Two Years Ago, They Marched in Charlottesville. Where Are They Now?

  • August 8, 2019
UTR two cover

Update:

Just days after Unite the Right’s 2nd anniversary, white supremacist and Charlottesville attendee James Patrick Reardon Jr., of New Middletown, Ohio, was arrested for allegedly making threats to the Youngstown, Ohio, Jewish community center. Reardon was charged with telecommunications harassment and aggravated menacing for allegedly posting an Instagram video of a man shooting a semi-automatic rifle with sirens and screams in the background. The video was captioned, “Police identified the Youngstown Jewish Family Community shooter as local white nationalist Seamus O’Rearedon.” While executing a search warrant at Reardon’s home, members of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force allegedly seized several weapons, a gas mask, body armor, and dozens of rounds of ammunition along with anti-Semitic and white nationalist propaganda. In a media interview at the Unite the Right rally, Reardon described himself as a white nationalist and member of the alt right, and said he wants “a homeland for white people.”

 

In August 2017, hundreds of far-right extremists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest the removal of a Confederate statue from a local park. Dubbed “Unite the Right,” the gathering was the largest and most violent public assembly of white supremacists in decades. It also demonstrated a resurgent and emboldened white supremacist movement.

The violence on the streets of Charlottesville has kindled two major tracks of white supremacist activity. The first is the rampant dissemination of propaganda designed to promote their views and attract attention. The other, more troubling track is a broader series of violent attacks in the two years since Unite the Right.

White supremacists have committed at least 73 murders since Charlottesville, 39 of which were clearly motivated by hateful, racist ideology. These numbers include the deadly white supremacist shooting rampages in Parkland, Pittsburgh, Poway and El Paso, the deadliest white supremacist attack in more than 50 years. In each of these cities, white supremacist murderers acted on the threat embodied in the chant made famous in Charlottesville: “Jews will not replace us! You will not replace us!”

While violence has surged since Charlottesville, it didn’t begin there. The bloodshed we see today is part of a four-year resurgence in white supremacist activity and activism, driven in large part by the rise of the alt right. It’s part of the emboldened white supremacist culture that led rally organizers to believe Unite the Right could happen in the first place. 

The events of August 11 and 12, 2017, are etched in the nation’s memory, and the violence and aftermath of those days continue to shape the white supremacist groups and individuals who were on the ground, as they struggle to reinvigorate and reimagine their movement. We expect that the fallout from Charlottesville will continue to impact these extremists for the foreseeable future.

Who was there?

Unite the Right drew far-right extremists from at least 39 states. The Center on Extremism has identified 330 of the estimated 600 who participated in the event. Most were from the Eastern half of the United States, but further-flung states like Alaska, Arizona, California and Washington were also represented. Some attendees traveled even further, coming from Canada, Sweden and South Africa.

 

Though the Unite the Right rally was organized by individuals associated with the alt right, and most extremists who attended were white supremacists, participants represented approximately 50 different extreme-right movements, groups and entities.

Almost every segment of the white supremacist movement was represented that day: Neo-Nazis from the National Socialist Movement (NSM), Vanguard America, and Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP); Klan members from the Rebel Brigade Knights, Global Crusader Knights, Confederate White Knights, and Knights Party; racist skinheads from the Hammerskins, Crew 38, and the Blood & Honour Social Club; neo-Confederates from the League of the South (LoS), Identity Dixie, and the Hiwaymen; Christian Identity adherents from Christogenea; Odinists from the Asatru Folk Assembly; and many others.

 

Also present were a variety of “media” entities, as well as armed paramilitary groups connected to the anti-government militia movement. They have since claimed they attended the rally to confront left-wing activists -- not in support of the white supremacists.

Changing of the guard

In the two years since Unite the Right, several white supremacist leaders have made dramatic departures from the movement, while others have stepped into new leadership roles.

Elliot Kline, also known as Eli Mosley, of Pennsylvania, was the first to step down. Kline, a key organizer at Charlottesville, briefly led Identity Evropa (August 27- November 27, 2017) after Unite the Right before teaming up with Richard Spencer to create a new white supremacist organization, Operation Homeland. In February 2018, Kline vanished from the scene after a New York Times documentary revealed he had lied to his followers about being an Iraq war veteran.[i]

Neo-Nazis Jeff Schoep and Matthew Heimbach who led their groups (NSM and Traditionalist Worker Party, respectively) as part of a large column march into Charlottesville, also appear to have left the movement. Heimbach has been unable to redeem himself in the eyes of his followers since allegations surfaced in March 2018 that he had assaulted his wife and father-in-law, Matthew Parrott, after they confronted Heimbach about his affair with Parrot’s wife.[ii] Heimbach pleaded guilty in September 2018 to the assault on Parrot, and the Traditionalist Worker Party, which he co-founded with Parrott, soon dissolved. A brief stint with the NSM lasted just long enough for Heimbach to take part in the group’s November 2018 rally in Little Rock.

Schoep, who had commanded the NSM since 1994, came under fire in March 2019 after James Hart Stern, a black civil rights activist, claimed Schoep, apparently exhausted by ongoing Charlottesville-related lawsuits, gave Stern legal ownership of the NSM.[iii] In a March 6, 2019, press release, Schoep denied Stern’s claims, but announced his retirement and his successor, Burt Colucci of Florida.

While these leaders faltered, other Unite the Right participants have stepped into the leadership void. Many were bolstered by internal debates over the best way to promote the white supremacist cause and were seeking new ways to maintain momentum while avoiding the kind of fallout they experienced after Charlottesville.

Thomas Ryan Rousseau benefitted from having evaded the spotlight in Charlottesville.

Rousseau, who now leads Patriot Front, a Texas-based alt right group that now has members all over the country, led an assemblage of Vanguard America members at Unite the Right. After the rally, images showed James Fields – who has since been convicted of murdering counter-protester Heather Heyer -- standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Vanguard America, and carrying a shield bearing the group’s fascist symbol. But Rousseau largely escaped the public attention and shaming, because the spotlight fell on Dillion Hopper, VA’s national leader, who ironically didn’t even attend UTR.

Later that August, Rousseau, who already controlled the group’s Discord servers and website, seized the moment, but rather than taking over the troubled Vanguard America, he created Patriot Front. The move allowed those now associated with Patriot Front to distance themselves from Charlottesville, Vanguard America and any association with James Fields.

 

Rousseau vanguard

Rousseau (right forefront) as Vanguard America at Unite the Right

 

Others who attended Unite the Right as rank-and-file members and now lead various groups include: Patrick Casey, who attended as a member of Identity Evropa now leads the American Identity Movement; John Kopko, who attended as a Confederate Hammerskin now leads a racist skinhead crew dubbed “United Skinhead Nation”; and Colton Williams, who attended as a member of the Traditionalist Worker Party now leads The Legion of St Ambrose.

 

Lingering repercussions

It’s very easy to find images from Unite the Right, which has proved problematic in numerous ways for participants who hoped to remain anonymous.

In the two years that have passed since Unite the Right, many rally participants have experienced a host of repercussions, including imprisonment, job loss, de-platforming - or banning users who violate their terms of service - on social media platforms, travel bans and rejection by friends and family.

As more information about the rally emerges, more participants are identified. Over the last few months, previously unidentified UTR rally-goers were exposed when rally images were paired with information obtained from Discord chat logs. Those logs were released in March 2019 by Unicorn Riot, an independent media organization.

One of the newly exposed individuals, active duty Marine lance corporal Logan K. Piercy, was spotted in images taken at Unite the Right. Piercy, whom the Marine Corps discharged in May 2019, reportedly used Discord to post his anti-Semitic and racist views. He also posted images of himself and comments indicating he attended Unite the Right.[i]

The Marine Corps has discharged at least two other active duty Marines connected to Unite the Right. In July 2018, Lance Corporal Vasillios George Pistolis, who had been stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was demoted to Private and separated from the Corps for his alleged connections to neo-Nazi groups such as the Traditionalist Worker Party and Atomwaffen Division.[ii] Pistolis denied attending Unite the Right but was caught on camera participating in violence that day.[iii] Sergeant Michael Joseph Chesny of Havelock, North Carolina, received a general administrative discharge from the Marine Corps in April 2018 for his ties to the white supremacist movement. Chesny allegedly used the online pseudonym “Tyrone” to assist with the organizing and planning of the “Unite the Right” rally.[iv]

In addition to these military discharges, other Charlottesville participants have lost jobs in everything from food service to aerospace research.

Imprisonment

While some have lost their jobs, more than a dozen Unite the Right attendees have been convicted and sentenced for crimes related to violence committed during the rally. James Alex Fields, Jr. of Ohio received the most significant sentence: two life sentences plus 419 years, for deliberately driving his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more.[v]

Also sentenced to substantial time in prison: three of four men found guilty of “malicious wounding” for their roles in the parking deck assault of an African American man during Unite the Right. Daniel Patrick Borden of Ohio was sentenced to three years and 10 months, Jacob Scott Goodwin of Arkansas received an eight-year sentence, and Alex Michael Ramos of Georgia received six years. A fourth man, Tyler Watkins Davis, is scheduled for sentencing later this month (August 27).[vi]

Meanwhile, Klan leader Richard Wilson Preston of Maryland was sentenced to four years in prison for discharging a firearm during the rally.[vii] Several other rally participants received lesser sentences for Unite the Right related charges such as conspiracy to riot and misdemeanor assault.[viii][ix][x]

Civil Suits

In addition to criminal cases, Unite the Right organizers have been dogged by civil lawsuits at both the state and federal levels, accusing them of conspiring to plan the rally and promote the violence that occurred in Charlottesville. As the lawsuits inch slowly forward, the defendants have been forced to find lawyers willing to represent them -- and cobble together funds to pay for their defense. This is no easy task, as crowdfunding sites and e-payment processors reacted to Unite the Right by redoubling efforts to prevent extremists’ access to their services.

In some cases, the lawsuits have directly curbed white supremacists’ public activity. During a May 28, 2019, podcast hosted by Jean-François Gariépy, a French-Canadian alt right YouTuber, Richard Spencer explained why he would not be speaking at the June 2019 Nationalist Solutions Conference; “This lawsuit that I’m facing is just totally detrimental to what I’m doing. I don’t want to go into some public event where I could be blamed if something goes wrong.” He went on to say, “If we can simply be sued if anyone on the other side gets hurt, we can’t do anything publicly. This [lawsuit] needs to be answered. I’m just not ready to do something right now and if I do, it is going to be on my own terms.”[xi]

Michael Hill and his group, League of the South, are likewise eager for the lawsuits to end. In a June 2019 vk.com post Hill wrote, “I want us to have a new League building in Alabama...” “...But because of pending lawsuits, we are not going to be moving forward officially with fundraising at this time.”

Burdensome bans

Lawsuits are not the only irritant affecting white supremacists since Unite the Right. In the wake of the rally, some have been hit with a variety of travel bans, which has in turn suppressed international and domestic collaboration. Several months after Unite the Right (November 2017), Richard Spencer was reportedly banned from entering 26 countries in Europe.[xii] Two of his AltRight.com associates, Christoffer Dulny, editor and chief of Nordic Alt-Right, and Artkos Media CEO Daniel Friberg, both Swedish white nationalists, were banned from returning to the United States after attending the rally in Charlottesville.[xiii] And in July 2018, Spencer was refused entry into Europe while en route to Sweden to speak at an alt right conference organized by Dulny.[xiv]

White supremacists have also been banned from domestic locations. Christopher Cantwell of New Hampshire, who pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery for using tear gas in Charlottesville, was banned from returning to the Commonwealth of Virginia for five years.[xv] Ten torch march participants, including Spencer, a University of Virginia alumnus, were banned from the University of Virginia campus for four years.[xvi] As part of a legal settlement to a lawsuit filed by Georgetown University Law Center, some of the participating groups have agreed not to return to Charlottesville as part of any future armed protests in the city.[xvii]

Not all white supremacists have been affected by the travel bans. Since attending Unite the Right, South African white supremacist Simon Roche has continued to build his relationship with his American counterparts. In January 2019, Tennessee-based League of the South member Richard Hamblen, who also attended Unite the Right, traveled to South Africa to meet with Roche and other Suidlanders. And in June 2019, Roche returned to the U.S. to speak at the “Nationalist Solutions Symposium,” a white supremacist conference co-hosted by the Council of Conservative Citizens and the American Freedom Party, a political party that promotes white nationalism.

Criminal Activity Post-Charlottesville

In the two years since Unite the Right, a number of Charlottesville rally goers have committed crimes motivated by white supremacist ideology.

Taylor Michael Wilson of Missouri was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a terrorism charge for his armed takeover of an Amtrak train as it passed through rural Nebraska. This took place just two months after attending the Unite the Right rally. During their investigation the FBI searched Wilson’s home and reportedly found numerous firearms, Nazi propaganda, body armor, ammunition and pressure plates that can be used to make explosive devices.[xviii]

In October 2017, Unite the Right attendees Tyler Eugene Tenbrink and Colton Gene Fears, both of Texas, were arrested in Gainesville, Florida, on charges of attempted homicide, for their roles in an altercation with counter-protesters following Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida. Tenbrink, who fired a handgun at counter-protesters during the altercation, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading no contest to charges of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a felon.[xix] Colton Fears, who served as Tenbrink’s getaway driver, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to the charge of accessory after the fact to attempted first degree murder.[xx]

In November 2018, another notable Unite the Right alumnus, Washington D.C. resident Jeffrey Raphiel Clark Jr., was charged with illegal transportation of a firearm across state lines, possession of an illegal high-capacity magazine and unlawful use of a controlled substance. According to the FBI and Clark’s relatives, Jeffrey and his younger brother, Edward William Clark, who also attended Unite the Right, were active white supremacists who advocated for a race war between whites and non-whites. Jeffrey, an online associate of alleged Tree of Life synagogue attacker Robert Bowers, came to the attention of authorities after family members contacted law enforcement out of concern that Clark might become violent after his younger brother, Edward, killed himself the same day as the Tree of Life attack. Last month (July 23, 2019), Clark pleaded guilty to one count of illegal possession of firearms by a person who is an unlawful user of a controlled substance. Clark is scheduled to be sentenced on September 13.[xxi]

Two individuals connected to Unite the Right are facing hate crime charges. In December 2018, Travis David Condor of Pennsylvania, who attended the Charlottesville rally, was one of eight individuals arrested for allegedly assaulting and shouting racial slurs at a black man in Lynnwood, Washington. Another man, Brandon Troy Higgs of Maryland, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, use of a firearm in commission of a violent crime plus hate crime and concealed weapon charges. The charges stem from an altercation with two construction workers which started with racial slurs and ended with one worker being shot.[xxii][xxiii] Higgs, using the screen name “Americana-MD,” allegedly made hundreds of posts in a Discord chat room focused on planning Unite the Right.[xxiv]

Most attendees remain active today

The vast majority of the white supremacist groups and individuals who attended Unite the Right remain active today. Our analysis indicates that while there does not appear to be a desire to reprise the events in Charlottesville, most of the attendees consider that weekend a significant and unifying moment for the movement.

Charlottesville tattoos

The League of the South went so far as to create an honorary patch for their members who attended Charlottesville. Brian T. Conley, a racist skinhead from North Carolina who rallied shirtless while sporting a large swastika emblazed on his chest, now has a commemorative tattoo that reads “CVILLE WRECKING CREW.”

In contrast, alt right leaders Patrick Casey and Thomas Rousseau have distanced their rebranded groups from the violence of that day, focusing instead on propaganda and recruitment tactics designed to limit the risk of individual exposure, negative media coverage, arrests and public backlash. In 2019, these two groups are responsible for more than a dozen unannounced flash demonstrations and over 1,000 propaganda distributions in 45 states.

Patrick Little, who traveled from California to participate in Unite the Right, has been much less concerned with optics. In 2018, he made an anti-Semitic campaign run for Dianne Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat, and following his crushing defeat, launched a nationwide “Name the Jew” tour, bringing anti-Semitic propaganda to cities across the country. In early 2019, Little registered as a presidential candidate with the Republican Party but dropped out of the race in May claiming in a YouTube video: “At this point it's just about waking people up to who's really in charge and just letting them know that the Jews run stuff. It doesn’t matter who we put into office.”[i]

Another political hopeful, James Orien Allsup went unchallenged in his quietly successful 2018 campaign to become a Whitman County (Washington) Republican Precinct Committee Officer. In January 2019, after learning of Allsup’s ties to the alt right, the local GOP denounced Allsup and voted unanimously to strip him of the powers held by committee officers, although local law allows him to keep his title.[ii] Since Charlottesville, Allsup has spoken at several white supremacist conferences, including the May 2019 American Renaissance conference. He is also a YouTube personality and a frequent podcaster.

A number of other Unite the Right attendees have turned to podcasting as a relatively private way to amplify their message. Some examples include: Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, Jesse Dunstan (aka Sven/Seventh Son), and Alex McNabb, all of whom who host TRS (TheRightStuff). Former TWP members Tony Hovator and Matthew Parrott host “The Foundry” and Robert Warren Ray (aka Azzmador), a Texas-based Daily Stormer contributor, hosts “The Krypto Report.” Notably, Ray and Will Zachary Smith, a Daily Stormer cohort, are both fugitives from justice in the commonwealth of Virginia, stemming from their activity in Charlottesville. Both men were indicted in June 2018 on felony charges for maliciously releasing gas on August 11, 2017, the night of the torch march.

Two years after hundreds of white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, that weekend’s terrible events continue to shape and influence participants – and to reverberate across a nation still coming to terms with that shocking display of violence and hate.

 

[ii] “Whitman County GOP ejects far-right activist James Allsup,” January 7, 2019, Associated Press, access at https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/whitman-county-gop-ejects-far-right-activist-james-allsup/.

 

[ii] Shawn Snow, “Marine with alleged neo-Nazi connections booted from the Marine Corps,” August, 1 2018, Marine Corps Times, access at https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2018/08/01/marine-with-alleged-neo-nazi-connections-booted-from-the-marine-corps.

[iii] A.C. Thompson, “U.S. Marine to be imprisoned over involvement with hate groups,” June 20, 2018, ProPublica, access at https://www.propublica.org/article/vasilios-pistolis-imprisoned-marine-hate-groups.

[iv] Isaac Groves, “Marine Booted Over White Nationalist Ties, Alleged Role In Planning Charlottesville Rally,” April 19, 2019, Times-News, access at https://taskandpurpose.com/michael-chesny-charlottesville-white-nationalism.

[v] Doha Madani, “Driver in deadly Charlottesville car attack, gets second life sentence,” July 15, 2019, NBC News, access at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/james-alex-fields-jr-driver-deadly-charlottesville-car-attack-gets-n1030076.

[vi] Ian Shapira, “Ex-white nationalist found guilty in beating of black man in Charlottesville parking garage,” February 8, 2019, Washington Post, access at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/ex-white-nationalist-found-guilty-in-beating-black-man-in-charlottesville-parking-garage/2019/02/08/f701706c-2b0a-11e9-984d-9b8fba003e81_story.html?utm_term=.70a8167cc25d.

[vii] Sara Sidner, “Klansman gets 4 year in prison for firing a gun at ‘Unite the Right’ rally,” August 22, 2018, CNN, access at https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/22/us/kkk-unite-the-right-richard-preston-sentence/index.html.

[viii] Tyler Hammel, “Three white supremacists sentenced for Charlottesville rally violence,” July 19, 2019, Daily Progress, access at https://www.dailyprogress.com/news/local/three-white-supremacists-sentenced-for-charlottesville-rally-violence/article_eb964880-ec39-56d9-ac35-4fa56c4422a0.html.

[ix] Samantha Baars, “August 12 water bottle-thrower pleads guilty,” September 22, 2017, C-Ville News, access at https://www.c-ville.com/court/.

[x] John Early, “2 Men enter guilty pleas in connection to Unite the Right rally violence,” November 3, 2017, NBC29, find access https://www.nbc29.com/story/36756735/smith-mothersbaugh-court-11-03-2017.

[xii] Brett Samuels, “Richard Spencer banned from 26 countries in Europe,” November 23, 2017, The Hill, access at https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/361677-richard-spencer-banned-from-26-countries-in-europe.

[xiv] James Hetherington, “White supremacist Richard Spencer banned from entering Sweden by Poland,” July 6, 2018, Newsweek, access at https://www.newsweek.com/white-supremacist-richard-spencer-banned-entering-sweden-poland-1010850.

[xv] Mihir Zaveri, “Christopher Cantwell, white nationalist in Vice Video, is barred from Virginia,” July 21, 2018, The New York Times, access at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/us/christopher-cantwell-crying-nazi-virginia.html.

[xvi] Ruth Serven Smith, “New Trespass warnings ban 10 white supremacists from grounds,” October 26, 2018, The Daily Progress, access at https://www.dailyprogress.com/news/new-trespass-warnings-ban-white-supremacists-from-grounds/article_f3a020f6-d931-11e8-b6eb-f730f5aefe9f.html

[xvii] Jackson Landers, “Three militias barred from ever returning to Charlottesville,” May 16, 2018, Rewire news, access at https://rewire.news/article/2018/05/16/three-militias-barred-ever-returning-charlottesville.

[xviii] Shane Croucher, “Armed neo-Nazi’s Amtrak rampage in Nebraska meant to ‘save the train from black people,’” July 13, 2018, Newsweek, access at https://www.newsweek.com/armed-neo-nazis-amtrak-rampage-nebraska-meant-save-train-black-people-1021856.

[xix] Cindy Swirko, “Richard Spencer supporter Tenbrink gets 15-year term,” February 27, 2019, The Gainesville Sun, access at https://www.gainesville.com/news/20190227/richard-spencer-supporter-tenbrink-gets-15-year-term.

[xx] Daniel Smithson, “Getaway driver sentenced in shooting after Richard Spencer event,” March 18, 2019, The Gainesville Sun, access at https://www.gainesville.com/news/20190318/getaway-driver-sentenced-in-shooting-after-richard-spencer-event.

[xxi] Michael Kunzelman, “Extremist reported by family pleads guilty to gun charge,” July 23, 2019, Associated Press, access at https://apnews.com/f11e56abade749a1917a12e1f97dda43.

[xxii] Cody Boteler, “Hate crime charges added for Reisterstown man accused of shooting construction worker,” February 8, 2019, The Baltimore Sun, access at https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-county/ph-ca-at-tt-higgs-hate-crime-20190208-story.html.

[xxiii] “Man charged with attempted murder for shooting man in Baltimore County Thursday,” December 21, 2019, WJZ-TV CBS Baltimore, access at https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2018/12/21/man-charged-with-attempted-murder-for-shooting-man-in-baltimore-county-thursday/.

[xxiv] Kelly Weill, “Alt-right Charlottesville marcher Brandon Higgs accused of trying to kill black men,” February 12, 2019, Daily Beast, access at https://www.thedailybeast.com/alt-right-charlottesville-marcher-brandon-higgs-accused-of-trying-to-kill-black-men.

 

[i] Emma Cott “How our reporter uncovered a lie that propelled alt right extremist’s rise,” Feb 5 2018 The New York Times, access at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/05/insider/confronting-a-white-nationalist-eli-mosley.html

[ii] “White nationalist leader from Paoli released from Kentucky jail,” June 20, 2018, Associated Press, access at https://indianapublicmedia.org/news/white-nationalist-leader-paoli-released-kentucky-jail-150100/.

[iii] Adam Popsecu, “Why a black preacher is fighting for control of a neo-Nazi group,” July 23, 2019, The New York Times, access at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/us/national-socialist-movement-james-hart-stern.html.

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