'Unite the Right' 5 Years Later: Where Are They Now?
Five years after white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, the statue they came to protect is gone, and the “alt-right” coalition they embodied has imploded. At the same time, the existential threat that far-right extremism poses to the U.S. has arguably never been more severe.
Such is the complex fallout of “Unite the Right,” where hundreds of extremists immersed a college town in violent conflict, generating shocking images that news organizations continue to broadcast as symbols of the nation’s struggle with hate and authoritarianism. They also helped bring the “great replacement” conspiracy theory into mainstream right-wing discourse by chanting, “Jews will not replace us” in viral videos staged on the eve of Unite the Right.
Hatewatch has continued to monitor the personalities and groups who staged Unite the Right, even after street-level activism, investigative reporting and legal battles blocked the rise of those figures, forcing the radical right movement to shuffle beyond them. The following capsules provide a summary of where Unite the Right’s key players find themselves as of August 2022.
Former Proud Boys recruit and Charlottesville resident Jason Kessler obtained the original permit for Unite the Right and briefly became a nationally recognized figure in its fallout. Kessler’s stature in the movement and in the broader culture collapsed in the years that followed, as other movement leaders blamed him for Unite the Right’s failures.
After initially withdrawing a lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville for rejecting his bid for another permit, Kessler traveled to Washington, D.C., in August 2018 for an event marking Unite the Right’s one-year anniversary. Many of the white nationalists who attended the first Unite the Right publicly distanced themselves Kessler in its runup. Some white nationalists even collaborated to sabotage Kessler by suggesting on social media that terroristic neo-Nazis would attend the rally. Kessler’s sequel utterly flopped, attracting only a handful of extremists beyond its host.
Integrity First for America, who brought the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit on behalf of nine plaintiffs alleging they were harmed by the rally, recalled to Hatewatch that Kessler lashed out at victims and co-defendants on social media during the trial for it. The court ordered Kessler to stop posting about Sines v. Kessler on social media, raising concerns about his actions. A jury finally ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on multiple claims in November 2021.
Kessler continues to brand himself as a “white civil rights” activist. He also sometimes blogs for the white nationalist website VDARE. He has written with palpable bitterness about journalists and activists who cover the far right, paying particular interest to those who reported on the fallout of the doomed rally that made him infamous.
“At some point they’re going to take something from someone with nothing left to lose … everyone has their breaking point, and a decapitated head is going to be all that’s left of the person who casually destroyed someone’s life online because they could,” Kessler posted to the messaging app Telegram on July 24, 2022, referring to what he described as “the Antifa people.”
Molly Conger, an antifascist researcher and activist, shared documents and screenshots to Twitter on July 21, 2022, identifying Kessler as the sole proprietor behind an Alexandria, Virginia-based moving company, Super Precision Movers LLC. Hatewatch reached out to Kessler by text message for his thoughts on the anniversary. He said he could not respond due to a lawsuit he filed against the city of Charlottesville.
Once the face of rising white supremacist activism during the Trump era, the telegenic extremist’s celebrity peaked at Unite the Right. Richard Spencer attended the event as a headline speaker, and he infamously helped lead a torchlit march through the University of Virginia campus on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. Following Heyer’s murder, Spencer threatened to “come back here every f----- weekend if I have to” in a slur-laden rant. Websites across the world published a photo of him at the event, wearing sunglasses and shouting behind him as a crowd of armored state police surrounded him.
Spencer did return to Charlottesville in October 2017 for a small pop-up event involving a handful of extremists. He also took on a speaking tour across college campuses after Unite the Right. Wherever Spencer went, his name stirred protests, cancellations and clashes between antiracist demonstrators and white supremacists. Colton Fears and Tyler Tenbrink, two of Spencer’s supporters, are serving prison terms after separate juries convicted them for their roles in a shooting that targeted protesters of his October 2017 event at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Although Tenbrink’s bullets missed their targets, the men brought the “alt-right” movement and the country extremely close to a replay of Heyer’s murder just two months after she died.
Spencer’s efforts to stage events, and the alt-right movement around him, crumbled in March 2018, when police arrested over two dozen people, including Gregory Conte, the director of operations for Spencer’s group National Policy Institute (NPI), following violent skirmishes outside his speech at Michigan State University. Images of Spencer’s supporters trading blows with protesters went viral and led to a debate within the radical right about how activists should carry themselves in public.
“I absolutely regret that I will always be connected with an event that led to the death of an innocent person, among other things,” Spencer told Hatewatch for this story, referring to Heather Heyer’s murder.
Answering a request for comment, Spencer confirmed to Hatewatch what researchers already sensed about him. He said that he pulled back from the movement in 2018, after the Michigan State event. He said that he experienced no single “a-ha moment” in choosing to do so. His group NPI lost its active-status corporate designation in Virginia in August 2018, according to Hatewatch’s review of Virginia corporate records. The SPLC last listed NPI in its annual “Year in Hate” report in 2020.
“I just abandoned it,” Spencer said of NPI.
Spencer’s name trended on Twitter in June 2022 after the feminist website Jezebel ran a post about him. Someone found Spencer on the dating app Bumble, and Jezebel highlighted that he listed himself as a political moderate there. Twitter users derided him and debated his sincerity.
“I feel like sometimes I can’t escape my own shadow in the sense of when people still think of the alt-right, I think they almost imagine that I’m still doing what I used to be doing,” Spencer said. “I have to take responsibility on some level, I mean, I get it. But I hope that there’s something to me beyond those things.”
Spencer continues to operate the web-based publication Radix Journal, which SPLC listed as white nationalist in 2021. Spencer and his former collaborators have lambasted each other on social media. Spencer periodically also makes comments criticizing former President Trump and the Republican Party.
Timothy ‘Baked Alaska’ Gionet
Gionet, known by his stage name “Baked Alaska,” seized the role of court jester for the white nationalist movement during the Trump era by unleashing a barrage of clownish, sometimes utterly inexplicable stunts on social media for an audience of young racists. Unlikely a figure as he might be to embody this role, the 35-year-old Anchorage native arguably symbolizes the bridge between the violence at Unite the Right and the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, better than any other single person.
Formerly an employee of BuzzFeed, Gionet started collaborating with such far-right social media influencers as male supremacist Mike Cernovich and disinformation hustler Jack Posobiec in 2016 and 2017. He also connected with Richard Spencer. Gionet developed a style of livestreaming seemingly non-stop from the selfie position, sometimes while talking to strangers about his racist and antisemitic views. He also produced surreal pop songs like 2016’s “We Love Our Cops.” Its opening lyrics, “We love our cops/our law enforcement/we love our military/they’re important,” perfectly encapsulates Gionet’s superficial-to-the-point-of-being-empty, irony-laden performance style.
Gionet brought something critical to Unite the Right: a substantial social media following. He had 182,000 followers on Twitter heading into Charlottesville, as well as a reliable livestreaming audience. While pro-Trump influencers like Cernovich and Posobiec sat out the event, Gionet charged into it headlong, surrounded by a pack of racist street brawlers. On the eve of Unite the Right, he even retweeted a post from a self-described fascist depicting “alt-right” personalities clashing violently with symbols of antiracism and Marxism.
“I got pepper sprayed! … I need milk! … I need milk! … What the fuck? ...What the fuck? … I need milk! … I need milk right now!” Gionet yelped on a livestream that went viral on Aug. 12, 2017, referring to the practice of pouring milk over someone’s eyes to alleviate the pain caused by pepper spray.
Less than five years later, Gionet appeared in another viral livestream when he filmed himself making calls from Nancy Pelosi’s office inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. He appeared at the Capitol loosely aligned with Nicholas J. Fuentes’ America First movement (see his section below) and with a fanbase diminished by his suspensions from Twitter and, perhaps more crucially, YouTube.
“Occupy the Capitol, let’s go! We ain’t leaving this bitch … Patriots are in control!” he yelled from inside the building, before leading people in a chant of “America First.” “Thank you to all new followers. … Hit that follow button.”
DLive, which Gionet used to livestream as a replacement for YouTube, suspended his account after Jan. 6. Gionet appeared at a Fuentes-led event in November 2021, but the livestreamer’s typically boisterous, class-clown energy appeared to be somewhat diminished. On July 25, Gionet agreed to plead guilty to unlawfully protesting at the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection.
He has suffered other legal and social troubles: An Arizona court sentenced him to 30 days in prison in January 2022 for pepper-spraying a bouncer. He received misdemeanor charges in Phoenix in December 2020 for tearing down a Hanukkah display. A Mesa, Arizona, Starbucks also recently banned Gionet for life for playing racist music inside. He currently hosts an obscure livestream called “Wake and Baked,” featuring freestyle rapping, which he promotes through his Telegram account.
James Alex Fields Jr.
James Alex Fields Jr. drove his 2010 Dodge Challenger over 500 miles from Ohio to march with hundreds of other white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally. On Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, he rammed that car into a crowd of antiracist demonstrators, murdering 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring several other people involved in the counterprotest. Footage from Fields’ attack played on newscasts across the world. According to police, Fields wept when they arrested him around a mile from the crime scene.
Fields, who wore clothing associated with the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America in Charlottesville that weekend, has spent every day since he murdered Heyer incarcerated. Absent a pardon, he will die in prison. Across June and July of 2019, he pleaded guilty to 29 hate crimes and received a life sentence in federal court, and then a second life sentence plus 419 years in a Virginia court after being found guilty of Heyer’s murder, hit and run, and eight counts of malicious wounding. A federal court also ordered Fields to pay $12 million in damages to plaintiffs in the civil suit, Sines v. Kessler, in November 2021.
Contributors to white supremacist-friendly forums shared memes fantasizing about running over antiracists for months before Fields carried out his attack. In his adolescence, Fields expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and aired white supremacist sentiments, according to teachers and acquaintances. He had also allegedly assaulted and threatened his own mother. He took medication for anger management. Despite this history, during his trial, far-right propagandists concocted elaborate conspiracy theories to exculpate Fields for a crime occurring in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses, which bystanders captured in video recordings.
Fields’ fate has not prevented others from carrying out car attacks targeting protesters: Drivers targeted protesters multiple times during the racial justice protests of 2020. Some state-level Republicans have made laws that shield motorists who drive into protesting crowds from civil liability. And to this day, many on the far right minimize or relativize Fields’ crime. In a December 2021 podcast, John Derbyshire, a columnist at the white nationalist website VDARE, attributed Fields’ sentence to an “anti-white justice system.”
The white nationalist group Vanguard America brought a large, visible contingent to Charlottesville in 2017. Members wore uniform khakis and white polo shirts, and carried banners displaying the group’s insignia, which combined two fascist symbols. The group arrived at Unite the Right after having staged other events, including a rally on June 17, when several dozen Vanguard America members assembled in formation outside the Texas Capitol.
The killer James Fields marched alongside Vanguard America in Charlottesville, sported a shield with their logo and was photographed alongside their “Vice Commander,” Thomas Rousseau. He was still wearing the group’s uniform dress when police arrested him for Heather Heyer’s murder. Vanguard America leaders and members have repeatedly denied any affiliation with Fields, despite these facts.
Even as Vanguard America marched in Charlottesville, group members jostled for control of their operations. Self-styled “commander” Dillon Ulysses Hopper and Texas-born white nationalist Thomas Ryan Rousseau, just a teenager at that time, split the leadership structure of the group. Rousseau took control of Vanguard America’s private chats before Unite the Right and ultimately led the group’s march there. The public primarily blamed Hopper in the fallout of the event, even though he never appeared at it. Vanguard America fell apart following intense media scrutiny, the identification of members by antifascist activists, and growing divisions between Rousseau and Hopper.
Rousseau’s Patriot Front, which has involved itself in marches across the country and whose members have notoriously defaced public tributes to civil rights leaders, victims of police violence and LGBTQ+ pride, has emerged as the one of the most active white supremacist groups in the U.S. Replacing Vanguard America’s aesthetic with one that borrows from conservatism and Americana, they pivoted away from Fields and Unite the Right and have managed to exist for five years, despite a series of arrests and leaks and the exposure of members’ identities. Hopper, on the other hand, has all but disappeared, going the way of so many other failed white nationalist leaders.
The Daily Stormer
SPLC warned in January 2017 that a pro-Trump, neo-Nazi blog called The Daily Stormer had emerged as “the top hate site in America,” surpassing its older rival Stormfront. Daily Stormer editor and owner Andrew Anglin appeared to revel in the negative attention. He declared in May 2017 that his readers and everyone else should prepare for “The Summer of Hate.”
“This summer, a Black Sun will pass over America,” he wrote, referring to the esoteric Nazi sonnenrad (or “black sun”) symbol, comparing it to a total solar eclipse.
Daily Stormer writers including Anglin and Robert “Azzmador” Ray, head of the membership groups known as “Stormer book clubs,” promoted Unite the Right throughout that summer. On Aug. 9, 2017, Anglin appeared to call for war.
“We are angry. There is an atavistic rage in us, deep in us, that is ready to boil over,” he wrote. “There is a craving to return to an age of violence.”
Three days later, Anglin stayed away from Charlottesville, continuing to blog. His readers took to the streets, unleashing violence. Fields, whom Anglin later glorified through his site, murdered Heyer. On the night he killed her, his collaborator Ray read a speech authored by Anglin to a crowd of white supremacist supporters. Ray quoted Anglin as calling for them to dig graves and claimed to keep a list of Jewish people.
“This is our war! This has always been our war. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Death to traitors! Death to the enemies of the white race! Hail victory!” Ray said, quoting Anglin.
Public outrage grew rapidly over The Daily Stormer's role in building an atmosphere of violence during Unite the Right. Multiple web infrastructure companies canceled their contracts with The Daily Stormer on Aug. 13, 2017. The move sent Daily Stormer charging around the web for months at time, drifting between the so-called dark web and what Anglin called the “normie web.” Stormer has since moved through at least 15 different domain names in five years.
Ray disappeared sometime in 2019, requiring lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit to request a warrant for his arrest. Anglin, facing financial judgments from multiple lawsuits, including one backed by SPLC, is also on the run, financing what is left of The Daily Stormer with dwindling cryptocurrency donations. Although Anglin loaned his blogging support to trends like the “Stop the Steal” rallies that preceded the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, years of deplatforming have decimated Anglin’s traffic and his influence on the far right, particularly compared to where it stood in moments before Fields murdered Heyer.
The Right Stuff
Mike “Enoch” Peinovich launched The Right Stuff (TRS) in 2012 as a racist libertarian blog, and in 2014 started a white nationalist, antisemitic podcast called “The Daily Shoah,” playing on a synonym for Holocaust. The podcast overcame rampant infighting, scandals and security issues to become the staple audio broadcast of the alt-right era. After agreeing to participate as a featured speaker at Unite the Right, Peinovich prepared his fans for potential conflict in its runup.
“Bring whatever you need [to Charlottesville], that you feel you need for your self-defense,” Peinovich told his listeners. “Do what you need to do for security of your own person, at this point. … We don’t want [counterprotesters] to have the impression – that we are going to be showing up there, unarmed. … That is not the case.”
Peinovich’s The Right Stuff involved itself in Unite the Right in several ways. Jason Kessler and rally co-planner Elliott Kline (“Eli Mosley”) appeared on TRS-branded podcasts at least 16 times in the runup to Unite the Right. Identity Dixie, a neo-confederate offshoot of The Right Stuff, planned and attended Unite the Right as a group. Some collaborators of the group served as rally organizer Kessler’s personal security detail during the rally. Later, after Fields murdered Heyer, Peinovich emerged as one of the killer’s staunchest defenders, repeatedly spinning the car-ramming attack as unintentional and suggesting to listeners that Fields would be found innocent.
Integrity First for America named Peinovich in the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit, but in 2018, with help from a neo-Nazi “shadow lawyer,” Peinovich convinced the judge to drop him from the case. Despite dodging legal fallout from Unite the Right, The Right Stuff has lost cultural clout and credibility in the radical right since the days of 2017 when they hosted book-burning parties, due to defections, identity exposures and deplatforming on social media.
Hatewatch identified several previously pseudonymous collaborators of The Right Stuff following Unite the Right, including racist podcaster and Twitter troll Trey Garrison, an embattled Dallas-based columnist whose byline started to disappear around 2013, suspended State Department official Matthew Q. Gebert and a man named James Kreider, who allegedly handled security measures for the alt-right movement. Hatewatch also confirmed the identity of Joseph Jordan, who attended Unite the Right while using the pseudonym “Eric Striker,” and started to collaborate on podcasts more with Peinovich during the event’s aftermath. Peinovich produced podcasts with other Unite the Right attendees after the event, including James Allsup, a former white nationalist influencer whose celebrity has faded into near-obscurity in the years following Heyer’s murder.
The Right Stuff’s website popularity rankings have essentially collapsed. They dropped a remarkable 87.5% in the three years after 2018, as Hatewatch previously reported. The Right Stuff attempted a sort of rebrand into a political party in August 2020, called “National Justice Party.” Despite calling the group a political party, National Justice Party has not fielded any discernible candidates for office or filed for party status with the Federal Election Commission. Instead, Peinovich’s crew have held small events designed to stoke racial tensions, including some hosted by a man who disappeared to Moscow after appearing in the Capitol on Jan. 6. White supremacist groups sometimes attempt rebrands like this to reinvigorate their influence in the movement, but such moves often reveal a decline in stature that they never overcome.
Matthew Q. Gebert
Unknown as an activist in the white supremacist movement to anyone outside the radical right in August 2017, Matthew Q. Gebert stands out among the men who protested at the event because of his double life as a State Department official with security clearance. Gebert went by the pseudonym “Coach Finstock” at that time and organized with Mike Peinovich and The Right Stuff, hosting extremists at his home in Leesburg, Virginia. He covered his face with sunglasses and a hat at Unite the Right, according to comments he later made on a podcast.
“Dude, we smacked the hornet’s nest with a big f------ stick. And the only question is whether this is valuable accelerationism or whether we just provoked the red guards, like, a year before we had enough time to spare,” Gebert said on that podcast, referring to the atmosphere of violence unleashed by white supremacists at Unite the Right.
Hatewatch unmasked Coach Finstock as Gebert on Aug. 7, 2019, almost exactly two years after his participation in Unite the Right. Within an hour of the story going live, the State Department suspended Gebert, and he never returned to work again. His neighbors in Leesburg put up antiracist lawn signs, protesting his presence in the neighborhood, and less than a year after the story went live, Gebert sold his home and moved out. Gebert’s once promising career, which included his receipt of a prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship, crashed.
Two years ago, Gebert relocated his family to Purgitsville, West Virginia, a 98% white town with under 1,000 people in it. (His wife, Anna, also participates in radical right activism.) Gebert continues to produce a podcast, and although the State Department removed his name from its directory, they have refused to confirm whether or not they still pay him any salary. Gebert has never responded to emails from Hatewatch seeking comment about his activism.
Despite being an infamous white supremacist, the former klansman David Duke arrived in Charlottesville in August 2017 as a figure with diminished influence in the radical right, especially compared to some of the younger players mentioned here. Duke did however provide a throughline between an older generation of extremists and the alt-right movement by attending Unite the Right. He also built collaborative relationships with younger extremists who attended around the same time, including Joseph Jordan, a neo-Nazi who goes by the stage name “Eric Striker.”
Still, Duke’s notoriety outside of the movement made him a target for media interviews in Charlottesville, and he delivered to the press on Aug. 12 what arguably became the day’s most memorable quote, linking the conglomeration of extremists to Trump’s rise.
“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back,” Duke told the press from the grounds of the doomed event.
Twitter once gave Duke a highly trafficked perch from which to spew hate, most notably about Jewish people, for the better part of a decade. The controversy-plagued social media giant ultimately took action against Duke on July 31, 2020, eight long years after he joined. The move dramatically reduced Duke’s visibility as a public figure. He still updates his website sporadically. Hatewatch reached out to Duke through his website but did not receive a reply.
Identity Evropa and its leader Nathan Damigo helped plan Unite the Right. In a press conference after the rally, Richard Spencer blamed violence on the city of Charlottesville’s lack of preparation, while Damigo stood by his side. Elliott Kline, an Identity Evropa personality who at the time went by the pseudonym “Eli Mosley,” arrived at the event as one of the faces of the alt-right movement. As with other groups who traveled to Charlottesville that day, the violence of Unite the Right triggered Identity Evropa’s decline.
Identity Evropa had been working to rebrand white supremacy into a tweedy, youthful political movement anchored in America’s college campuses in the runup to Unite the Right and had gained some legitimate traction before Fields murdered Heyer. Members of Identity Evropa identified not as white nationalists, but as “identitarians” invested in preserving white, European culture. They claimed not to support segregation, but “ethnopluralism.” Former members of the group who have since renounced white supremacy claim to have been attracted to Identity Evropa’s veneer of intellectualism and seriousness. They pinned their flyers on college campuses across the country to build young recruits.
Following Unite the Right, as pressure mounted on the groups involved, Damigo stepped down from control of Identity Evropa, citing “personal issues.” He disappeared from the public eye for years, but appears to have returned in 2022 to operate a small, white nationalism-themed Twitter account, which the company quickly suspended. Kline then led the group for only three months, before handing it to longtime member Patrick Casey. Kline’s stature in the radical right collapsed seemingly overnight in February 2018, when The New York Times reported that he had fabricated a backstory he frequently recited, wherein he depicted himself as a veteran of the Iraq War. He has made few public appearances since then, save for his trips to court.
As antiracist activists identified by name numerous members of Identity Evropa in March 2019, Casey chose to rebrand the group as the American Identity Movement. American Identity Movement continued to focus on the same tactics as Identity Evropa, including “flash” demonstrations, banner drops and flyer distribution, but did so while achieving less success.
Casey also teamed up with white nationalist livestreamer Nick Fuentes in 2019, whose popularity on the racist right had begun to rise, particularly in comparison to other extremists who attended Unite the Right. Fuentes and Casey launched what they and their followers called the “groyper” movement, which focused on injecting questions about race, immigration and support for Israel into college speaking events.
Outshined by Fuentes’ growing America First movement, Casey disbanded American Identity Movement in 2020. He and Fuentes began working on a new venture, helping to lead a series of “Stop the Steal” events around the country that promoted the lie that elites stole the 2020 election from Trump. The Jan. 6 congressional committee ultimately subpoenaed both Casey and Fuentes to ask them questions about their role in hyping "Stop the Steal." Casey appears to have stopped working with Fuentes and now produces a podcast with a limited fanbase.
Nicholas J. Fuentes
Comparatively overlooked at the time he attended Unite the Right, Fuentes traveled to Charlottesville as just a teenager. The 19-year-old Boston University student and podcaster on the hard-right conservative Right Side Network harnessed the infamy of the moment to build his fame, ultimately eclipsing in name recognition most of the other extremists on this list. He has successfully courted relationships with such far-right congresspeople as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, who have participated in his annual America First Political Action Committee (AFPAC) events and appeared inside the VIP section at Trump’s infamous speech at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Fuentes told the media from the grounds at Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, that he attended Unite the Right as a “Trump supporter” concerned about “cultural genocide.” Right Side then dropped Fuentes’ podcast, and he dropped out of school, eager to pursue a career as an influencer. Within weeks of Unite the Right, he appeared on a white nationalist podcast, urging listeners to present themselves as “normies,” referring to people who do not appear to belong to some of the hate groups that attended Unite the Right. He soon began livestreaming his YouTube show "America First," while wearing a suit and tie and sitting in front of a green screen. He couched his ideas in doublespeak and irony, and rapidly built up an audience that supplanted in influence embattled figures like Peinovich and The Right Stuff network.
YouTube kicked Fuentes off their platform in February 2020, at which point he relocated to DLive, a small video livestreaming service designed for gamers. Hatewatch reported that Fuentes earned over $100,000 on DLive promoting anti-vaccine conspiracies and antisemitic great replacement narratives. He also issued veiled threats to lawmakers with whom he disagreed. Following the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, DLive removed him too, forcing him to build his own livestreaming infrastructure, which he still uses today.
Fuentes built some of his fanbase through his verified Twitter handle. Twitter suspended his account in July 2021, following the publication of Hatewatch analysis showing that site’s considerable role in stoking an atmosphere of disinformation and rage, which preceded the Capitol insurrection. He continues to attempt to climb back onto that website, and has relaunched Twitter accounts over a dozen times, only to have the company remove them within a day or two. He returned to Twitter on July 26, 2022, through the handle @PunishedIcon to tweet that he felt “tired.”
Fuentes’ troubles coincided with his rapid growth as a public figure, but they appear to have accelerated beyond his control following his involvement in the so-called "Stop the Steal" campaign, which preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Faced with legal battles, deplatforming, the exposed identities of his previously pseudonymous collaborators, and desertions from key lieutenants, Fuentes is now enduring what many other key Unite the Right participants faced five years prior. Hatewatch reached out to him for comment by email, but he did not reply.
Traditionalist Worker Party
Headed by its loquacious leaders Matthew Heimbach and Matthew Parrott, Traditionalist Worker Party brought their black clothes, black helmets and history of violent conflict to Charlottesville at Unite the Right at the peak of their influence. Court documents and testimony unearthed in the Sines v. Kessler trial indicate that Jason Kessler sought Heimbach’s assistance in bringing two violent racist skinhead groups, the Hammerskins and Blood & Honour Social Club, to Unite the Right, effectively layering muscle onto a group that was already poised to clash with antiracists.
Heimbach and his crew trudged on following the failures of Unite the Right, despite their organizational shortcomings, until March 2018, when they clashed with antiracists outside a Richard Spencer event on the campus of Michigan State University. They collapsed later that month, immediately following a violent domestic confrontation in which Heimbach reportedly attacked Parrott and Heimbach’s then-wife. At the time, Parrott told Hatewatch in a statement that he was “done” and “out of the game.” A court sentenced Heimbach to 38 days in jail on May 15, 2018, on a parole violation. The attack undercut Heimbach’s claims of “empowering women” and standing up for family values.
Upon his release from prison, Heimbach did a brief stint as the director of community outreach for the National Socialist Movement. Heimbach announced that he no longer involved himself in the white power movement in early 2020, but extremism researchers have greeted his claims of departure with a skeptical response. Parrott has continued to be involved with the movement through a group that funds white power activists in prison, known as the Global Minority Initiative (formerly the National Socialist Charitable Coalition). In a CNN documentary aired after the Sines v. Kessler trial concluded, he claimed to evade a long-standing Twitter ban by pretending to be a Black businesswoman. Hatewatch reached out to Heimbach and Parrott for comment by email but did not receive a response.
League of the South
Arguably no group suffered more from the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit than the neoconfederates of League of the South. The group came into Charlottesville with the ability to summon scores of people at protest events throughout the South, dressed in recognizable black-and-white uniforms. They pulled in donations and embraced a leadership structure that included the former Green Beret Michael Tubbs, secessionist academic Michael Hill and blogger Brad Griffin, who spoke energetically to the press on their behalf.
Members of League of the South carried out brutal acts of violence at Unite the Right. Tubbs, known for his flowing mane of white hair and large, physically imposing frame, appeared to lead packs of white nationalists into clashes with counterprotesters on Aug. 12, 2017. Police arrested League of the South member Tyler Watkins Davis for his alleged involvement in the beating of Deandre Harris, a Black man.
Today, League of the South struggles to exist. The group has not made public-facing appearances in years, and SPLC believes the number of active members to be a mere fraction of what it was heading into Unite the Right. On the eve of the Sines v. Kessler decision in November 2021, the blogger Griffin relayed his regrets about attending Unite the Right.
“If our people want to meet up and socialize, there are far more effective and enjoyable ways to do so than being attacked by bricks, bear mace, acid, sticks and bombs of shit and urine in a place like Charlottesville. Sure, it is bold to go into a place like that, but it is not worth the cost. None of this is news. I’ve been saying all of this for years. If we ever decide to reboot our activism, it needs to be done on this basis,” he concluded, evoking familiar criticisms of the event’s counterprotesters.
Griffin responded to Hatewatch’s request for comment by posting a lengthy statement to his blog, suggesting that he regrets going, and noting that the mainstream Republican Party had adopted many views that Unite the Right protesters held. You can read an archived version of it by clicking here.
National Socialist Movement
Now synonymous for being on the losing side of a debate over “optics,” referring to how white supremacist groups choose to present themselves to the public, National Socialist Movement came into “Unite the Right” as a veteran neo-Nazi group struggling find their stature in an evolving movement. National Socialist Movement leader Jeff Schoep and his crew proved instrumental in shaping the racist violence that shocked people on Aug. 12, according to court documents produced during the Sines v. Kessler trial. They allegedly physically attacked multiple counterprotesters and cast a menacing appearance in their moody black clothing.
National Socialist Movement faced a precipitous decline in recruitment following Unite the Right, ending in something quite like complete and total dissolution. Schoep claimed to publicly renounce his views in 2019, but documents produced during Sines v. Kessler suggested that he continued to involve himself in the group in the following year. Arizona police have charged Burt Colucci, National Socialist Movement’s current leader, with a number of violent crimes since the start of 2021. A Virginia court found National Socialist Movement and Schoep liable on charges of civil conspiracy theory in the Sines v. Kessler case in November 2021, but by the time they reached that verdict, not much was left of the group but memories of their black uniforms and the violence they inflicted while wearing them.
Rise Above Movement
Members of the Rise Above Movement brought long criminal histories with them to Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally. It therefore came as little surprise to researchers of extremism to watch members of what essentially constituted a white supremacist street gang, who trained in martial arts and frequently posted videos of their members attacking their political opposition at public demonstrations, engaging in violence that weekend in August.
Video footage of Rise Above Movement members brutally attacking a group of counterprotesters at the Unite the Right circulated heavily online in the aftermath of the event, prompting investigations from such outlets as ProPublica, Frontline, SPLC and CNN. One year later, federal prosecutors charged four members of the group with rioting charges, to which they pleaded guilty. Four other members, including Rise Above Movement leader Robert Rundo, remain wrapped up in the criminal legal system. All were indicted for planning and engaging in riots, but a judge dismissed the charges in 2019, ruling that the law upon which their prosecution was based was unconstitutional. In March 2021, a federal appeals court reinstated those charges.
Rundo spends most of his time in Europe these days and was last seen in Serbia. He has attempted to build a “nationalist” lifestyle brand to sustain himself financially. His primary outlets are Will2Rise, a media and clothing company that sells a sleek neofascist aesthetic to an audience of racists, and a series of so-called Active Clubs. Rundo described the latter, which have sprung up around the country since 2021, as “small-styled local clubs [that] combine fitness, Nationalism, activism, camaraderie, and skill-building.” More than anything else lately, Rundo appears to enjoy filling his channel on the messaging app Telegram with shirtless photos and issuing repetitive personal essays that romanticize his history of carrying out violence. Hatewatch reached out to Rundo via email and did not receive a response.
Christopher James Cantwell, an outspoken admirer of Adolf Hitler, became one of the faces of Unite the Right on the basis of two video recordings. First, Cantwell projected a tough-talking persona in a Vice Media documentary filmed before and during the rally, calling Heyer’s murder “more than justified.” Then on Aug. 16, four days after Heyer’s murder, Cantwell collapsed into tears in a self-made video, earning himself the viral sobriquet, “the Crying Nazi.”
Cantwell cried that day because authorities charged him with crimes related to his actions at Charlottesville, and the tears may have been justified, because troubles with the law have truly come to overshadow his life story. Even before Unite the Right, Cantwell had an intimate familiarity with the criminal justice system. Juries convicted him in 2000 and 2009 of offenses including driving while intoxicated, criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of stolen property.
Authorities then hit Cantwell with three felony assault charges for his role on the Aug. 11, 2017, torch rally, which preceded Heyer’s murder. Cantwell plea-bargained down to misdemeanor convictions in July 2018. In October 2017, plaintiffs named him as a defendant in Sines v. Kessler for his role in promoting Unite the Right. After attorneys dumped him for sending a threatening message to a plaintiff's attorney, Cantwell represented himself and lost in November 2021. He now must pay $500,000 in punitive damages. During these legal challenges, Cantwell continued to host a podcast, which he sometimes used to complain about antiracists and reporters. He forced himself to take a hiatus in April 2019, citing exhaustion and “serious personal problems.”
“I need to stop, avoid recording devices, and pull myself together,” he wrote to his fans. “I’ll be back as soon as I can be.”
FBI agents arrested Cantwell in 2020 and charged him with extortion and interstate threats over his actions during a feud with members of the so-called "Bowl Patrol,” a group of neo-Nazi podcasters who praise mass murderers as “saints.” The FBI alleged that Cantwell had threatened, among other things, to rape one of the podcasters’ wives in front of his children. On Sep. 28, 2021, a judge sentenced Cantwell to 41 months in prison on one count of transmitting extortionate communications and one count of threatening to injure property or reputation. Hatewatch could not reach Cantwell for a comment on the Unite the Right anniversary because he is in prison.
Proud Boys, militiamen and the persistence of ‘great replacement’ propaganda
When Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the event embodied a still-evolving cultural shift in far-right extremism, one that left behind many of the men who participated in Unite the Right on Aug. 12, 2017. Still, it’s almost impossible to imagine Trump’s mob enacting that kind of violence in a world where Unite the Right never took place.
“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” then-President Trump told the press about the men who appeared in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. “You had people in that group. Excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name."
Hints of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection can be found within the Unite the Right crowd, if you squint. While Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes ultimately disavowed the Unite the Right rally, his online show provided a major mouthpiece for its organizers. Former Proud Boy Jason Kessler appeared on McInnes’ show multiple times and, during a June 2017 interview, promoted the rally. Augustus Sol Invictus, a scheduled speaker at Unite the Right, served as the second-in-command for the Proud Boys’ “tactical defense arm” called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights. He also appeared as a guest on McInnes’ show in June 2017. Although the Proud Boys did not attend the rally in their signature black-and-yellow uniforms after McInnes warned them against doing so, members of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights chose to wear that group’s patches on tactical vests.
One member of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights who attended Unite the Right, Enrique Tarrio, became the chairman of the Proud Boys a year later, and proved instrumental in shaping the version of that group that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. As mentioned above, Unite the Right attendees such as Timothy “Baked Alaska” Gionet, Nicholas J. Fuentes and Patrick Casey also played roles in shaping the atmosphere on Jan. 6, 2021, albeit in different ways. Militiamen, a group of people harboring a range of different political motivations, did in fact appear at Unite the Right, even if white supremacist activists overshadowed them there. Militiamen obviously played a much more critical role in instigating the violence on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Now that basic concepts like the Great Replacement, Christian nationalism and secession are no longer marginal and taboo, I think we are going to have to make the leap from being a fringe political culture into boring political activists who sell out and reform conservatism like the Religious Right,” Brad Griffin of League of the South wrote in response to Hatewatch’s request for comment. “There will soon be Great Replacement activists like pro-life activists or gun rights activists.”
Griffin knows a thing or two about the so-called great replacement conspiracy theory, which posits that Jewish people, or elites, have colluded deliberately to make white people into a minority in America. Following Unite the Right, Griffin interacted online with a man accused of murdering 11 Jewish people at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. The terror attack constitutes just one of several other similar mass murders perpetrated by men who claim to be motivated by that very conspiracy theory.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, and the influence of anti-immigrant extremists of the Trump-era Republican Party such as Stephen Miller, helped catapult the thinking behind the racist great replacement-themed chants shouted by Unite the Right protesters into mainstream discourse. That conspiracy theory’s influence on terrorism and politically motivated violence may be the ultimate legacy of a rally that shattered the lives of so many people, including its instigators.
Photo illustration by SPLC