Anne Wilson Smith On Jason Kessler’s CHARLOTTESVILLE & THE DEATH OF FREE SPEECH
06/09/2024
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Earlier: Roger Devlin On Jason Kessler’s CHARLOTTESVILLE: THE DEATH OF FREE SPEECH

First posted under the title Jason Kessler’s Charlottesville & the Death of Free Speech on Counter-Currents, where you can comment. Charlottesville and the Death of Free Speech is available at Dissident Press (@DissidentPress on Twitter). Jason Kessler is @TheMadDimension on Twitter.

To constrain a man’s innermost expression is subjugation of his soul.—Jason Kessler

It’s been almost seven years since the Unite the Right rally was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its importance as part of our daily political discourse has not waned. In fact, the current White House occupant and purported POTUS Joe Biden still evokes the specter of “Charlottesville” while campaigning for his second term. Unfortunately, starting within hours of the fateful event, a myth was created which quickly and completely eclipsed the reality.

As an attendee who followed the post-rally coverage attentively, I was immensely grateful for Jason Kessler’s valiant attempts to publicly defend the unjustly vilified protesters, and equally dismayed and frustrated to see that even “conservative” media outlets converged in lockstep to prevent him—and for that matter, any defender of Unite the Right attendees—from gaining an audience with the general public. My frustration with the dominance of this perfidious myth is what motivated me to write Charlottesville Untold in 2021.

As the permit holder for the event, Kessler has long been on a mission to uncover and publicize as much information as possible about the 2017 rally. This is partly because he has been both a plaintiff and defendant in subsequent civil lawsuits, but also because he wants to vindicate himself and the hundreds of unjustly maligned attendees of the rally with which his name will forever be linked. Kessler is a dogged researcher who has reported many of his findings in blogs and podcasts over the past seven years, and whose discoveries have proven critically important in the criminal defense of some Unite the Right participants. A full account of his personal experience of events, as well as many of his research findings, has never before been published, however. In Charlottesville and the Death of Free Speech, Kessler presents a trove of interesting and consequential information—some of it quite shocking—which is little known, even to those of us who followed Unite the Right and its aftermath closely.

There is typically little mention of the rally’s surrounding circumstances when it is discussed on social media and in the blogosphere. Kessler provides this important context in several ways. First, with an eye to its significance as a historical event, Kessler steps back from the typical myopic view of the “racist nazi rally” which sprang up out of nowhere due to the ongoing opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency to show that the event was actually an act of resistance to a campaign of cultural cleansing by revolutionaries. He sets the foundation with an overview of the concept of free speech as a cherished Western value, and the meaning of the destruction of icons and statues from a historical perspective. Though commonly disregarded by detractors, these are issues of profound importance that were indeed a critical factor motivating the protests.

The event is placed in context in a more immediate sense as well. Kessler provides background on his own personal and political development, as well as on his hometown of Charlottesville as it was during his childhood, as well as later, when he became involved in the tumult of local politics as a young adult. He also recounts the highlights of the “Alt Right” movement during 2017, including the antifa riots at Trump’s inauguration, the DeploraBall, the Battle of Berkeley, demonstrations in Pikeville and New Orleans, Richard Spencer’s speech at Auburn University, and the Freedom of Speech Rally in Washington, DC. In these chapters, Kessler evokes in the reader memories and emotions associated with the “Alt Right” era, and places Unite the Right where it belongs: as the climactic event of this frenzied season of exhilaration and hope, conflict, and chaos.

In some ways, Charlottesville and the Death of Free Speech reads like a Hollywood tell-all, with behind-the-scenes details from private meetings and conversations, including some juicy tidbits about parties and afterparties, secret chat rooms, and a “deep throat” within the Charlottesville Police Department. Kessler “names names,” and does not pull punches when it comes to former fellow travelers in the Alt Right and “Alt Lite” who he finds distasteful or who he feels to have been wronged by. Many of these revelations, intertwined with details about the conflicts surrounding the planning for Unite the Right, provide insight into how the rally went so horribly awry. Kessler also lays bare his account of his interactions with Charlottesville city officials and law enforcement officers, identifying by name those who in his view were incompetent, biased, or just plain dishonest. He assigns a lot of blame—including a portion to himself. Throughout the book, footnotes and QR codes are likewise provided, linking to evidence that bolsters his assertions.

A substantial portion of the book is devoted to another topic, the omission of which in most coverage amounts to pernicious negligence: the role of antifa in fomenting violence at Unite the Right (UTR). Kessler spent years compiling detailed accounts of the attacks against UTR attendees and facts about their perpetrators. The nefarious and often nakedly criminal behavior on the part of those the legacy media benignly described as “anti-racist activists” is all but unknown to the general public. Many of the perpetrators and their deeds are called out using names and photos in the book’s pages. Had this information been presented to the public by a fair media in 2017, public perception of the event would have been flipped on its head.

Finally, Kessler discusses the rally’s long-term aftermath, including the Sines v. Kessler trial, the belated torchlit march prosecutions, and a little discussed but most important aspect: Unite the Right as a sign of the demise of our most cherished First Amendment rights.

The book’s higher than average price—$27 for a paperback, or $44 for a hardcover—may be explained by the fact that it contains dozens of color photographs. This may be an unusual choice, but considering that truth-tellers about Unite the Right are subject to an extreme amount of censorship, the inclusion of photos that may be difficult to locate online adds value to the book as a historical document.

Anne Wilson Smith (email her) is the author of Charlottesville Untold: Inside Unite the Right and Robert E. Lee: A History Book for Kids. She is also the creator and editor of Reckonin.com.

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