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Jason Kessler is at again. This time the lead organizer behind the August 2017 white nationalist/militia “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia has obtained a permit to host “Unite the Right 2” in Washington D.C. on August 12. Billed as a “White Civil Rights” event, Kessler announced that it may be followed by another rally in Charlottesville – though he has since equivocated on a return to the city.

Kessler’s latest effort comes as several groups and leaders involved in last year’s event have signed consent decrees agreeing not to return to Charlottesville in armed fashion. Some have indicated they will not be attending the sequel. Kessler signed a similar decree on July 12. Unite the Right 2 also comes as prominent white nationalists are rethinking strategies that have resulted in bad publicity and repeated confrontations with anti-fascists – including contested and chaotic attempts to speak on college campuses.

Jason Kessler and the Lawsuits from Charlottesville

Unite the Right II approaches as Jason Kessler has been mired in legal struggles. In City of Charlottesville et al v. Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia et al, filed by the city and multiple local businesses and neighborhood associations, Kessler and a host of participants in the August 2017 event were sued under a section of the Virginia Constitution guaranteeing that “the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power,” as well as statutes addressing “unlawful paramilitary activity;” “falsely assuming the functions of any peace officer or law-enforcement officer; and creating a “public nuisance.”[1]

Written in concert with Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, an amended complaint filed in January 2018 alleges that Kessler “solicited the presence of private militia groups,” including reaching out to the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia and Virginia Three Percenters. With Identity Evropa’s Elliot Kline (aka Eli Mosely), Kessler “oversaw a highly regimented event-planning process using an online chat app called Discord.” Other Discord participants included members of the national socialist Traditionalist Worker Party and Vanguard America; the League of the South; Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute and Robert “Azzmador” Ray of the national socialist Daily Stormer. At one point Kessler recommended that attendees “bring picket sign posts, shields and other self-defense implements” that could serve as “weapon[s] should things turn ugly.” Participants in the Discord chatroom “openly craved violence against their ideological opponents,” the complaint alleges, backing its claim with multiple examples of such statements.

As a result of the lawsuit, eleven named defendants had signed consent decrees in which they are “permanently enjoined from returning to Charlottesville, Virginia, as part of a unit of two or more persons acting in concert while armed with a firearm, weapon, shield, or any item whose purpose is to inflict bodily harm, at any demonstration, rally, protest, or march.” Signers included leaders of the League of the South, Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, New York Light Foot Militia, and III% People’s Militia of Maryland.

After first castigating these leaders for signing the decrees, Kessler signed his own on July 12. Kessler’s bars him from soliciting the return of armed groups to Charlottesville or issuing commands and instructions to groups intending an armed display in the city. Kessler also committed to “use best efforts to ensure that attendees do not” return armed and will request that any that do “must leave the event.” It is not clear as of this writing whether another Charlottesville event will take place.

Redneck Revolt, an anti-racist community defense organization, also signed a similar consent decree. In early January, a group of clergy affiliated with Congregate Charlottesville, a faith-based group that opposed the racist event, asked the city and other plaintiffs to drop the group from the lawsuit. While the clergy made clear that “We organize and act without weapons and require that those who act with us remain unarmed,” they stressed,

“There is a marked difference between the armed white supremacist groups who invaded Charlottesville with the intent to do harm and the armed anti-racist groups who came to Charlottesville to assist in supporting and protecting our most marginalized communities.”

In Sines v. Kessler, defendants harmed by the actions of racists in Charlottesville sued under federal civil rights statutes and the Virginia Code. Allegations range from conspiring to violate the civil rights of citizens of Charlottesville through intimidation and violence; engaging in racial, religious and/or ethnic harassment; assault and battery; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.[2]

According to the lawsuit, in the lead-up to August 11 and 12, 2017 Kessler kept supporters abreast of the activities of Congregate Charlottesville. “In doing so,” the complaint alleges, “Kessler intended to have others threaten, and potentially cause violence to, the organization – a practice that is not uncommon among Defendants and co-conspirators.” Kessler and others posted photographs in the Discord chatroom of individuals planning to protest the August event and Kessler encouraged Discord participants to “obtain the names of local businesses whose owners signed a petition to ask the government to cancel Kessler’s permit…A number of these businesses thereafter received in person and mailed threats,” the complaint states.

Anti-fascist activist Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville when James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his car into a crowd of protestors. Fields had been photographed previously in the uniform of Vanguard America, a national socialist group that took part in the Discord planning and rally. Shortly after Unite the Right 1, Kessler tweeted:

Kessler would later attribute the tweet to taking Ambien.

On June 9 Judge Norman K. Moon dismissed the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case. He concluded that, “Plaintiffs have, for the most part, adequately alleged that Defendants formed a conspiracy to hurt black and Jewish individuals, and their supporters, because of their race at the August 11th and 12th events.”

Kessler has also filed a lawsuit against Charlottesville claiming that the city violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by refusing to issue a permit for his planned follow-up event.

Kessler and Unite the Right 2

Kessler’s plans for Unite the Right 2 come as key participants in the first event have indicated they will not attend the rerun. National Policy Institute’s Richard Spencer told Newsweek that he “won’t likely attend” the event. There is little surprise here, as Kessler and Spencer appear to have had a hard falling out. About four months ago, for instance, Kessler compared the work of VDARE, an anti-immigrant group founded by white nationalist Peter Brimelow, and the white nationalist American Renaissance (Amren) to that of the National Policy Institute (NPI):

NPI is run by Richard Spencer.

The League of South’s Michael Hill announced on the Stormfront Action podcast that “We don’t have anything to gain by going back to Charlottesville.” League of the South Public Relations Chief Brad Griffin, aka Hunter Wallace, stated that he will avoid the event because he does not see “any reason to believe [the city] is capable of upholding law and order.”

The League of the South’s rejection of Unite the Right 2 comes as the southern white nationalist group has shifted gears post-Charlottesville. IREHR reported last month that the League of the South had both allied its ideology with transnational white nationalists – those who seek to reclaim all of the United States and Europe for whites over the Leagues’ former sole emphasis on southern secession – even as it took up a “cultural vanguardism” that couples openly promoting white nationalism with holding less-publicized events to avoid confrontations with anti-fascists and interface uncontested with the white public – for instance, through “flash rally” events.

Kessler struck back at this strategy in response to one such “flash rally” described by the League’s Brad Griffin (Hunter Wallace):

Mike “Enoch” Penovich told Newsweek that “I have no plans to attend this rally, nor am I involved in any of the planning. I was not involved in the planning of the last event either, just an invited speaker.” In addition, the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) has fallen into disarray following leader Matthew Heimbach’s arrest on domestic violence-related charges – TWP’s Tony Hovater telling Newsweek that only five members remain in the group.

Identity Europa, who’s Elliot Kline (aka Eli Mosely) helped co-moderate the Unite the Right 1 Discord chatroom with Kessler, actively promoted the first event on its Twitter feed. In recent months the group has been silent on the follow-up event on both Twitter and GAB. As of May 2018, however, the group had raised $4500 on FreeStartr for legal defense related to Charlottesville:

As Unite the Right 2 approaches, Kessler has also lashed out at the militia groups that mobilized in Charlottesville, as seen in his June 11 plea for support for his legal conflicts:

“By effect, even if these are harassment lawsuits, they served their intended purpose, because groups like American Warrior Revolution will tap out, Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia tapped out, League of the South tap out. And, it’s not like they didn’t have options. I mean I tried to reach out to all these people and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got attorneys, we can fight this thing.’ But, I mean certainly you would think that the militia groups would want to fight it, but they didn’t have the money, and they thought ‘oh no, well we don’t want to deal with a racist.’ And, how far did that get them. They basically curtailed their second amendment rights which are so important to what they do… They don’t want to put their money where their mouth is. I guess they spent all their money on those big high-powered guns and then forgot actually to save a little bit of money to protect their right to carry those guns.”

Not long after Unite the Right 1, Kessler was even more to the point about militias:

“Cucked” is a common movement put-down that carries connotations of emasculation and being too wedded to mainstream conservatism.

Kessler’s own “tapping out” undercuts his argument. In a July 12 interview on The Public Space, Kessler further stated that as these lawsuits have dragged on, “I felt like perhaps it’s not the safest plan to do it in Charlottesville again.” Kessler also towed the line of his consent decree, stating, “If we do this thing in Charlottesville, then people should not come armed.”

Kessler’s Dilemma

Kessler’s dilemma stems in part from the strategic tightropes he is attempting to walk post-Charlottesville. On the one hand, Kessler is pushing a militant tone by vowing to hold publicly announced events sure to draw public ire and anti-fascist protest. Such a posture is likely to attract those in the movement dedicated to confrontational politics. In June, for instance, Kessler had to respond to one individual conducting an informal poll asking whether Atomwaffen Division should do “private security” for Unite the Right 2. In response, Kessler tweeted:

Atomwaffen Division is a vanguardist national socialist group influenced by James Mason. A onetime National Socialist White People’s Party activist, Mason’s own inspiration derives in part from cult leader and convicted murder Charles Manson, of whom he once wrote, “I have done what I could to inject– subtlely and overtly– as many of Manson’s ideas into Movement thought as possible.” Befitting such inspiration, members of Atomwaffen Division have been implicated in multiple murders. Kessler has had his own flirtation with Manson, calling the racist murderer a “misunderstood genius” before being confronted about his statement and back peddling that “Manson was not a good or admirable man.”

Kessler has also been criticized for holding an event likely to bring further animus and legal problems to the movement.

On the other hand, Kessler has been hit with a white-ist backlash for attempting to cast the upcoming event as non-racist, non-violent and rooted in a “civil rights” struggle for white people. Kessler spelled out this vision for movement strategy in a December 2017 article arguing that the “alt-right” should adopt “civil rights memes to advance the interests of white people.” Casting himself “more of a Classical Liberal,” Kessler argued that “a primary hurdle to successfully adopting these tactics is the desire among many in the movement for a fascistic style of government.” He elaborates that,

“Because we live in a nation of laws the best way to advance our agenda is by learning to follow those laws and game the system…We need to fulfill the true promise of the Alt-Right by creating a movement capable of broad social upheaval akin to what the Left accomplished in the 1960’s but in reverse… Obviously the goals of the pro-white civil rights movement will be different: affirming the rights of white nations to exist like other nations…
Some may say that the civil rights model doesn’t go far enough. I don’t claim that it does…There are those who feel that making any move which does not lead to total victory over our enemy is not worth taking. I disagree. There are many intermediary steps required along the path to total victory. By accomplishing one goal you set yourself up for the next, larger goal.
For instance, by leading a peaceful & successful rally at Unite the Right 2 on August 11-12th, 2018 we reaffirm our 1st amendment right to assemble and advocate for the interests of our people, even in one of the most hostile anti-white enclaves in America. By demonstrating that we are a legitimate advocacy movement we can move on to organizing on college campuses and perhaps a Congressional White Caucus…
I’m not saying that the white civil rights strategy is the only one we as a movement should adhere to. But when you’re at an event that is modeled as such we should adhere to that formula and not mix strategies too much. For instance, people should have a right to arm and defend themselves against tyranny.  Yet when you’re at a civil rights styled event the primary purpose should not be showing off your militaristic defense capabilities. The objective should be fostering public sympathy rather than striking fear in the hearts of our enemies. Besides, they’ll fear us no matter what we do.”

Kessler’s “White Civil Rights” framing harkens to longtime national socialist David Duke’s 1980 formation of the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP). Duke has lately taken to calling himself a “human rights activist” even as he has pressed white nationalist groups keep anti-Semitism at the core of their ideology. The former Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader had participated in planning meetings with Identity Evropa’s Mosely and the Daily Stormer’s Ray the day before the August 12 Charlottesville event, according to the complaint in Sines v. Kessler. Duke would mount a failed attempt to quash a subpoena requiring him to turn over documents to the court related to his communication with participants before and during Unite the Right 1, participation in events leading up to the big rally, and financial support and fundraising for the rally. On April 3, 2018 Kessler appeared on David Duke’s radio show.

Kessler has repeatedly pushed aspects of this strategy through his GAB account. Despite the fact that Unite the Right 1 was organized with members of national socialist groups such as Vanguard America, the Traditionalist Worker Party and the Daily Stormer – and recalling that the name of Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers Party – Kessler has stressed that Nazis, the Klan and their symbols will not be allowed at Unite the Right 2.

Four months later, Kessler would reiterate:

“Roman salutes,” of course, refers to the infamous stiff arm salute of WWII-era Italian fascists and the German Nazis. If these admonitions were not enough, about three months later, Kessler posted on GAB:

Even as he castigated armed militia leaders that mobilized in Charlottesville for failing to “put their money where their mouth is” and support his legal case, and referred to them as “cucked,” he sought to distance himself from them in his June 11 plea for support:

“Another thing is, is they try and lump me, and the other alt-right demonstrators, in with the actual militias, who have rights, by the way. And those militia guys, it wasn’t like they were coordinating with the Unite the Right demonstrators. They talked to us, and we told them that they have a right to be there just like anybody else does. And they didn’t want to be part of the demonstration, they don’t want to be called racist…even though I wouldn’t say that is what I am. It’s certainly not what I am, it’s not what a lot of people are who came to the rally. But they’re very scared of that label.”

Kessler is also downplaying the emphasis on preparedness for a street fight prominent in the lead-up to Unite the Right 1. Even before “tapping out” by signing a consent decree, Kessler had admonishing people on the official Unite the Right 2 website:

“DO NOT bring unapproved items. This will include weapons, shields, etc as well as ‘racist’ symbols. This is a White Civil Rights rally, not a street fight or an anti- (fill in an ethnic group here) rally.”

Kessler reiterated this demand in his June 11 video:

“To be clear, I don’t want people bringing shields, don’t bring sticks, or clubs or anything like that to the Unite the Right 2 rally. But I want the option to be able to work with law enforcement so that certain members of the group are able to have implements to be able to block those kinds of flying objects.”

Kessler’s mainstreaming message and admonitions against Nazis, Klan, and symbols of overt racism (the Confederate flag, excepted), has unsurprisingly drawn the ire of many racists.

White nationalist Billy Roper, an advocate of a white ethnostate in the Ozarks and head of the ShieldWall Network, attacked Kessler in his Roper Report for seeking a “big tent” for the movement, disregarding the effect of a new rally on those charged in the first event, and for inadequate organizing and security skills:

“Infamously, I spent several months last year warning people NOT to go to the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. I even made some enemies and burned some bridges by doing so…A lot of people have since admitted that I was right, at least in regards to the big tent concept of binding ourselves to the Alt Lite, and the character of many of the impurity spiraling speakers and organizers of the event…
Jason Kessler could care less about the C-ville [Charlottesville] defendants. He just wants to royally piss off all of Charlottesville, including the presiding judge who will be handing down political prisoner Jacob Goodwin’s sentence less than two weeks later, by pulling a stunt in C-ville for his own selfish reasons…
As everyone knows, I’m not against public rallies and protests. In fact, the ShieldWall Network uses the opportunity for our Phalanx to support allied organizations such as The Knights Party and the League of the South, or to trigger Antifa into coming out so we can then doxx them deeper and harder, or to provoke our enemies into reacting to us in extremity which causes the normie public to react negatively to them even when they aren’t yet ready to react positively to us, psychologically. (Operation Newton’s Cradle) We march into downtown Memphis to support Confederate monuments, oppose Gay Pride parades and pro-immigration protests, and hold anti-Sharia rallies. Frankly, our political purpose is to polarize and divide through accelerationism.
But Kessler’s Unite The Right II plans, now open for all of the world to see since he had poor OpSec [Operation Security] using facebook (sic) to discuss them and somebody in their crew leaked it all to Unicorn Riot who then published it, just don’t fly. He doesn’t know where people will stay or how they will get there or who will be doing security. Heck, he can’t even do a podcast interview without his dad yelling at him to get out of his room. The kind of tactical planning of multiple entry and withdrawal routes with redundant rendezvous points and fallback positions which were absent from the first UTR are clearly beyond the capability of the planners of round two, as well. He also hasn’t learned anything about the failure of the big tent concept, and instead wants to double down and invite nonWhite speakers. That’s why every leader except one has disavowed Kessler and Unite The Right II, and they are all doing their best to talk some sense into the lone holdout, too. Maybe your sensible voice of reason may be the one to convince him, and any others who might want to tag along, that ‘for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven’, and UTR II ain’t it.”

Roper has announced that ShieldWall Network will attend the August 31-September 2 Knights Party Congress led by former Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader Thom Robb as well as upcoming League of the South and Stormfront events.

Kessler’s statement that “the Unite the Right rally is not for neo-Nazis” and anyone bringing “a swastika, a weapon, [or] Roman Salutes” to the event will be removed, drew particular ire:

The use of ((( ))) indicates that the anti-Semitic poster is referring to Jews.

 

Many other posts like these could be included.

Another individual offered criticism of Unite the Right’s “messaging”:

This critique elicited a vicious response from an individual who created a GAB page titled “Jason Kessler is a Cuckold”:

Kessler did, however, receive praise from Harold Covington of the Northwest Front, the longtime national socialist tweeting June 27 that,

About a month earlier, however, Covington had expressed his sense that Unite the Right 1 was a mistake, even posting an apparent online poll of supporters:

Covington has eschewed such events for his most recent strategy of pushing the boundaries between protected speech and calls to racist violence in a series of podcasts that began in September 2017.

The post-Charlottesville period has not seen the decline of organized white nationalism – as some predicted – but rather the fragmentation of the movement into various camps promoting different strategies. Vanguardists like Covington and Atomwaffen Division will continue to promote the violent overthrow of the U.S. government to create a whites only nation-state. Mainstreamers like Kessler are stealing a page from 1980s David Duke by pushing to clean up the movement’s symbols and rhetoric in an attempt to gain mass legitimacy as “civil rights” activists. The Billy Ropers of the movement continue to press open white nationalism and a continuation of confrontational rallies. Others yet, like the League of the South, are pushing ahead with a “cultural vanguardsim” by attempting to recruit a core of racist whites to the cause by holding events away from anti-fascist protest.

Each strategy requires a different response and anti-fascists and supporters of democracy need to be ready for each.


NOTES

[1] Defendants in the case included the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, New York Light Foot Militia, Virginia Minuteman Militia, American Freedom Keepers, LLC, American Warrior Revolution, Redneck Revolt, Socialist Rifle Association, Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America, League of the South, Inc, National Socialist Movement, Jason Kessler, Elliot Kline, Christian Yingling, George Curbelo, Francis Marion, Ace Baker, Matthew Heimbach, Cesar Hess, Spencer Borum, Michael Tubbs and Jeff Schoep.

[2] Defendants included Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer, Christopher Cantwell, James Alex Fields Jr., Vanguard American, Andrew Anglin, Moonbase Holdings LLC, Robert “Azzmador” Ray, Nathan Damigo, Elliot Kline, Identity Evropa, Matthew Heimbach, Matthew Parrott, Traditionalist Worker Party, Michael Hill, Michael Tubbs, League of the South, Jeff Schoep, National Socialist Movement, Nationalist Front, Augustus Sol Invictus, Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, Michael “Enoch” Peinovich, Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and East Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Chuck Tanner

Author Chuck Tanner

Chuck Tanner is an Advisory Board member and researcher for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He lives in Washington State where he researches and works to counter white nationalism and the anti-Indian and other far right social movements.

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