Charlottesville protest organizer indicted on a charge of perjury

Washington Post

The main organizer behind the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been indicted on a count of felony perjury stemming from his conviction on a misdemeanor assault charge earlier this year.

Court records show that on Monday a grand jury in Albemarle County, Virginia, indicted Jason Kessler, a 34-year-old blogger who planned the "Unite the Right" rally in August that sparked violence in the city and left one woman dead.

An arrest order was issued at 3 p.m. Tuesday, according to court records, but it was not clear later in the night whether Kessler had been booked by police. Kessler did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and attorney information was not immediately available.

Local media reported that the perjury charge was related to a statement Kessler gave to a magistrate judge in January after he scuffled with a local resident on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall.

Kessler alleged that on Jan. 22, James Justin Taylor attacked him on the outdoor mall while he was collecting signatures to remove the city's vice-mayor from office. Kessler swore out an assault complaint, claiming Taylor grabbed him and violently shook his arm, according to the local station WCAV.

But surveillance video later showed that Kessler was the aggressor, as the Daily Progress reported. In April, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, admitting that he had punched Taylor in the face. Kessler received a 30-day suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. Taylor was cleared of any wrongdoing.

"I'll admit that what I did was not legal," Kessler told the Daily Progress after entering his guilty plea. "I was having a bad day. I've never done anything like this before and it will never happen again."

Perjury is a Class 5 felony in Virginia, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Kessler got his start as a local blogger, using his now-defunct personal website to inveigh against what called "white genocide" and an "attack on white history." He drew national attention last year when he unearthed a series racially-charged and homophobic tweets by the city's vice-mayor, Wes Bellamy. He called Bellamy - who apologized for the tweets - a "blatant black supremacist" and campaigned unsuccessfully to force him out of office.

Last spring, Kessler teamed up with other white nationalist groups opposing the Charlottesville City Council's decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park. In May, he marched with white nationalist leader Richard Spencer at a torch-bearing rally around the monument, then started planning for a larger demonstration.

The Aug. 12 "Unite the Right" rally drew thousands of white supremacist protesters and others on the extreme right, including members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups, who fought with counterprotesters in the streets throughout the day.

One counterprotester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed and others were injured when a car plowed into a crowd of activists. James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer, was charged with second-degree murder in the hit-and-run.

The day after the rally, Kessler gave a news conference in Charlottesville, pinning blame for the violence on law enforcement and claiming "anti-white hate" fueled the chaos. Minutes into his remarks, a group of protesters chased him away from the podium, and he was escorted to safety by police. Two people were arrested last month and charged with misdemeanor assault in connection with the incident.

For a few weeks after, Kessler fell off the radar, temporarily shutting down his blog and social media accounts. He told Fox News he had to go into hiding after being barraged with death threats.

Spencer and other white nationalists denounced him over a tweet sent from his account on Aug. 18 that called Heyer a "fat, disgusting communist" and said her death was "payback." Kessler suggested he may have written the tweet while taking prescription drugs but did not say definitively whether the words were his.

"I will no longer associate with Jason Kessler," Spencer tweeted in reaction. "No one should."

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