When Jason Kessler leaves a courthouse in Charlottesville, he’s usually greeted the same way, and that’s by an angry mob.
A group of dozens of anti-racists followed him in a large circle around Market Street until he receded to the police department next to the general district court. He exited only when a maroon truck showed up to pick him up.
All the while, African-American counterprotesters, who reminded him that February is Black History Month, shouted a slogan that’s quite familiar to him. One that he’s even used once or twice—“You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us!”
Kessler was in court February 2 for five different hearings in which he claimed to be the victim.
Throughout the morning, known anti-racist activist Veronica Fitzhugh, Phoebe Stevens, Jeff Winder, Brandon Collins and Kenneth Robert Litzenberger were defended as they stood in front of the judge and across from the organizer of the summer’s deadly Unite the Right rally.
Fitzhugh was first, and while Judge Robert Downer dismissed an assault charge that stemmed from an apparent May 20 altercation with Kessler on the Downtown Mall, she was found guilty of disorderly conduct for being a member of the mob that surrounded the white nationalist and his friends that night. In video evidence, Fitzhugh, wearing a pink wig, can be seen shouting “Nazi, go home,” in close proximity to Kessler’s earlobe.
“You have to take this kind of abuse with a grain of salt,” Kessler said when defense attorney Jeff Fogel asked why he was smiling during the video.
Special prosecutor Michael Caudill, who was appointed to the case, said “Kessler exhibited decorum.”
Downer said Fitzhugh’s actions met the objective standard of disorderly conduct and found the woman—who wore a hot pink dress with the work “antifa” scrawled across the back—guilty. She was fined $250, with $200 suspended.
Outside the courthouse, her attorney said, “All she was doing was telling him the truth—that he was a Nazi.”
After her hearing, four people appeared whom Kessler has accused of assaulting him at his August 13 press conference in front of City Hall, where he was unable to be heard over the angry crowd that eventually swarmed him and tackled him to the ground.
Stevens was the tackler, but says that wasn’t her intention.
“We love you, Jason,” were her last words before she took him to the ground, according to her own testimony and that of a freelance photographer at the event.
Stevens, a French teacher in the public school system who also teaches rock climbing and yoga, says she practices peaceful intervention. On August 12, she could be found using her body to shield counterprotesters being beaten on the ground and white supremacists alike. And on August 13, she was hoping to do the same for Kessler.
“I remember thinking he looked kind of like a rabbit darting back and forth,” she said. “It was as if he was about to get hit by a train. It was getting worse and worse.”
So she said she embraced him, not intending to knock him down.
“If only he could understand that as an individual, he is loved—it’s this thing that he stands for that is not,” she said.
Regardless of the prosecutor calling her a “nice lady” and the judge saying he didn’t doubt a minute of her testimony, she was found guilty and sentenced to 50 hours of community service.
Winder, a longtime activist who was protesting the war in Iraq with Code Pink when he was arrested for trespassing in 2007 in then congressman Virgil Goode’s office, was also among the mix charged for assaulting the organizer of the Unite the Right rally on August 13.
NBC29 reporter Henry Graff testified that he saw someone who appeared to be Winder strike Kessler when reviewing footage of the press conference gone awry.
While defense attorney James Abrenio argued that Winder couldn’t be identified beyond a reasonable doubt, Downer disagreed and sentenced him to 30 days in jail, with all of them suspended on the condition that he has good behavior for a year.
Brandon Collins, a City Council frequenter who works for Public Housing Association of Residents, entered an Alford plea, meaning he didn’t admit guilt, but recognized that there was enough evidence to convict him of assaulting Kessler. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail with all of them suspended.
And lastly, Kenneth Robert Litzenberger, who allegedly spat on Kessler during the scuffle, had his case continued until next February.
The white nationalist wasn’t given a chance to address the media after the hearing, as anti-racists wedged themselves between him and members of the press.
They shouted, “No platform for Nazis!”