Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally, took the witness stand in a Charlottesville federal courtroom on Monday, where he was cross-examined by none other than fellow white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
Kessler and Spencer are codefendants in a civil trial brought by the nonprofit Integrity First for America on behalf of nine people physically injured or emotionally traumatized in the chaotic events on Aug. 11-12, 2017.
Judging by the bitterly personal way the two men went at each other, they seemed more intent on assuring one another's mutual destruction than defending themselves against the claim that they conspired to commit racially motivated violence.
Kessler landed the first blow during direct examination when lawyer Karen Dunn brought up an angry diatribe laced with racist and anti-Semitic slurs when Spencer learned about the death of Heather Heyer after he and other organizers fled Charlottesville in the aftermath of the car attack.
Dunn asked Kessler if he remembered Spencer saying, "Little f*cking k*kes. They get ruled by people like me. Little f*cking octoroons. I f*cking… my ancestors f*cking enslaved those little pieces of f*cking shit."
"Yeah, he's a sociopath," Kessler testified. (In 2019, while tweeting out the audio of Spencer's rant, Kessler had described him as a "sociopath and narcissist.")
"That's the real Richard Spencer?" Dunn prodded.
"Yeah, I think so," Kessler obliged.
During his cross-examination, Spencer wanted to dig into the matter further.
"When did you determine that I was a sociopathic narcissist?" Spencer asked.
"It was over a long period of time," Kessler replied. "The first time I met you, you made my skin crawl."
Kessler added that his first impression was that Spencer was "inhuman, like speaking to a robot or a serial killer."
Becoming increasingly emotional, Kessler complained that after the Unite the Right rally, Spencer and co-defendant Elliott Kline "were accusing me of being a Jew because I wouldn't sieg heil with you."
Spencer used his cross-examination to ferret out information about who leaked the damning audio — a tidbit that makes for salacious gossip in far-right circles but is likely to have little evidentiary value in his case.
"Did you record it?" Spencer asked Kessler.
"No," Kessler responded.
"Do you know who did?" Spencer asked.
Kessler mentioned a nickname, Spencer followed up.
"Dave Reilly ring a bell?" he asked.
"That's the guy," Kessler confirmed.
Spencer also confronted Kessler with evidence that the plaintiffs had introduced earlier in the day that he called "quite revelatory to me."
The plaintiffs had introduced evidence showing a June 2017 exchange on Facebook Messenger between Kessler and Derrick Davis, the quartermaster and Virginia regional director of Traditionalist Worker Party. The two discussed a plot to bait antiracist activists into a confrontation as a ploy to help Kessler obtain free publicity for the upcoming Unite the Right rally.
One of the messages quoted Kessler as saying, "It might take a little extra prodding to get SURJ out to the Double Horse Shoe," referencing a Charlottesville bar and the acronym for the antiracist group Standing Up for Racial Justice. There was brief discussion about recruiting someone to impersonate Spencer, but the idea was quickly dismissed as unfeasible.
Kessler suggested planting the false information that Spencer was part of the group, reportedly dictating a message in quotes that Davis should send out through sock account designed to look like a left-wing social media profile.
"Jason Kessler and his group of fascists are meeting with Richard Spencer right now at the Double Horse Shoe and talking about plans for Aug. 12," Kessler reportedly instructed Davis to write.
"I was not in town on June 10, but you wanted to find someone to impersonate me in order to start a fight at a bar?" Spencer asked Kessler while he was on the stand on Monday.
"I was trying to get attention for my political message," Kessler testified. "People hate you, and we knew that would get their attention. We were trying to get people riled up."
"Is this your M.O., in a way, to use people like me to get people riled up?" Spencer asked.
Kessler refused to back down.
"There's a suppression of any pro-white message," he said, "so any controversy goes a long way."
Spencer ended his cross-examination by suggesting that Kessler was projecting when he labeled him a "sociopath" and a "narcissist," and then asked Kessler if he had ever been diagnosed with mental illness.
One of the other lawyers objected, and Spencer ended his questioning.
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