White Nationalist Facing Felonies After Pepper-Spraying Counter-Protester at Charlottesville Rally: Reports
A self-described white nationalist who came to prominence in a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month said he will turn himself into police for using pepper spray on a rally counter-protester, according to multiple news reports.
The University of of Virginia Police Department said it has obtained felony warrants against Christopher Cantwell, of New Hampshire, on three charges, including two counts of illegal use of tear gas and one count of “malicious bodily injury by means of any caustic substance or agent,” the Associated Press, NBC News and local TV station WWBT report.
Cantwell was featured in a viral Vice News documentary about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, in which he promoted his desires for an “ethno-state” and said that the death of 32-year-old counter-protestor Heather Heyer was justified, according to the New York Times.
The Times quotes him as saying in the documentary, “I think that a lot more people are gonna die before we’re done here.”
Cantwell’s profile was further raised by a YouTube video days after the rally when, holding back tears, he described himself as “law-abiding” and unfairly persecuted by unnamed “enemies.”
In an interview with the Times, Cantwell said, “The first thing you’ve got to understand is my job is to shock people.”
Of the accusations he faces, he told the paper, “I don’t think I did anything wrong, and I’m looking forward to my day in court.” He said he had not been in touch with Virginia authorities but would turn himself in if necessary.
The warrants come nearly two weeks after a pre-planned “Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 12 — nominally organized to protest the planned removal of a local Confederate statute — erupted in violence, with white nationalist and supremacist protesters clashing in Charlottesville with counter-protesters who were demonstrating against them
Two state troopers were also killed in a helicopter crash while responding to the rally.
It was unclear on Wednesday if Cantwell was, in fact, in custody in Charlottesville. The University of Virginia police did not return a message for comment and PEOPLE’s efforts to reach Cantwell, including calling a number he has previously listed for himself, were unsuccessful.
Cantwell has previously said he believes the charges are likely in connection with an incident in Charlottesville the night before Heyer’s death, when he was pictured pepper-spraying someone else, which he does not dispute.
He told the AP and the Times that he believed he was acting in self-defense in that altercation, “because my only other option was knocking out his teeth” with a flashlight.
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Cantwell told NBC News that he would turn himself in “without undue delay,” although he did not specify when or where he would do so.
“I certainly wasn’t running around pepper-spraying innocent people, like the communists who attacked us did,” he told the network.
He also said he “did not go down there with the intention of violence,” but “I came down there prepared for violence because I know that our enemies will attack us, which is exactly what happened.”
Emily Gorcenski told the Times that she filed a report against Cantwell with University of Virginia police after witnessing him pepper-spray others on the night of Aug. 11. She said she thinks her report led to one of his charges.
“He sprayed basically the whole group,” Gorcenski said. “The whole thing was scary. I was targeted by people wearing swastika pins. It was terrifying.”
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