Immediately following a March 26 trial in which Charlottesville’s Brian Lambert was found guilty of multiple charges of trespassing in Emancipation and Justice parks and attempting to remove the tarps from the shrouded statues, Lambert could be seen applying a trail of Confederate flag stickers on surfaces in the direction of the General Robert E. Lee monument.
Judge Joseph Serkes had just sentenced him to four years in jail, with all but eight months suspended, in a hearing where Lambert flashed a distinctive hand signal behind his back. With his right thumb forming a circle with his pointer finger, and his three additional digits in the shape of a “W,” he held the “white power” symbol for about 30 seconds before turning to wink at the few people who showed up to support him, including Jason Kessler.
Louisa attorney Richard Harry defended Lambert, while Richmonder Christopher Wayne was represented by Thomas Wilson on similar—but fewer—destruction of property and trespassing charges. Wayne was sentenced to three years, of which all were suspended but five months.
The Richmond man’s trial was unorthodox, and he engaged in several debates with the judge. Lambert patted him on the back multiple times in what appeared to be an effort to get Wayne to stop talking.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cooper Vaughan said Wayne’s frequent outbursts and repeated tampering with the city’s tarps after being arrested were an indicator of his disrespect for the City Council’s August decision to shroud the Confederate statues while the city mourned the deaths that took place during the summer’s Unite the Right rally.
“He’s absolutely right,” Wayne said.
“They believe these laws do not apply to them,” said Vaughan, who added that active jail time was the only way to convey to the men that there are consequences for breaking the rules.
Lambert also was charged with assaulting the Reverend Seth Wispelwey, a United Church of Christ minister, in the early morning hours of November 5, when the clergy member testified he was walking to his parked car on Second Street when he saw and heard what appeared to be someone cutting down the orange fencing surrounding the Lee monument.
Wispelwey said he called out to Lambert that he was trespassing.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I’m trespassing. What are you going to do about it?’ And started coming at me with a knife [with a six-inch blade] in his hand,” said Wispelwey.
But a Charlottesville police officer testified that when he apprehended Lambert, the man had a box cutter and a firearm on him, but no such knife.
Lambert was found not guilty of assault in that interaction, but the officer said he was unsteady on his feet, his speech was slurred, and he told the cop his name was “Brian Brian.” He was charged with public swearing or intoxication and paid the $25 fine on December 28.
In the same November interaction, the officer said Lambert made a “spontaneous utterance” that he had cut the tarp off the statue “at least seven times” by that point, and when he was caught doing so—also while apparently drunk—in a January 9 encounter, he told police he was “doing a public service,” according to another officer’s testimony.
“He told me he was never going to stop,” a third officer told the judge.
Judge Serkes reminded the men that they couldn’t keep taking matters into their own hands. “That’s why we’re a country of laws,” he said.
Outside the courthouse, Lambert took a drag from a cigarette.
“We’ll take our punishment like men,” he said.
The two plan to appeal their verdicts.
Corrected March 27 at 4pm to more accurately reflect the length of the blade Lambert was allegedly carrying November 5.