Roger Devlin On Jason Kessler's CHARLOTTESVILLE: THE DEATH OF FREE SPEECH
06/01/2024
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First posted under the title ”Charlottesville: The Day the Mask Came Off 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.

A number of books have already been written about the suppressed “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. I have already reviewed the excellent Charlottesville Untold, by Anne Wilson Smith. Padraig Martin’s A Walk in the Park also enjoys a good reputation. But this new account by the original instigator and permit holder for the rally fills in many details, especially regarding the months and days leading up to the debacle of August 12, 2017.

Jason Kessler was born in Charlottesville in 1983, and although the family moved around, they always retained an attachment to the town, such as by rooting for the University of Virginia’s (UVA) sports teams. His youthful political activity was limited to opposition to George W. Bush’s Iraq War. He voted for Barack Obama in 2008 in the belief that Obama was more likely than John McCain to get America out of that quagmire. A suspicious attitude regarding corporate America also inclined him toward left-of-center politics at that time. But it was also during the Obama years that he began to feel discomfort at the increasingly open hostility being expressed toward white people and the male sex.

Like so many others, Kessler mistakenly assumed that “a college diploma from a prestigious university like UVA was my path to a stable career and the middle class.” Upon graduating with a degree in psychology and a lot of unpaid student loans, however, he ran into extreme difficulty obtaining a position in his field. He saw far less qualified candidates being given jobs from which he was barred as a “white male,” and soon found himself making ends meet doing handyman jobs hardly different from what he had done before college.

With more free time than he might have wished, he began following news and politics with greater seriousness. The mainstream media’s portrayal of blacks as blameless victims of white racism was contradicted by what he saw with his own eyes: blacks too often behaving like aggressive bullies, whereas whites could be compassionate to a fault. He wondered why whites were being blamed for the misdeeds of their ancestors while other groups were not.

This shift in Kessler’s political views coincided with the rise of Donald Trump, like Kessler himself “a former Democrat opposed to the Iraq War.” Trump “might not have been speaking out explicitly for the White majority,” the author remarks, but he “seemed defiantly unwilling to apologize to their growing enemies either.” It was during Trump’s presidential campaign that Kessler became aware of the Alternative Right, which he describes as an “online groundswell of populist resentment about declining free speech [and] anti-White and anti-male hostility.” He was especially attracted by the Alt Right’s humor, which contrasted so sharply with both sanctimonious “social justice warriors” and prim mainstream conservatives:

Alt-right humor reminded me of the riotous, edgy stand-up comedy from before the industry went woke. The best comedians would mock and satirize the sacred shibboleths of society. Alt-right political cartoons made fun of all the left-wing identity groups you weren’t allowed to: Blacks, Asians, Jews, Muslims, gays, and women. It was refreshing to see that kind of rebellion against the stifling climate of censorship. A joke the authorities don’t want you to tell is not just funny, it’s an act of liberation.

So when a few days after Donald Trump’s electoral victory, Twitter suddenly got its panties in a twist about some guys giving straight-armed salutes at one of Richard Spencer’s conferences, Kessler was undismayed: He saw this as simply another expression of edgy humor.

Also over the course of 2016, Kessler became aware of the activities of a turbulent black man named Wes Bellamy (right) then serving as Vice-Mayor of Charlottesville. Bellamy kept busy encouraging UVA to “reassess” its relation with its slave-owning founder Thomas Jefferson and promoting a petition for the removal of a 92-year-old statue to Robert E. Lee. When a white UVA economics professor named Douglas Muir publicly described the Black Lives Matter movement as “racist,” Bellamy led an effort to hound the man out of his job..

In November 2016, Kessler ran a word search for “white” on Wes Bellamy’s Twitter account and uncovered a host of hostile and contemptuous comments directed against white people, along with some bizarre reflections regarding when assaulting a woman in her sleep might not count as rape. Kessler published an exposé which soon “began spreading like wildfire on social media”:

It wasn’t long before national outlets like The Washington Post were reaching out to me for comment. My position was that if Bellamy was a White man, he would have lost his job in a heartbeat. If we were going to have a society where people are treated equally, he should be removed from the city council.

The Governor of Virginia did remove Bellamy from a position on the state’s Board of Education, but not a single member of the Charlottesville City Council called for his removal. Kessler addressed the City Council on the subject, but was met with hostility from the audience and an accusation of “hate speech” from a councilwoman.

The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Kessler attended the “Deploraball” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he met Richard Spencer. Although Kessler and Spencer are the two men most associated in the public mind with the Charlottesville rally, they always distrusted one another and never became close.

In early 2017, ordinary Americans became aware of “antifa,” an alliance of violent Communists and anarchists whose roots stretch back to Germany in the 1920s. Today’s American version is a loose coalition of local cells of young men and women who regard most of their fellow countrymen as “fascists” with no rights that need to be respected. Antifa rioted at Trump’s inauguration, breaking shop windows and burning vehicles, but were let off with minimal punishment by sympathetic public prosecutors. In the months that followed, their West Coast counterparts rioted in Berkeley to prevent planned appearances by right-of-center speakers.. Berkeley police stood down and allowed the violence.

In February of 2017, Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stuart came to Charlottesville to voice his support for the preservation of Confederate monuments. An aggressive group of protestors calling themselves Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)—distinct from antifa, but similar in outlook—gathered around to drown out Stuart’s words with a bullhorn and shouting. SURJ soon began following Kessler and his friends around, and chased them out of a bar where they were “engaged in low-key political discussion over beers.”

On May 13, the Alt Right came to Charlottesville for the first time. That afternoon, over 100 persons gathered at Jackson Park to hear speeches by Richard Spencer, Mike Enoch of the website The Right Stuff, Nathen Damigo of Identity Evropa, and Georgia attorney Sam Dickson. A banner reading YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US was unfurled. Most of those in attendance were members of Identity Evropa. As the event was winding down, Kessler noticed a leader of SURJ “slinking around the periphery.” Kessler alerted the organizers, and trouble was largely averted.

That evening, a slightly larger crowd of about 150 held a torchlight procession from McGuffey Park to nearby Lee Park. Sam Dickson again made a brief speech deploring “brother wars” between white nations as well as anti-Russian hysteria. Kessler was present as a journalist, covering the event for The Daily Caller, and did not carry a torch. A reporter from Daily Progress also covered the event. At one point, a single “foul smelling Antifa” with “a criminal record a mile long” came storming in reeking of booze, but was quickly driven off.

The following day, a catered luncheon was held at a nearby park. There were a couple final speeches, and Kessler himself read out an introduction for Dickson. He recalls that the fateful idea of inviting the Alt Right back to Charlottesville for another rally first occurred to him at this time.

These protest events on May 13-14 “caused an international sensation.” They had not been announced in advance, and caught local radicals off-guard. Only several hours later, long after the Alt Right had left, did Wes Bellamy and the leaders of SURJ as well as the local branch of Black Lives Matter lead over 1,000 people gathered in a candlelit counterprotest in Lee Park. They unfurled a banner reading FUCK WHITE SUPREMACY over the Lee monument. A local black man named Emerson Stern, who was friendly with Kessler and Spencer, came by to livestream the event on his smartphone as Kessler watched from the safety of his home.

But then somebody recognized Stern and shouted, “Hey, that’s Jason Kessler’s friend!” His race offered no protection, and he was soon “beset by rabid members of the mob, faces contorted with hatred like a pack of gorillas about to strike.” Seeing this on Stern’s own livestream, the supposed white supremacist Kessler ran to Lee Park to help a black friend in danger. Arriving within a few minutes, he located Stern and shouted, “I came for you, Emerson; we need to get you out of here.” Counterprotesters quickly drowned him out, so he resorted to an electronic bullhorn he had the foresight to bring along. But he got separated from Stern by the surging crowd. Seeing that his only path of escape was by way of the Lee monument, he ran past it, yanking down the FUCK WHITE SUPREMACY sign in the process. He then ran past the local library and out of the park. Here he was again surrounded by angry counterprotesters. He ran through the largest gap he could spot in the circle and into the arms of local police, who proceeded to arrest him and dump him in a squad car. The crowd cheered its approval.

Kessler was driven to the Albemarle County jail. At first, police would not say why he had been arrested. Then they claimed it was because of his megaphone, but Wes Bellamy and the leaders of SURJ and BLM had all been using megaphones at the counterprotest as well. Later on, the charges were changed to disorderly contact and assault (a woman asserted Kessler had pushed her to the ground, but none of the video evidence supported her claim). Eventually, all charges were dropped. Kessler’s mugshot was, however, widely and gleefully reproduced, branding him a criminal in the eyes of the inattentive and indifferent, who are always the majority.

16 days later, an undismayed Kessler walked into the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department and applied for a permit for a “Free Speech rally in support of the Lee Monument” to be held August 12. His original idea to “unite the Right” involved bringing the Alt Right together with more moderate civic nationalists. If white racial militants could give up Sieg Heiling and denouncing the Jews (NB: in 2017 Kessler was uninformed about and uninterested in Jewish issues) while ordinary Republicans could develop a spine and explicitly defend their largely white constituents, both groups might achieve more of what they wanted. It was an unimpeachable idea, but in the end Alt Right participation scared away the moderates, and the hoped-for unity never materialized.

Unknown to Kessler, a Ku Klux Klan group from North Carolina had also applied for a permit to demonstrate in Charlottesville on July 8. The city announced both Kessler’s and the KKK events to the public simultaneously, suggesting a nonexistent connection between them. After August 12, unscrupulous journalists actually interspliced footage from the KKK rally with scenes from “Unite the Right” in order to deceive the public!

The Klan rally on July 8 pitted between 40 and 60 Klansmen against 1,500 to 2,000 counterprotesters. The event did not last long, and when the KKK had left, the counterprotesters turned on the police, screaming “cops and the Klan go hand in hand.” The police deployed teargas and made 22 arrests. By contrast, “all the KKK had done was speak and leave, giving them no reason to make arrests.” This led to accusations that the police had “favored” the Klan.

In the aftermath of the Klan rally, a consortium of left-wing groups criticized the Charlottesville authorities for what they described as an “outsized and militaristic governmental response” to the counterprotesters. This led the Charlottesville police to second-guess their July 8 decision to use force against the left-wing rioters, thereby contributing to the disastrous stand-down orders given on August 12 and the violence which followed.

Three days after the Klan rally, Kessler held a press conference in front of City Hall. In addition to the issue of free speech, he emphasized the legitimacy of whites publicly organizing in their own interest and their desire to remain a majority in the country their ancestors had founded. A local motorcycle club volunteered to provide security; no antifa sought to tangle with these dozen or so tough-looking biker dudes.

In the run-up to Unite the Right, a chatroom was set up on Discord for planning purposes. This included a high security channel for the leadership and a general chatroom open to all persons interested in the rally. The general chatroom went largely unsupervised, as one might expect among free-speech activists. As a result, it included

trolls making extremely offensive and racist jokes and talking quite liberally about preparations to defend themselves in the event the rally was attacked by Antifa. Our enemies would use the loose talk and outlandish rhetoric to smear the organizers and blame them for the violence. Every embarrassing comment by anonymous trolls would thereafter be attributed to “organizers” of the rally.

On July 13, Kessler’s opponents applied for a permit to hold concurrent events of their own in McGuffey and Jackson Park, just a block or two away from Unite the Right. They claimed this was “to allow assembly for citizens protesting the white supremacist groups,” but plainly they wanted staging areas for a planned attack on Unite the Right: otherwise, they would not have needed to be so close by.

On August 2, the Charlottesville City Council held a closed-door meeting to discuss Unite the Right. It began with a threat assessment from Virginia State Police which (rightly) focused on dangers from the Leftist counterprotesters and antifa. Mayor Michael Signer did not like this one bit. He sought to have Kessler’s rally moved to McIntire Park, miles away from the Lee monument that was meant to be its focus. Charlottesville Police Chief Al Lewis opposed this, saying such a switch should have been decided upon weeks earlier. Attorneys also warned Signer that such a change would be overstepping his authority as Mayor. There was no talk of moving the counterprotesters.

Authorities kept putting Kessler off with vague assurances that a “plan” was in place for security. Finally, on August 5 he was invited in to talk with City Manager Maurice Jones and Police Chief Al Lewis, both black. These men made him several specific promises, namely that there would be eight squadrons of police on hand, including 200 officers at the back of Lee Park to assist with the safe entry of speakers, additional officers stationed at all entrances to the park to prevent disruption by the other side, and that undercover officers would be embedded throughout the crowd to break up fights and make arrests where necessary. None of these promises were kept.

Shortly after returning home from this meeting, Kessler received an e-mail informing him that Unite the Right was being moved to MacIntire Park and that his permit for the use of Lee Park was being cancelled. The pretense was concern about the number of attendees, but far larger gatherings had only recently been held at Lee Park with the city’s approval. Kessler never accepted the venue change. He met with Police Chief Lewis again that same afternoon, but nothing was resolved. Once back home, he made separate phone calls to Richard Spencer and Sam Dickson; both men recommended contacting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He did so early on the morning of August 8. By that afternoon, they were on the case, accusing the city of viewpoint discrimination.

While all this was happening, a bizarre imbroglio was afoot among Kessler’s supposed allies. A dubious associate of Richard Spencer was scheming to discredit Kessler by trying to convince anyone who would listen that he was Jewish (he isn’t). This character succeeded in gaining control of the planning chatroom and bringing others as irresponsible as himself into it. Their “over-the-top rhetoric and jokes about violence became a huge liability for us after the rally and formed the basis of the litigation against us.” In the last days before the rally, some of the anti-Kessler forces managed to cut him out of the communication loop with the Charlottesville Police Department. Meanwhile, the “Nationalist Alliance,” an umbrella group of four organizations suspicious of the more “moderate” rally-goers, broke off communication with the organizers during the final days. The name “Unite the Right” was starting to sound like a bad joke.

A major reason for the debacle of August 12 was that, unlike the previous protest of May 13, Unite the Right was announced in advance, giving opponents as much time to prepare as the organizers of the rally itself. Besides the SURJ, BLM, and antifa chapters, the counterprotesters included the Soros-funded outfit Refuse Fascism, Congregate Charlottesville, a church group more interested in “queer liberation” and anti-racism than in repenting of their sins, and Redneck Revolt, an explicitly Communist armed paramilitary organization that distributes instructional propaganda on sabotage, kidnapping, and executions. Counterprotester social media posts in the run-up to Unite the Right included such sentiments as:

Gun them all down! Display their carcasses and skulls on stakes! . . . It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. Time to wipe these racists off the map for good. . . . There can be no mercy, no quarter, the round ups must be whole families, wives, children, relatives of racists and white nationalists.

Kessler’s own final instruction, issued August 10, told people not to bring knives, to avoid using flags as weapons, discouraged pepper spray because of the risk to innocent parties, and prohibited attacking counterprotesters with tiki torches. He wrote:

It is extremely important that we avoid extreme violence at all costs outside of what is needed to defend our people. Do not aggress towards the counter protesters or start any fights. If you are carrying, follow the state law of VA and realize that if you use your weapon there is a high likelihood the court will treat you harshly/unfairly.

Once again, however, the Discord chatroom was insufficiently moderated. One contributor who did not even attend the rally made a humorous post about running over the other side with a “protester digestor." This was solemnly cited in court afterwards as evidence of the organizers’ violent intentions.

Just before dark on August 11, Kessler got a call telling him that the ACLU had prevailed in securing a court injunction which reinstated the permit for the next day. Like millions of others, he still naïvely assumed that in America, if you have a permit for a rally, it means you can hold that rally. Thus, he was momentarily elated.

An unannounced torchlit demonstration was planned for that evening in the hope it might be completed before counterprotesters had time to mobilize. As Kessler notes, torchlit processions are an ancient European tradition, long practiced in Scotland to celebrate the New Year and more recently in Hungary and Estonia for anniversaries of national independence. They have been recorded in the United States as far back as 1858. The organizers were in touch with the UVA Police, who “promised to send officers to secure the protest and create separation from the counterprotesters” (they did not). As darkness fell, a procession of about 200 young persons carrying tiki torches marched across the UVA campus to a statue of Thomas Jefferson as UVA police loitered idly across the street.

Word of the planned procession had unfortunately leaked and about a dozen antifa were waiting for the marchers, including “convicted felons and at least one domestic terrorist.” One young woman whom Kessler had often seen walking about town without assistance was there in a wheelchair “to make her look like a vulnerable, disabled girl being picked on by ‘white supremacists.’” Counterprotesters slapped and spat at the marchers. A melee broke out, with one female antifa hitting marchers over the head with a baton, and people on both sides using mace. Only after the fighting subsided did the police arrive and make a single arrest.

On the day of the rally itself Kessler, accompanied by a security crew of four men, drove to a spot one block behind Lee Park, but was told (contrary to previous assurances) that he could not enter from the rear. His crew safely entered Lee Park by the front, where they were herded along with other attendees into two small, barricaded squares occupying less than half the park (he had been promised all of Lee Park). Virginia State Police would not allow Kessler or anyone else into the speakers’ area.

Unite the Right was officially declared an “unlawful assembly” at 11:31 AM, and Charlottesville Police came to announce this shortly before noon, when the speeches had been scheduled to begin. They deliberately drove the speakers and attendees out of Lee Park and into a mob of furious, often criminal counterprotesters, who met them with bags of urine and feces, pepper spray, and (in one celebrated case) an improvised flamethrower.

As all this went on, every news network in America was breathlessly informing the public that violent white supremacists had rioted in Charlottesville, and the worst had only been prevented by a few decent souls showing up to challenge them.

Kessler made his way to MacIntire Park and thence to an afterparty outside town. It was there he received the most terrible news of the day: James Fields, an attendee unknown to the organizers, had been attempting to leave Charlottesville when he rammed his car into a menacing mob of counterprotesters; Charlottesville native Heather Heyer was killed and several others seriously injured. Kessler provides a useful summary of the facts of this difficult case which I will omit here.

On the evening of the 12th, Kessler became aware of the breathtakingly dishonest and monolithically hostile press coverage of his suppressed rally. He attempted to contact journalists to get his side of the story out, but they turned him down. He then called a press conference for the afternoon of the 13th, “before all the national media left town.” He chose the area in front of City Hall because the police station was nearby. Other Unite the Right organizers were invited but backed out, so Kessler went it alone. He intended to disavow the violence and reveal the Charlottesville Police Department’s broken promises and failure to do their job, but his voice was quickly drowned out by shouts and curses from the hostile crowd. They gradually inched toward his lectern, “testing the waters, looking over to see if any police were going to stop them.” When none did, they rushed Kessler, tackling him as he tried to get away. At that point, police finally intervened, taking him to the relative safety of the police station.

The next day, Police Chief Al Thomas held his own press conference at which he falsely maintained that Unite the Right participants had disobeyed police instructions to enter Lee Park from the rear (there had been no such instructions). Both Chief Lewis and City Manager Jones illegally deleted their text messages from August 12, but it is known from others’ testimony that they deliberately sabotaged the rally by allowing the counterprotesters to attack. Ordering his men to stand down, Chief Lewis said, “Let them fight, it will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.”

No antifa and only a few violent blacks were ever prosecuted for their actions on August 12.

A number of lawsuits were filed against the organizers of Unite the Right, but only one, Sines v. Kessler, went to trial. This “professional political hit job” was the work of Dahlia Lithwick, Karen Dunn, Roberta Kaplan, and Amy Spitalnick, all Jewish. It was funded to the tune of more than $22 million, with much of the money coming from “Jewish Silicon Valley billionaires,” Jewish founder and President of Craigslist Craig Newmark, and Jewish actor Topher Grace, as well as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The author includes a photo of Spitalnick and Kaplan fundraising at a San Francisco synagogue. Perhaps around this time it began dawning on Kessler that his Alt Right allies had some grounds for their interest in Jews.

The defendants did not have anything like these resources to pay for expert witnesses or private investigators. Some had to represent themselves in court, as they were unable to afford a lawyer. The plaintiffs also managed to get much of the defendants’ evidence ruled inadmissible, including the independent Heaphy Report, a detective’s testimony which attested that there had been no conspiracy between the organizers and James Fields, as well as all the evidence painstakingly collected by Kessler himself over a period of four years.

Outrageously, the judge instructed the jury that there could have been a conspiracy between people who had never met, agreed on any shared purpose, or even communicated at all! Despite this, the jury deadlocked on the key federal conspiracy charge and ruled in the plaintiff’s favor only on some lesser state violations. The defendants were collectively ordered to pay a sum of $2.35 million (so far, nothing has actually been paid). As Kessler points out, spending over $22 million to obtain an award of barely a tenth of that amount seems like a massive waste of money: “They very well could have just given that money directly to their clients.” But benefitting their clients was not the purpose. Asked about her aims, Robert Kaplan stated:

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.

All this for defending a statue.

Charlottesville’s Lee statue was eventually removed to a black-owned foundry, where it was melted down. Journalists wrote up gloating descriptions of the vandalism in “horror novel prose,” and a film was made of Lee’s face super-heated to a red glow like a damned soul from an illustration for Dante’s Inferno.

Six years after Unite the Right, 12 participants in the August 11 torchlit march were arrested on charges of “burning an object with intent to intimidate,” an old law directed against KKK-style cross burnings. Qualified attorneys at the time explained that the statute did not cover torchlit protests, but Soros-funded Jim Hingeley was elected Commonwealth’s Attorney of Albemarle County on a promise to prosecute the participants anyway. The judge denied bond for all defendants, even those with no criminal record, so that some pled guilty rather than be kept away from their jobs and their families for the entire pretrial period. Two of the Judge’s clerks turned out to be personally close to the plaintiffs; only an exposé by Kessler forced them to recuse themselves from the case. These prosecutions, or rather persecutions, are still ongoing.

As recently as two years before Unite the Right, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that “if [police] officers allow a hostile audience to silence a speaker, the officers themselves effectively silence a speaker and effectuate a heckler’s veto.” The judges clearly enunciated the legal principle that police have an affirmative duty to “take reasonable action to protect from violence persons exercising their constitutional rights.” Relying on this precedent, Kessler brought suit against the City of Charlottesville, yet the presiding judge coolly overturned it, ruling that “law enforcement had no legal obligation to prevent violence by counter-demonstrators against the permitted rally.” Kessler appealed to the Fourth Circuit, “full of left-wing Obama appointed judges,” but they did not even bother to offer a rationale for rejecting his appeal. As he remarks, this is practically equivalent to the death of free speech in America: Any controversial viewpoint can now be silenced by a violent, government-sanctioned mob.

Unable to safely appear in public in his own hometown, Jason Kessler left Charlottesville in 2018. With no chance for normal employment, he went back to taking any work he could find and learning a trade. Today he owns his own small business. While many of his fellow organizers have fallen by the wayside since 2017, he continues to advocate for his people and their traditional freedoms.

Concluding his book, Kessler notes how obvious it should have been from the start that our enemies could not engineer our demographic replacement without destroying our right to speak out against it. This is the context in which the loss of our freedom of speech must be understood. Since Charlottesville, the regime’s mask of legality is off: We are the enemy, and the only law is whatever helps them suppress us.

Roger Devlin [Email him] is a contributing editor to The Occidental Quarterly and the author of Sexual Utopia in Power: The Feminist Revolt Against Civilization.

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