- Justin Ide/Reuters
The organizer of last weekend’s deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was chased out of his own press conference on Sunday by counter protesters yelling “shame on you!”
Jason Kessler had walked up to the microphone to complain about violations of his First Amendment rights. But he was quickly drowned out by chants of “murderer” – a reference to the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old counter protester who was run over on Saturday by a man who appeared to espouse neo-Nazi views.
A former University of Virginia student, Kessler founded a far-right nonprofit called Unity & Security for America earlier this year to “protect the West” from “rampant immigration.”
Kessler told a local radio station last week that the rally was meant as a show of “support” for Charlotteville’s monument to the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, which he said local politicians were trying to remove as part of “a push to take down all of these white historical figures.”
“We’re trying to do a pro-white demonstration,” Kessler said. “We’re trying to show that folks can stand up for white people. The political correctness has gotten way out of control, and the only way to fight back against it has been to stand up for our own interests.”
Kessler, who has written for right-wing publications like The Daily Caller and the anti-immigration outlet VDARE, said that he is “pro-white” and wants to “stand up” for his people against “ethnic cleansing” by “liberal social policies.” But he denied that he is a white supremacist.
Kessler, a Charlottesville resident, began his crusade to salvage the Robert E. Lee monument in late March when Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy first called for the statue to be removed. Kessler’s campaign to unseat Bellamy, who is black, garnered national media attention – especially after Kessler unearthed vulgar and sexist tweets written by Bellamy between 2009-2012.
- Justin Ide/Reuters
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups operating in the US, noted that Kessler’s organization Unity & Security for America launched its website around the same time that he was petitioning for Bellamy’s removal.
“Unity & Security for America takes an America First approach to defending Western Civilization including its history, culture, principles and peoples,” the website’s “Protect the West” section reads.
“We believe that rampant immigration is bursting our civilization at its seams. Unnecessary foreign interventions and attacks on Western history and heritage are detrimental to the survival of the tradition which brought us reason, logic, medicine, human rights and took us into outer space.”
The website also features photos of Kessler with Republican Rep. Tom Garrett, whose district includes Charlotteville. Garrett denounced Kessler in an interview with Fox on Sunday, calling him a “racist ideologue” and expressing regret for meeting with him in March.
“I had no idea who he was in March,” Garrett said, adding that he has been condemning Kessler’s actions since May.
Kessler has also recorded himself speaking about “the need to preserve history” from “Marxist revisionism” – a far-right conspiracy theory which says that Jews escaped Nazi Germany in order to “erode Western values.”
- Justin Ide/Reuters
Pro-Trump, far-right commentators are now trying to distance themselves from Kessler in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville riots, claiming that he was paid by the liberal philanthropist George Soros “to invite several neo-Nazi and KKK groups to smear everyone attending.”
“Just did some digging and I found out that this little f–k was a leftist operative until when? You guessed it – November 2016,” wrote a commenter on the pro-Trump reddit group /r/The_Donald.
“‘Unite the Right’ is a Soros-funded honeypot psyop that employs the ‘Pied Piper’ strategy to damage the Republican brand by insinuating that Antifa goons disguised as Nazis represent the views of the entire Right Wing in America,” wrote another commenter.
“I said from day one this was a media created false flag,” another replied. “I hope there is a real investigation in to this s–t so we can see the true criminals exposed.”
Conspiracy theories involving Soros are prolific among far-right activists, who have accused the 87-year-old of playing a role in everything from the Charlottesville violence to the European refugee crisis.
- Getty Images/Chet Strange
Kessler did not respond to requests for comment. But he joined a growing chorus of white nationalists, including Tim Gionet, better known as “Baked Alaska,”and Richard Spencer, who blamed the outbreak of violence on police.
“Police refused to separate” and “even pushed the feuding groups together,” Kessler tweeted on Sunday night.
There is no evidence that the police “pushed” anyone together. But the police department’s late response to breaking up the violence has been roundly criticized on both sides.
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe told The New York Times that law enforcement was essentially outgunned by far-right militias, who showed up at the protests “with better equipment than our state police had.”