A white nationalist from Keene was on the front lines of a rally in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday that captured the nation’s attention when it erupted into chaotic violence, leaving one dead and dozens injured.
Christopher Cantwell, 36, a racist, alt-right podcast host, said he was one of the guests invited to speak at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
The Southern Poverty Law Center mentioned Cantwell along with a handful of other high-profile alt-right activists and white nationalist extremists expected to attend the rally, in an article it published online last week.
The article shows his name on a flier advertising the event. The flier, which is also among photos on Cantwell’s Facebook page, lists nine others, leading with Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist leader and president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank.
Cantwell, who has lived in Keene since 2012, has been profiled by Hatewatch, an online publication produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hatewatch “monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right,” the center says.
The Southern Poverty Law Center could not be reached for comment Monday about Cantwell.
In an interview with The Sentinel Monday, Cantwell outlined his racist ideology.
“I would like to see some territory of the United States become the focus of a white nationalist political migration and to secede from the union and have an explicitly racial immigration policy,” he said.
He said New Hampshire could be a possible site for this new territory.
A rally turns violent
Saturday’s Unite the Right rally was to be a protest of the city of Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a local park.
Cantwell said his speech was going to address his belief that the alt-right movement needs to be more unified.
But Cantwell never delivered that speech; the event didn’t go on as planned when police announced over the loudspeaker that the rally was “an unlawful assembly,” and it quickly turned violent, Cantwell said.
Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members and counterprotesters clashed. In the bloodiest moment of the day, a car crashed into other vehicles on a crowded street, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville and causing injuries to 19 others.
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the incident and was seen among right-wing protesters, according to The New York Times.
Cantwell accused left-wing counterprotesters of starting the violence in Charlottesville and said the rally was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the communist agitators who attacked us over and over and over again,” Cantwell told The Sentinel Monday. “And I think that my men showed extraordinary restraint out there because we were heavily armed, and not a shot was fired. They are very lucky that only one person died in those riots.” Cantwell said he identifies anyone who is politically left of center as a communist.
However, far-right groups have been widely condemned following the violence in Charlottesville.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic governor of Virginia, told white supremacists and neo-Nazis, “Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth,” at a news conference that day, according to The Washington Post.
And after facing widespread bipartisan criticism for not explicitly condemning hate groups in the wake of the weekend events in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump on Monday called racism “evil” and the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists “repugnant.”
Cantwell said he first became entangled in violence Friday night, when he and other right-wing protesters marched on the University of Virginia campus, many holding torches.
When they arrived at a statue of Thomas Jefferson, Cantwell said the group was attacked by left-wing counterprotesters. He said he used pepper spray on one person who attempted to attack him, hit a man who was in a pile of counterprotesters on top of a right-wing protester and tackled a woman who hit others with a baton.
He said he was eventually sprayed with bear Mace.
“It was glorious. It seems like an eternity that I have wanted so badly to become a less verbose warrior. We knew for years that there were no more arguments to be made, but my sincere desire for peace and civility prevented me from breaking the law,” he said in a blog post on his website, entitled “Aftermath.”
“It wasn’t until this day that they finally gave me the legal justification to test my new muscles, and I physically removed at least four reds before they finally soaked me in bear mace, taking me out of commission for the next few minutes while they scattered like cockroaches.”
On Saturday, the Unite the Right rally was supposed to have access to the entire park area where protesters could drive their cars on the park grounds, he said. The rally members instead were put into a corner of the park, according to Cantwell, and before the event could begin, police said the rally was an unlawful assembly. That’s when the violence erupted, Cantwell said.
The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the rally. The weekend’s events sparked hundreds of rallies and candlelight vigils across the country against racism, fascism and hate, including in Keene where a rally was held Sunday in Central Square.
That ‘Colbert Report’ sketch
Cantwell is also known locally for appearing in a segment in 2014 of late-night comedian Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report,” which mocked local liberty activists.
A former blogger on the Free Keene website, Cantwell was interviewed along with two other bloggers, Garrett Ean and James Cleaveland, as well as City Councilor Randy L. Filault in a segment that focused on the group’s “Robin Hooding” activities: where group members trailed parking enforcement officers so they could fill meters before the officers could write tickets.
A former radio colleague of Cantwell’s calls his political beliefs “totally unacceptable.”
Ian Freeman is the host of the libertarian-minded radio show, Free Talk Live, headquartered in Keene and broadcast to more than 170 radio stations nationwide.
Freeman had Cantwell as a co-host on the show for about a year before he says he had to dismiss him for his racist views.
“Chris is very articulate and funny, but when we discovered his racist views, we had to let him go,” Freeman said. “We believe the individual should be judged by his actions and words, not because of the color of his skin. I think his ideas are dangerous.”
But Cantwell’s making a “very good living,” according to Freeman, because “hate sells in America.” Cantwell’s podcast, which he described as a live, open-phones right-wing talk show, is called Radical Agenda. He said it has about 10,000 listeners.
“His hate-filled podcast is very popular,” Freeman said. “While mine is about peace and liberty and doesn’t seem to attract that kind of audience.”
Freeman asked Cantwell to call into his radio show Saturday to discuss the protest in Charlottesville, which he did. Cantwell spent an hour on the air with Freeman, blaming the violence on the counterprotesters.
“I don’t agree with his opinions at all, but still will speak to him,” Freeman, who founded the Free Keene blog, said. “I haven’t given up trying to help him see the errors of his ways.”
Cantwell’s views extend to those of the Jewish faith.
He’s called for them to be gassed, “largely because he sees Jews as agents of a communist menace,” according to the article published in Hatewatch.
Although Professor Henry F. Knight, the director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, is not familiar with Cantwell, he’s all too familiar with anti-Semitism.
“It’s like a virus,” Knight said. “It began in anti-Jewish attitudes that morphed and mutated into something much bigger. It’s fundamentally anti-Christian because who was a Jew? Jesus was a Jew. That’s ground zero.”
Knight voiced concern with the ideology professed by Cantwell, saying people like that “usually are having difficulties with their own identity.”
“I don’t know if I could argue with a person like that,” Knight said. “I don’t want to live in a place where our diversity is not respected. I want a place that respects my faith. There’s something about each individual that is a part of God and any act that defaces another human being is an attack on God.”