words to “Jews will not replace us.” Mr. Kessler recalls:

I remember being mortified when it happened . . . . They have essentially hijacked the message. You always want to be seen as righteous defenders of your own people rather than as aggressors looking to attack other people’s cultures.

Jason Kessler (Credit Image: © Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press)

Many marchers returned to their cars to find windows broken and tires slashed.

The hour arrives

By 8:45 the next morning, hundreds of attendees had gathered in the parking lot of McIntire Park. Shuttles were to take them to Lee Park about a mile and a half away. However, Charlottesville police ordered drivers to drop off attendees not at Lee Park as planned, but several blocks away. The reason for this decision is not known, but is the subject of a Freedom of Information request.

The result was that many demonstrators arrived on the wrong side of the park and had to walk around to the other side through streets full of hostile counter-protesters. Some were blocked by a group of clergymen standing arm-in-arm. These men of the cloth were saying such things as “I hope you get fucked to death” and “God hates you.” Some spat on attendees. By obstructing entry to Lee Park, they left these attendees vulnerable to Antifa attacks; as the author points out, this may have been their intention. A group of 60 attendees eventually pushed through the line of clergy. Police observed without intervening.

A group of about 100 attendees decided not to participate in the shuttle plan, fearing that small groups would be more vulnerable to attack. Instead, they marched from the Market St. parking garage to Lee Park. One participant recalls: “Pretty immediately I realized there was no police cover. I realized there was going to be a fight. We were getting attacked from all sides.” Even women were punched, and some elderly attendees were targeted with pepper spray. Counter-protesters threw bricks, bottles of urine, and bags of feces.

Fortunately, some attendees in this group, fearing violence, had come equipped with defensive gear such as shields, helmets and eye protection. The League of the South in particular was, in Pres. Michael Hill’s words, “ready to defend ourselves and our property but not to carry out any aggressive/offensive actions.” They headed the procession and, as they approached Lee Park, ran straight into Antifa. As attendee Matt Parrott remarked to the author, “a formation that large cannot just reverse — the people in the front were being pushed ahead by those in the back who could not see what was happening.” So a melee ensued between the generally burly League of the South members and Antifa, after which the procession was able to enter Lee Park. One witness told the folks in the rear:

Wish y’all could’ve seen that clash out here a minute ago . . . it was pretty brutal. They ran into each other like Barbarians on a battlefield with their shields, riot shields and sticks and billy clubs, just beating on each other. Probably lasted about 30 seconds, 45 seconds.

Once again, local police watched and did nothing. A League of the South shield wall was later of critical importance in protecting attendees inside Lee Park from the mob outside. An attendee remarked: “it was precisely the group most stigmatized by the MSM, the armored Alt-Righters with shields, who created what order existed.” Many of the neutral militia members also did good service protecting the innocent that day. One left-wing organizer confirmed that rally attendees bore the brunt of the violence: “From what I observed from my street, it was mostly Nazis that were getting beaten at that point.”

Credit Image: © Shay Horse/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

A witness told this reviewer that about 1,000 attendees had gathered in Lee Park by 11:00 am, and estimated final attendance might have been as high as 2,000 if the event had been secured, but strictly speaking, the Unite the Right rally never took place. The scheduled start time was noon, but the gathering was declared an unlawful assembly at 11:31 AM. By 11:49, Virginia State Police in riot gear began moving into the park to push anyone who had not yet dispersed. None of the scheduled speakers ever said a word.

Some attendees were pushed by police off the top of a four-foot wall. One was told: “Get the hell out of here. We’re not gonna clear a path for you.” All were forced to exit directly into a mob of hostile counter-protesters armed with mace, bear spray, slingshots and urine-filled balloons. One black counter-protester improvised a flame-thrower with a can of hairspray.

Several participants told their story on the Memphis-based Political Cesspool radio show that night. A caller named Darren said: “The police were clearly on the side of the enemy. They attacked us. They were not on the side of law and order. It was planned, obviously, by the city government. The police attacked us with pepper spray.” A guest of the program named Mike told this harrowing story:

I was part of a group of five people who got cut off from the rest of our entourage by the police shield wall. They kept pushing us forward toward the Antifa. I tell them ‘What are you doing? There are five of us, and there was at least 200 of [the Antifa] standing over here.’ Two of the guys tried to dive down to get past the police, and one of them got rewarded for it with a hit in the back with a baton loud enough that I was able to hear it from six feet away. They were both coated in mace. I got coated in mace. I turned around. I had a shield, I told them to follow me, we were going to try to force our way through the Antifa, and one of the police officers nailed me in the back with his shield, tried to knock me down the steps and two of the other guys tumbled right beside me . . . . They intended us to fall. So finally we got up and made our way around. We were pressed up against a wall by I don’t know how many of them, one of the guys took a blow to the head, he had blood pouring down the side of his face from it.

One attendee reported it took him 15 minutes to get to Lee Park, but two hours to return to his vehicle. Many got lost in the unfamiliar streets, and some accidently wandered into the city’s hostile black ghetto. Antifa absurdly imagined they were there to attack residents.

A writer for the Daily Caller noted: “The State of Emergency order meant that any public gathering was de facto illegal, but Antifa were still allowed to roam freely bearing weapons and attacking people.” A caller to the Political Cesspool recounted, “After we were driven out of the park, the people who had the permit – guess what? One of our people came back 30 minutes after we were driven out of the park and the Antifa were still there. They were lounging around like having a holiday.”

A neutral observer recalls: “I saw a bunch of nasty shit. People fighting each other like they weren’t human. They were going for faces and putting each other in choke holds. I’m surprised there weren’t more deaths and serious injuries.” An emergency medical worker remembers: “People would come in soaked with pepper spray from the tops of their heads to the bottom of their feet. The only way to deal with that was to have them disrobe, fully hose them down, and send them out in a Tyvek suit with their clothes in a plastic bag.”

Credit Image: © Shay Horse/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Some remarked on how well the counter-protesters seemed to be prepared. Charlottesville native Hannah Zarski said “The organization for Unite the Right was so far beyond anything that could have been arranged here. It was very well coordinated.” She points out that many Antifa were carrying professionally printed signs mounted on thick wooden dowels. “Those things are not cheap.” There are many unanswered questions about their funding and preparations.

An organizer for left-wing groups that day acknowledges that the Alt-Right were not the aggressors: “It was during this dispersal that some of the more violent hand-to-hand clashes happened and as groups of Nazis were leaving the area, and Charlottesville residents alongside Anti-fascists from all over the US demonstrated to them that they were not welcome. They were chased up to the parking lots, they were chased down towards McIntire.”

One rallygoer ran into an old schoolmate who was there with the counter-protesters. They:

ducked into a nearby bar for shelter where he found himself in a group with her friends. He was dressed neutrally and they didn’t recognize him as a Unite the Right attendee. They seemed to be hyped up on adrenaline. His impression was that they were excited and happy about the chaos and riots. “They were getting what they wanted.”

Among the authorities’ most consequential failings that day was inadequate traffic control in the downtown area. Tammy Shiflett was a “school resource officer” assigned to the corner of Market Street and 4th Street NE. Her only instructions were that she would be “doing traffic.” After the unlawful assembly order was called, Miss Shifflett found herself standing alone, with no protective gear, as Unite the Right attendees streamed past her away from the park. The Heaphy Report explains:

She felt she was in danger. As people started to pass, they made profane and aggressive statements toward her. She smelled pepper spray in the air. Shiflett radioed Captain Lewis and said, “They are pushing the crowd my way, and I have nobody here to help me.”

She was allowed to leave, but, as the Heaphy Report notes, no one “notified the traffic commander or the Command Center that she was no longer at her assigned post at 4th Street NE and Market Street. As a result, all that remained there was a wooden sawhorse barricade.”

This explains why no police were present when James Fields rammed his car into a group of protesters at that very corner an hour or so later at about 1:45 PM, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer and seriously injuring many others. The Heaphy Report praised the Charlottesville Fire Department and University of Virginia health system for handling this emergency but noted, “This prompt, effective response represents a bright success on a day largely filled with failure.”

Part II of this review will cover press coverage, Donald Trump’s statements, deplatforming and doxing campaigns, and the criminal and civil suits that followed the rally.