Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., wants to broaden his coalition to convert “potentially millions” of new people to violent white supremacy ahead of two one-year anniversary rallies this August, according to chat logs obtained by ThinkProgress.
But he has just a few allies helping him pull it off.
The logs show Kessler and others discussing the details of logistics, security, speakers, promotion, and messaging for the upcoming rallies in Charlottesville and Washington, D.C. They seem overwhelmed by the prospect of planning a large event: buses are expensive, lodging is too complicated to provide, and Kessler needs help organizing rentals.
The chats also show Kessler and his associates debating the role of violence, the place of Jews and “non-white” people in their movement, talking about how to keep their communications secure, and sniping at other far-right personalities — and often among themselves.
More than anything, they show Kessler’s anxieties about rally attendance, his lack of popularity with other fringe racist group, the dwindling size of his own online platform, and his waning influence in far-right media.
“We need to hustle on outreach,” Kessler told others in the chat on June 4. “If you guys want to be representatives on behalf if [sic] the rally you have my blessing. And I’ll take interviews as well. I especially would like to develop relationships with some larger platforms.”
Throughout the logs, Kessler laments the lack of platform boosting he gets from other right-wing and alt-right figures online and strategizes for how to reach as many people as possible with his “white civil rights” message.
“We either have to convince these alternative media people to give us a fair shake or its entirely up to us to livestream and broadcast,” Kessler said on June 4.
“I can’t remember the last time an ‘alt-right’ account with a higher following than me retweeted or shared anything from me,” Kessler complains on June 3, concerned about the lack of solidarity within the far-right movement.
Last year’s rally was big, dangerous, and surprising to many outside observers, despite ongoing warnings from local activists in the lead-up to it. Hundreds of heavily armed militia members and white nationalists flood the streets of Charlottesville, where they battled with anti-racism activists for at least an hour using homemade shields, clubs, and pepper spray before police finally intervened.
That set off hours of pop-up skirmishes across Charlottesville that culminated when neo-Nazi Alex Fields drove a car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.
The resulting backlash largely felled the Daily Stormer, Richard Spencer, and Chris Cantwell. Kessler himself drew heavy criticism from other right-wing figures after he described Heyer as a “fat, disgusting Communist.”
This time around, Kessler and his associated want to their rally to look “innocent” — despite the involvement of known white supremacists and neo-Nazis and talk of using the same California legal practice that helps finance Chris Cantwell.
“I’m very confident about the logistical arrangements for Charlottesville. Its [sic] currently a headache trying to figure out how to get people to DC without the bus companies canceling on us,” Kessler said in a series of messages on May 29. “Creating a lot of controversy makes it even more likely these rental companies will refuse to rent to us.”
Throughout the chat logs, Kessler and several other participants emphasize the need to keep the protest from devolving into open violence or looking like a “paramilitary” event.
“Violence at this particular rally would be like shoving a shiv [in] the ribs of the movement. We have to avoid it in every way possible,” Kessler said on May 28. “Violence will make us look terrible and give rationale for the event to be declared unlawful assembly yet again.”
“Please don’t talk about fighting anyone at the rally,” Kessler warned another chat participant earlier in the same conversation thread. “Hurts the legal situation.”
Two days later, another chat participant, “David Shyne” (real name: David Rother), talked about keeping away the heavily armed militia groups that flooded into Charlottesville for last year’s rally, creating optics the organizers of this year’s rally obviously don’t want.
“This is a non violent event,” Shyne said. “We don’t need or want militia/Paramilitary types running around in level 3 Body Armor and Rifles. It sends the wrong message.”
Naturally for the far-right, there is also a large amount of infighting in the chat logs, as well as an emphasis of just how eager other far-right figures are to forget Kessler.
In one message last May, Kessler said that he and his fellow planners should make the upcoming rally “more of a free speech thing” and bring in “nonwhite speakers” to balance out white nationalists. But he went on to say only “certain nonwhites” would qualify.
“It’s pro-white, American First,” Kessler said in a series of messages. “This isn’t a ‘conservative’ event. Please stop considering random based black guys.”
Elsewhere in the chat logs, Kessler and his associates debate the “Jewish question,” as it’s often called within white-supremacist circles — the question of whether, and how, Jewish people can be part of their “pro-white” movement.
“TBH, I fucking hate the way being pro-white and anti-Jew have become so intertwined,” Kessler said on May 13. “If these rich and powerful Jews weren’t attacking me I wouldn’t care one way or the other.”
Earlier in the same conversation thread, Kessler called some white supremacists’ views on Jews “cartoon anti-semitism” while saying he wants to make “criticism of Jewish influence” normal. Then he set out the criteria for Jewish people he’s willing to work alongside.
“Any Jew that would help us is going to have to work extra hard to be seen as ‘one of the good ones,'” he wrote in a series of messages. “That’s just a reality of the situation. Not anti-white. Not for demographic replacement. Willing to call out the ethnic nepotism of Jews in the media, finance, etc.”
Kessler’s strategy is similar to one used by other far-right groups, like Resist Marxism in Boston, which use “free speech” to cover up their far-right beliefs and connections. This “alt-lite” group markets itself as a combination of conservative and libertarian, and attends numerous “free speech” rallies. As Thinkprogress has previously documented however, it has numerous ties to more far-right groups like the Hammerskin Nation and the Patriot Front.
The newly published chat logs show a similar level of comfort with right-wing extremists and paramilitaries. On May 16th for instance, Kessler asks whether the “Alt-Knights” — a street fighting spinoff of the Proud Boys — will be attending.
One of the other chat participants, “McCormick H. Foley” (real name: Fred Arena), also mentioned on May 30th that he may be able to bring a few members of the Hammerskin Nation to the second protest — a group described by the Anti-Defamation League as the “most violent and best-organized neo-Nazi skinhead group in the United States.” Dave Shyne also says that “this event by default will attract those with the biggest balls,” which can be read as an open call for the most violent of white supremacists to attend.
Both Rother and Arena have ties to hardline white nationalists groups. Rother served as a witness for the defense in Chris Cantwell’s trial, while his Facebook profile picture features a “fashwave” image — a form of internet art extremely popular with white supremacists. Fred Arena, meanwhile, describes himself in his Gab profile as a Nationalist Socialist and affiliated with Vanguard America, along with collected Nazi memorabilia.
It is unclear where the final rallies will take place — especially since Kessler is currently suing the city of Charlottesville for denying his right to hold an anniversary rally on the grounds of public safety. Kessler told the Washington Post that if he wins his lawsuit he plans to hold two simultaneous rallies. This is all despite numerous high-profile white nationalists saying they have no plans to attend the rally.
The chat log obtained by ThinkProgress ends on June 14. But there’s evidence Kessler and his associates may have moved some of their planning for the rally over to the encrypted messaging app Signal, which Kessler told them to download in a message on May 30.
“Shouldn’t you all be chatting on that secure messenger you asked us to download?” a chat participant who went by the handle “Kat Snyder” asked 40 minutes later, in the middle of a conversation thread about event security.
“I mean let’s get realistic does somebody know every single person in this chat group,” Foley said, “And if they are attached to ANTIFA.”