Christopher Cantwell of Keene is helped by police after being overcome with tear gas during protests in Charlottesville, Va., campus last week. Cantwell is wanted for arrest in Virginia for illegal use of gases, and injury by caustic agent or explosive, according to the “Boston Globe.” Evelyn Hockstein / Washington Post
A screenshot from the Vice News documentary “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” shows Christopher Cantwell of Keene with a group of white nationalist protesters in the Virginia college town Aug. 11. Vice News
Christopher Cantwell wrote a triumphant blog post in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, declaring the driver who killed a counter-protester a hero and recounting his own “glorious” experience fighting people he called communists.
Although the dust from the bloody rally had settled by the time the Keene podcaster sat down to write, the repercussions for him were only beginning.
Before long, he learned that the University of Virginia police had a warrant for his arrest. He also said he was locked out from multiple online accounts, including the payment system PayPal, which he said is “the most important part of my financial life.”
Although Cantwell has a substantial following through his website and social media, his audience exploded this week when he was given a new megaphone for his racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Vice News sent a reporter and cameramen to film a 22-minute documentary that aired on HBO and online, reaching tens of millions of people, according to CNN, and becoming the defining piece of news media coverage from an event that captured the attention of the country.
Cantwell, a burly man in his mid-30s with a shaved head and Northeastern accent, is its star. He is seen doused in pepper spray, pouring milk into his eyes to stay in the fight, and declaring provocatively at the end of the day that it was all a success because no one from his side died – and no one on the other side died “unjustly.”
He said the driver of the vehicle that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer had only one option when counter-protesters began to attack his car: to hit the gas pedal.
“Sadly, because our rivals are a bunch of stupid animals who don’t pay attention, they couldn’t get out of the way of his car, and some people got hurt. That’s unfortunate,” he told the Vice News documentarian.
A moment later, he added: “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here, frankly.”
The blog post in which he cataloged his initial reactions has been removed from his website. But his performance in the documentary had already cast him into a new role: the face of white nationalist hate in New Hampshire.
Cantwell didn’t respond to phone or text messages seeking comment.
Tracking hate groups
On an online forum last month associated with a racist skinhead group, a new user going by the name of jobiwonkanobi introduced himself. He said he’s a father and a hard-working white American looking for likeminded people to stand with “to secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
The user, who lists his location as New Hampshire, followed with another post specifically about the state.
“It’s a point of great pride that I have found this forum after the years I’ve spent thinking that I, and the few I associate with, were by and large alone. I recently met with some inspiring men and woman here in New Hampshire whom have inspired me to once again stand tall knowing that is not the case,” he wrote.
He was posting on the forum of Crew 38, which is identified as one of the six hate groups in New Hampshire tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that works to monitor and expose bigotry. The racist, anti-Islamist or anti-Semitic groups in New Hampshire are among 917 nationwide identified by the SPLC.
Concord police Lt. Sean Ford said there’s a delicate balance in policing suspected hate groups unless they’re directly advocating illegal activity.
If police receive information about potential threats, “We share it with our local, state and federal partners as we get it, and it’s kind of a two-way street,” he said. “But we don’t sit there and track people unless we have some reason to believe they’re about to commit a crime.”
And in many cases, Ford said, officers won’t even know what potentially dangerous people live in their communities unless someone alerts them.
For all its efforts to track hate groups, the SPLC doesn’t endeavor to track individuals. But one of the exceptions to that rule is Cantwell, who became the subject of an extensive study on the site when he was announced as one of the speakers at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Hate crime reports
Statistically speaking, reports of hate crimes in New Hampshire are rare.
From 2005 to 2015, cities and towns in the state reported an average of 28 hate crimes a year to the FBI, according to statistics the bureau publishes online. Data for 2009 weren’t available.
The majority of reported crimes targeted people because of their race or ethnicity, while the remainder were split between sexual orientation and religion.
In Concord, police report an average of two hate crimes per year to the FBI, mostly for incidents targeting people because of their race or ethnicity. One high-profile case struck in 2011 and 2012, when a Pembroke man scrawled racist graffiti on the homes of four African refugee families.
The 40-year-old man, Raymond Stevens, pleaded guilty to writing that the occupants were “subhuman,” among other racially charged messages.
A local group is working to curb these acts. We Are Concord, a nonprofit formerly known as the Greater Concord Area Task Force Against Racism and Intolerance, exists in the city to address the fear and ignorance at the root of intolerance, said Jessica Fogg Livingston, an organizer.
“Though Concord is, for the most part, a welcoming and supportive community, there are unfortunately some people who act hatefully towards new Americans and people of color,” she said in a statement. “It’s our belief that their actions are a result of being misinformed about these cultures.”
From triumphant to afraid
On the Monday after the Unite the Right rally, Cantwell wrote the now-deleted blog post wherein he describes his excitement that counter-protesters gave him the opportunity to fight back in self-defense.
“It seems like an eternity that I have wanted so badly to become a less verbose warrior,” he wrote.
“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. 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,” he wrote.
But his tone changed throughout the week. In a subsequent post, he wrote that he was banned from his Facebook accounts, which the social media company confirmed to the Associated Press. He also said that he was banned from YouTube and locked out of his email marketing tool and his PayPal account, where he accepted donations from his supporters.
In further posts Thursday on an obscure social media site, he said that another online payment system, Venmo, had banned him, as had two dating apps.
Still, he maintained that he’s “just a guy who wants to save his country from communism.”
After his splash in the Vice News documentary, Cantwell surfaced again Wednesday with a new viral video. This time, he’s holding the camera himself and getting choked up, apparently overcome with emotion.
In the video, which reached at least 900,000 people on YouTube by Thursday evening, he reads aloud his phone number and makes a direct plea to the police, saying that he’ll cooperate if they want to arrest him.
“I’m armed. I do not want violence with you, alright?” Cantwell tells the police. “I’m terrified. I’m afraid you’re going to kill me. I really am.”
Cantwell moved to New Hampshire in 2012 with the Free State Project. He was removed from that organization for his talk about killing police officers.
He wrote in a blog Thursday that he planned to turn himself in after finding an attorney to represent him.
It’s unclear whether he followed through or what charges might be filed against him. The University of Virginia police didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.
(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, [email protected] or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)
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