Last summer’s infamous neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was supposedly about “free speech.” But that claim was always ridiculous. The latest evidence? Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of the rally, sued a woman for swearing at him. And a judge in Charlottesville has now awarded Kessler $5.
Kessler sued Donna Gasapo for $500 because she said things like “Fuck you, asshole,” and called Kessler a “crybaby.” Gasapo never denied saying the words, but her attorney argued that what she said was protected under the First Amendment. Kessler said that her words were in violation of Virginia’s anti-dueling laws. And on Friday, a judge decided in favor of Kessler.
The incident between Kessler and Gasapo took place on March 16, 2018 at the DeAndre Harris assault trial. Harris, a black man, was beaten up by six white men at the neo-Nazi rally, formally known as the Unite the Right rally. Two white supremacists were found guilty of “malicious wounding.”
Kessler, a former contributor to the Daily Caller news site, said that his lawsuit was about civility, a pretty absurd claim for a guy who helped organize a rally where men were chanting things like “Jews will not replace us,” and giving Hitler salutes.
“This is an opportunity to bring civility back to our community,” Kessler insisted in his lawsuit, while also making thinly veiled threats of violence. “There was a chance that I could respond violently and I don’t want that to happen.”
As the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes, Gasapo also called Kessler a murderer, in reference to the fact that a 34-year-old woman named Heather Heyer was killed at the rally. Heyer was murdered by James Alex Fields Jr., who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters that weekend and has now been charged with hate crimes. Not long after the rally, Kessler tweeted that Heyer was a “fat Communist pig” and called her death “payback time.” At first, Kessler claimed that his Twitter account was hacked, but then tacitly admitted that he sent the tweets, blaming it on Ambien, Xanax, and alcohol.
Kessler’s social media presence became the subject of controversy last year after he was verified with a blue checkmark in November. Outcry on the platform caused Twitter to strip the far right figure of his verification and the company ceased verifying any new accounts.
Curiously, Kessler has previously tweeted that people who say things like “fuck” aren’t brave. But it clearly took some bravery for Donna Gasapo to say the word fuck since she was taken to court for it.
Gasapo argued that Kessler is a public figure and Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. agreed with that assessment. But the judge also seemed to buy Kessler’s argument that her words could’ve caused violence, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Kessler was awarded just $5 in a symbolic victory.
Milo Yiannopoulos, a far right figure who recently sent a Jewish journalist $14.88, has also threatened lawsuits against people who have been critical of him. The numbers 14 and 88 are Nazi codes. Yiannopoulos has most recently threatened to sue the Observer over an article where he claimed he couldn’t wait to see journalists murdered.
“I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight,” Yiannopoulos reportedly said. He claims it was just a “troll,” and denies inspiring the recent shooting in Annapolis, Maryland that left five journalists dead at the Capital Gazette newspaper.
Yiannopoulos has not yet filed a lawsuit against the Observer, though he has sued his former publisher Simon and Schuster for $10 million. He dropped that lawsuit after trying to represent himself.
The far right in America has a long history of filing nuisance lawsuits to silence critics and chill speech. Back in the 1930s, American Nazis would sometimes file libel and defamation lawsuits as a way to intimidate their anti-Nazi adversaries.
Fritz Kuhn, head of the German-American Bund, sued Warner Bros. for libel after the 1939 film Confessions of a Nazi Spy came out. Kuhn named the director and the screenwriter as defendants in an attempt to spread the pain. American Nazis of the time were very conscious of wrapping themselves in the American flag to claim that their hateful beliefs were just about making the United States a better country.
“The Bund is a patriotic, loyal and American organization composed of loyal, patriotic American citizens of German birth or parentage and who aim to uphold the American flag and the laws of the United States and honor its institutions,” Kuhn said according to newspaper accounts of 1939.
Kuhn’s most infamous public appearance occurred at Madison Square Garden on February 2, 1939 in what was called a “pro-America” rally. Kuhn lost his $5 million suit against Warner Bros. and was imprisoned during World War II. He was eventually deported to Germany after the war for being an enemy agent. Kuhn died a poor and pathetic nobody in 1951.
A new Unite the Right rally, which Kessler calls a White Civil Right Rally, is being planned for August 11th and 12th in Washington, D.C. near the White House. Gizmodo has reached out to Jason Kessler on Twitter for comment and will update this post if we hear back.
“I think we should all be very concerned about what this ruling means in terms of opening up other frivolous harassment suits against members of our community who are expressing their opinions and their very real feelings of frustration, which we believe are protected by the First Amendment,” Gasapo told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Gasapo hasn’t decided whether to appeal the ruling yet.