A judge in Charlottesville, Virginia, has dismissed a disorderly conduct charge against Jason Kessler, the local blogger and white nationalist who organized the deadly “Unite the Right” protest held earlier this month over the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Charlottesville District Court Judge Robert Downer Jr. dismissed the single count against Mr. Kessler during a Monday hearing, the city’s Daily Progress reported, letting him off the hook for his conduct during an incident months before his his now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally descended into violence and ended in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, 33.
Prosecutors had initially hoped to convince Mr. Kessler in connection with disrupting a May 14 candlelight vigil held a day after white nationalists rallied with torches in tow around the same statue of Lee at the center of this month’s violent far-right demonstration.
Mr. Kessler used a bullhorn during the May 14 vigil to incite participants, according to law enforcement, and was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to leave. Prosecutors have since determined his actions amounted to protected free speech, however, and have decided against pursuing the case.
The evidence against Mr. Kessler “cannot support a conviction,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony conceded Monday, C-Ville.com reported.
“Mr. Kessler is a person we have absolutely no respect for,” she said. “He’s a very troubled person that we do not think fully understands the damage he’s caused this community and elsewhere, but he was not guilty of criminal conduct.”
Mike Hallahan, Mr. Kessler’s defense attorney, agreed.
“He broke no law,” Mr. Hallahan said.
Mr. Kessler hid in the back of court prior to having his case heard and then “scurried out a back door” afterwards, the website reported.
He did not return multiple requests for comment.
Mr. Kessler had intended to protest the slated removal of Charlottesville’s Lee monument on Aug. 11, but authorities canceled his “Unite the Right” rally before it even started when attendees including white supremacists and far-right extremists violently clashed with counterprotesters. A person identified as a “Unite the Right” attendee later drove his automobile into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heyer and injuring 19 others, according to police.
The same judge who dismissed the disorderly conduct charge against Mr. Kessler on Monday had denied bail weeks earlier to James Alex Fields, the 20-year-old Ohio man charged with Heyer’s murder.
“Freedom of speech comes at a great cost and we’ve all seen that cost in this community,” the judge said Monday.
Mr. Kessler caused a stir again this weekend when his Twitter account tweeted that Heyer “was a fat, disgusting Communist” and that her death was “payback time.” The same Twitter account offered varying, conflicting explanations for the posts Saturday and has since gone offline.
“I’m not talking to reporters right now,” Mr. Kessler told The Washington Post when reached Monday before hanging up.