An overflow crowd packed City Council chambers December 5 for Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy’s first appearance since the racist, misogynist and homophobic tweets he made before taking office were released on Thanksgiving. And the man who created the firestorm, Jason Kessler, showed up with a petition calling for Bellamy’s ouster.
The majority of attendees were Bellamy supporters, some carrying signs that said, “Stop alt-right hate.”
Mayor Mike Signer voiced his support for Bellamy: “Like many in our community, I was shaken by the revelations of his past Internet speech. I believe in second chances. I reject the content of these communications. I also reject the hatred and outright racism of many of the attacks we’ve received against Mr. Bellamy.”
Signer advised those calling for Bellamy’s removal that City Council has “no such legal authority.”
Bellamy, who issued an apology on Facebook November 27, fell on the sword again at the meeting, after Signer warned protesters that outbursts were strictly forbidden.
“I owe everything to this city and this area, including an apology,” he said. “I’m sorry for the tweets I sent in my early- and mid-20s. I’m not looking to defend or justify my words, as they are indefensible.”
Bellamy thanked the community that had helped him grow “from the arrogant young man who had too little respect for women to the married man with three daughters who has the utmost respect for all women.”
He vowed to grow every day to become a leader for the community. “I’ve truly learned the importance of humility and grace,” he said.
Since the tweets were published, Bellamy, 30, is on administrative leave from his job as a teacher at Albemarle High, and he resigned from his appointment to the state Board of Education.
Other councilors offered their support for Bellamy. Bob Fenwick cited “the virtual mob” that has come after the vice mayor and pledged, “I will stand with Wes.” And Kristin Szakos, who had already publicly supported Bellamy, said after Fenwick spoke, “Like you said.”
Kathy Galvin said the past tweets were “troubling,” but that they did not match her experience in working with Bellamy, which has been one of respect.
Kessler, in a T-shirt printed with “The Sword,” came before council with a recording playing Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down,” which Signer asked him to turn off. Kessler said he represented 900 petitioners against Bellamy’s “anti-white, anti-woman and pro-rape” statements.
“I am here to demand Wes Bellamy be removed from office,” he said, also taking aim at Szakos, who early on had speculated that Bellamy’s Twitter account had been hacked or the tweets were fake.
Kessler also contested the ages in which Bellamy said he made his youthful Twitter indiscretions, alleging Bellamy was between 24 and 28.
And to boos from the audience, he said, “Any one of Bellamy’s tweets would have forced a resignation a week ago if he were a white man.”
Before Thanksgiving, Kessler was pretty much an unknown 33-year-old UVA alum who has published a book of poetry, two online novels and a screenplay.
Now he’s far better known for publishing Bellamy’s offensive tweets.
One week after his Bellamy exposé came out, Kessler notes that he’s made international news—the Daily Caller—as well as national news in the San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post.
And while he accuses Bellamy of being anti-white, Kessler denies that he’s a white supremacist—and explains some of the nuances of the alt-right movement.
“They don’t even know what alt-right is,” he says of those who have condemned him. “They’re trying to frame Richard Spencer and [National Policy Institute] as alt-right. They’re not.”
Spencer, too, is a UVA alum who burst into the national spotlight during the recent election, and has been credited with coining the term “alt-right,” which is widely associated with white supremacist and white nationalist stances.
Kessler says he follows Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer and editor for Breitbart News, widely described as an alt-right publication, who was permanently suspended from Twitter in July for the “targeted abuse or harassment of others,” and Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at Infowars.com, the home of longtime conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and which U.S. News & World Report has called a fake news site.
Some of the public commenters at City Council took issue with Kessler and the alt-right movement, with one calling him a “white supremacist.”
And the anti-Bellamy speakers noted his call for the removal of Confederate statues and a boycott of UVA lecturer Doug Muir’s restaurant, Bella, for “racist” comments Muir made comparing Black Lives Matter to the Ku Klux Klan.
After Kessler spoke, Szakos interrupted the meeting to alert police officers that Kessler said to Bellamy, “Your days are numbered.”
Clarification and correction December 7: Kessler contacted C-VILLE after this story was published to say he actually said, “527 signatures! We’re going to get him out of here. Your days are numbered.” And that his shirt says The Sword, not The Word.
Correction 5:04pm: The original story cited a Kessler tweet in which he said he was “still a fan” in a discussion of Richard Spencer. Kessler says he’s not a fan of Spencer, and meant he’s a fan of social media personality Mike Cernovich.