Chris Cantwell, a white nationalist featured on fliers promoting the recent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, warned that violence between his crew and anti-fascists would escalate unless police did more to stop it, in an interview with VICE News Tuesday night.
Cantwell, who was involved in a brawl on the University of Virginia campus the night before the rally, said Wednesday that he’s turning himself in to the campus police. He’s known authorities had warrants out for his arrest for three felony charges related to the brawl, but he claims he acted in self-defense.
Cantwell asserts that police hold groups like antifa, radical left counter-protesters, to a lower standard than his allies. He told VICE News:
They get to do whatever they want. We get prosecuted every time we reach out. And it becomes socially acceptable to assault us. What eventually happens is, you saw how fucking dangerous — you know how fucking dangerous we are. You know what I’m saying?
Cantwell’s charges stem from the tiki-torch march through the UVA campus that night of August 11, which ended at a statue of Thomas Jefferson encircled by a few dozen counterprotesters. A melee ensued when hundreds of the torch-bearing white nationalists surrounded the counterprotesters.
Cantwell was photographed spraying someone in the face with mace. He claims that protesters were coming at him, and that he took the least violent means available to stop them. He’s now charged with one count of malicious bodily injury with a “caustic substance,” explosive or fire, and two counts of illegal use of tear gas.
Cantwell said his actions earned him the respect of others who identify as “alt-right.” “Most of the guys with reputations out there only talk and don’t go into battle, but I went into battle. My word has more sway over these guys,” he told VICE News. “I can direct action in a way that others cannot.”
A sense of persecution has been building among those who call themselves alt-right since January, when a video of a man punching Richard Spencer in the face went viral.
The gleeful reaction by some — the video was tweeted, remixed, memed, etc. — was taken as a sign that “punching Nazis” had become acceptable. So white nationalists, by their logic, had to take their safety into their own hands. They created a group, largely made up of military veterans, to provide security for Spencer at his public events.
Allied protesters also started showing up with shields and weapons, as in the case of Kyle Chapman, known as Based Stickman, who became a meme after hitting protesters with a pole during a clash in Berkeley between Trump supporters and counterprotesters in Berkeley, California.
Several members of these white nationalist “alt-right” groups suggested to VICE News they’re afraid of antifa. But that fear, antifa organizers have told VICE News, works to the groups’ benefit.
Further, an emerging conspiracy theory in white supremacist circles holds that police in Charlottesville wanted to provoke a violent clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters. Far-right protesters who gathered last weekend in Boston for a “free speech” rally told VICE News as much.
The theory goes that authorities knew the white nationalists were heavily armed and would be more lethal if violence broke out and would therefore look bad. They have not offered evidence to support that claim.