Jason Kessler, the right-wing blogger who unsuccessfully petitioned to remove Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy from office, pleaded guilty today to punching a man while gathering petition signatures, but challenged the victim’s statements outside the Charlottesville General District Court.
In the same court March 3, the prosecution asked the judge to dismiss with prejudice an assault complaint Kessler filed against Jay Taylor, the man he socked, because video footage from a nearby surveillance camera did not support Kessler’s account.
At today’s hearing, Kessler entered a guilty plea and will be sentenced April 27. Outside the courthouse, he initially responded to a request for comment by giving this reporter the finger, but then came back twice to make statements as the media interviewed Taylor.
The two were acquainted from working on an indie film project a few years ago, says Taylor, and when he ran into Kessler on the Downtown Mall January 22, “I took the opportunity to engage him.” Taylor says he read the petition to remove Bellamy from office, and took issue with the aggressive way Kessler was going after Bellamy.
“I said, ‘You’re being kind of an asshole,'” says Taylor. “He just kind of hauled off and hit me.”
Kessler claimed in his tossed-out complaint that Taylor assaulted him, and he had punched him in self-defense.
“I was literally holding a cup of coffee,” says Taylor, killing time with his dog on the mall. “He handed me the clipboard to read.” And Taylor says before he could ask Kessler why he was targeting Bellamy and trying to ruin him, Kessler clocked him, busting his lip on the inside.
“I do care about how people comport themselves,” says Taylor. “It’s important to do so in a civil manner.”
He says he objects to Kessler’s tactics that use “fear and hate.” And he describes Kessler as “interested in tearing things down and making havoc.”
Says Taylor, “We need to be able to calmly and civilly—and I stress civilly—talk together. If I don’t like what you say, you just can’t hit me.”
About that time, Kessler returned to the front of the courthouse. He repeated his claims that he had been angry and afraid during the confrontation. He accused Taylor’s friend of tearing up his petition the day of the punching. He also said he apologized to Taylor, whom he called “a coward.”
“After having witnessed that,” says Taylor after Kessler left, “I think he is seeking attention. The facts he just stated didn’t happen.” Kessler did apologize to him after the assault and said he’d make it right, Taylor confirms.
Taylor says he didn’t know the other man who was present and wrote “void” on Kessler’s petition, and that the video footage would vindicate his account.
And when the police arrived, Kessler “practically knocked me aside to get to the police first,” says Taylor.
He says he’s going to start a GoFundMe account to help with the legal fees he incurred from the debunked assault charge Kessler filed against him. And he says he wants to start a civility campaign.
About that time, Kessler returned again and denounced reporters interviewing Taylor. “When you talk to Jay Taylor for 20 minutes and are laughing, I’m sure it’s going to be reported fairly,” he says.
The Newsplex’s Talya Cunningham, whom Kessler has berated online for not using interview footage that “didn’t fit their agenda” and for seeking comment from Showing Up for Racial Justice, a group that opposes Kessler and has called him a “white nationalist,” pulled out her camera and asked him what he wanted to say, and WINA’s Dori Zook put a microphone before Kessler.
“You can’t believe anything the liberal media says,” he declares. “You can’t believe anything Jay Taylor says.”
Kessler maintains he felt threatened by Taylor and the other man, and was angry and afraid when he struck Taylor. “It was a gang thing,” he says.
He alleges Taylor came up and “was screaming in my face.” And he recounted the travails he’s encountered with people swearing at him, harassing him and stealing his phone.
Says Kessler, “I was just having a bad day.”
As Kessler continued to reiterate that he was threatened and angry, Cunningham packed up her camera.
And when asked about the bogus assault charge he filed against Taylor, Kessler glared, said nothing and walked away.