National News

White Nationalist in Vice Video Is Barred From Virginia

Posted July 21, 2018 4:07 p.m. EDT

Christopher Cantwell, a self-described white nationalist who pepper-sprayed protesters during the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, pleaded guilty to assault and battery Friday and has been barred from Virginia for five years, prosecutors said.

Cantwell, 37, rose as a high-profile activist for the “alt-right” after being featured in a Vice News documentary about the demonstrations in Charlottesville. Some mocked him as the “crying Nazi” after he posted a video online in which he fights back tears while describing the aftermath of the demonstrations.

Now, he has been thrown out of Virginia after pleading guilty to two counts of assault and battery, and to violating the terms of his bond by referring to victims on social media and in a radio broadcast, prosecutors said in a statement.

Cantwell, who faced 12 months in jail for the crimes, had served 107 days. The rest of his sentence was suspended. Cantwell was ordered to leave Virginia within eight hours of the delivery of his sentence Friday, and not to make contact with the victims of his assault and battery crimes.

“This outcome brings a measure of finality to the defendant’s dispersal of pepper spray nearly a year ago,” Robert Tracci, the Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney, said in a statement Friday.

Reached by phone Saturday, Cantwell said he was not happy about the plea deal and he had confessed to crimes he did not commit instead of facing prosecution. He said he had returned to his home in New Hampshire and planned to travel around the country to meet with listeners of his podcast as well as network with other members of the alt-right.

“With the ultimate goal of having an ethno-state,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell said he planned to use the media attention he has received, including the Vice documentary and being targeted as the “crying Nazi,” as a pulpit.

“I’ve got to leverage whatever I can to get what I want,” he said.

On Saturday morning, a new episode of another podcast posted on Cantwell’s website declared: “Cantwell is free! Give yourself a huge pat on the back if you contributed in any way to his defense as I’m sure he wouldn’t have made it out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Virginia without you.”

Charlottesville continues to grapple with the deadly white nationalist rally in August. Cantwell’s charges stemmed from a march on the University of Virginia campus the night of Aug. 11. That march preceded the larger demonstrations the next day, when fights broke out between white nationalists and counterprotesters and a man drove through a crowd, killing a 32-year-old woman.

Nearly every city official who held power at the time has resigned or retired, but Charlottesville’s Confederate statues, whose planned removal by the city spawned the white nationalist protest, still remain, as do the local organizers who planned the rally.

For some, Cantwell’s guilty plea brings a form of closure.

“I’m relieved that he has admitted to what happened, to his assaults, and I think that his admission is probably showing a degree of accountability that has been missing for the last 11 months,” said Emily Gorcenski, an activist for transgender rights who said she was pepper-sprayed by Cantwell on Aug. 11.

Gorcenski said she was relieved Cantwell can “no longer bring violence to the Charlottesville community,” where her wife and in-laws live.

Cantwell has sued Gorcenski for “malicious prosecution” based on complaints she and another protester filed with authorities after the episode in August. The lawsuit has been stayed pending the criminal case, and is expected to resume in the coming days.

Upon receiving a phone call from a reporter, Elmer Woodard, Cantwell’s lawyer, laughed and said he did not talk to “fake news” before hanging up.

Cantwell turned himself into authorities in August and was charged then with two felony counts of illegal use of tear gas and one felony count of malicious bodily injury by means of a caustic substance.

Prosecutors said that as part of Cantwell’s plea deal, they had amended the original charges to the assault and battery charges to which he ultimately pleaded guilty. The deal ensured Cantwell that no additional charges would be brought against him arising from his “deployment of pepper spray, tear gas, phosgene, or other gas” on Aug. 11.

In a previous interview with The New York Times, Cantwell had said that he did not cry because he was scared about going to prison, but that the “country has descended to a point where your political opinions get you charged with felonies.”

Tracci could not be reached Saturday to answer further questions about the case.