Two of three felony charges were thrown out in a more than six-hour-long preliminary hearing November 9 for “Crying Nazi” Chris Cantwell, the New Hampshire man accused of pepper spraying multiple people at the violent August 11 tiki-torch march across the University of Virginia.
Hundreds of white supremacists were in town that weekend for homegrown whites-righter Jason Kessler’s Unite the Right rally, which left three people dead and many injured in its aftermath.
In Cantwell’s case, an Albemarle General District Court judge is allowing one count of illegal use of tear gas to go before the grand jury, after he said Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci was unable to prove that the two victims who brought the charges against Cantwell were actually sprayed by the shock jock, who continues to broadcast his show, the Radical Agenda, from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
His supporters, known for their fashy haircuts and white polos and khakis, coordinated new outfits this time. About a dozen of them lined the courtroom’s benches wearing black, some dressed head-to-toe in the color.
While Tracci claimed the inmate maliciously used pepper spray during the tiki-torch march, Cantwell himself, who appeared in a dark grey and white-striped jail jumpsuit and handcuffs, called it self defense.
“I said I would not attend the UVA demonstration unless we were coordinating with law enforcement,” he told Judge William Barkley during his testimony, but when there were no cops there to “protect [white nationalists] from the counterprotesters,” he said he had no choice but to take matters into his own hands. And he came to Charlottesville prepared to do so.
He brought with him an AR-15, an AK-47, a Ruger LC9, a Glock, a folding knife and what he called the “now infamous can of pepper spray,” to name a few of the weapons he rattled off. He had a couple of ballistic vests with him, too, he said.
“I was hoping very much to avoid violence,” testified the white nationalist, who said he didn’t bring any of the firearms out on the night of August 11 because he was told that the university is a gun-free zone. When he didn’t have a tiki torch at the march, he said he was asked to walk on the outside of the group and work security for the group of white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
“I was on edge the entire time because [counterprotesters] kept bumping into people with torches,” Cantwell said. When asked if he was taken aback by the heatedness of the march, he said, “It’s difficult to say that I was surprised because I talk about this stuff for a living. I know these people are dangerous.”
He later portrayed it as, “two groups of people who hated each other attacking one another and I was in the middle of it.”
Alleged victims Emily Gorcenski and Kristopher Goad testified against Cantwell, describing being sprayed with a caustic substance and losing their vision, but the latter said video footage Tracci recently showed him displayed a man with a dragon tattoo—not Cantwell—macing him at least one of the times.
Cantwell’s attorney, Elmer Woodard, asked Goad multiple times why he did not leave the demonstration when he noticed things were getting out of hand. At this point on August 11, Goad, along with about 25 other counterprotesters, were encircled by about 300 chanting, torch-wielding white nationalists.
“I did not have an option to leave,” Goad said. “I was surrounded 360 degrees by hundreds of people.” To that, the attorney said, “You could have said excuse me, couldn’t you?”
The room erupted in laughter. And it did again, when Woodard suggested that perhaps it was the smoke from the tiki torches instead of mace that caused the victim’s faces to burn, or “maybe it was the citronella candles,” he said.
Along with dropping two of Cantwell’s charges, Judge Barkley also did not extend a protective order Gorcenski had against Cantwell, and said his bond prohibited him from contacting the woman, whom Woodard called an “antifa operative.”
Woodard’s assistant played Gorcenski’s own video footage, in which the attorney later pointed out that if she was pepper sprayed, she never audibly seemed to react to it. “She’s quiet as a mouse, which I’m pretty sure everyone in this room wishes I would be.”
Also present in the courtroom was Vice News’ Elle Reeve, who followed and interviewed Cantwell throughout the August 12 weekend, Kessler, who appeared in court a week ago to amend his bond on a perjury charge so he could take a job in Ohio, and Unite the Right organizer Eli Mosley.
Some of the white nationalists in town may have found their cars towed when they left court. Sources say the church where they parked had the vehicles removed.
Cantwell, who has been incarcerated since he turned himself in August 24, is expected to request bond November 13.