Phoebe Stevens is a pacifist.
She says that’s why she wrapped her arms around Jason Kessler at his August 13, 2017, press conference as a crowd of angry protesters closed in on him. But after she knocked him down in the chaos, he accused her of assault and battery—a charge she was convicted of in Charlottesville General District Court a year ago.
Stevens appealed the conviction, and was scheduled to go to trial on February 14. Before a jury was seated, however, her defense team and the prosecutor reached a special agreement: If Stevens apologized, agreed to do 100 hours of community service, and stayed on good behavior for six months, her charge would be dismissed.
That’s when her attorney, Jay Galloway, walked her over to Kessler, who was seated in the front row of the nearly empty courtroom.
“I apologize for putting my arms around you,” Stevens said, to which Kessler harshly responded, “What about [tackling] me, do you apologize for that?”
During the Unite the Right rally, Stevens could be found using her body to shield counterprotesters and white supremacists alike, and in recordings of the alleged tackle, she can also be heard saying, “We love you, Jason.”
“I apologize for making you feel like you were tackled,” she then told Kessler in the courtroom.
“That’s not a real apology,” he replied.
At that point, Galloway said Stevens was not going to engage any further. A few feet outside the courthouse, in her lawyer’s Park Street office, Stevens gave a brief interview, in which she noted it was Valentine’s Day.
“It’s not missed by me that my date today was Jason Kessler,” she said.
Over the past year and a half, Stevens said she’s heard many opinions on her choice to embrace the man who brought hundreds of white supremacists to town for an event that ended in countless injuries and three deaths.
“We’re all human,” Stevens said. “I know the crowd would not have agreed with me, and my visceral self would have battled me on that, too. [But] when we step back, there’s a human there.”
She says she has forgiven Kessler for accusing her of assaulting him and for his behavior during her apology.
“He is incredibly clouded in his understanding of the world and how to remedy this situation,” Stevens added. “He’s a deeply disturbed individual.”