CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — The man who brought a hate mob here tried to speak a day after a white supremacist allegedly murdered a protester. Instead, Jason Kessler was drowned out by shouts of "murderer" and "fascist."
Kessler, a local leader of the so-called alt-right, approached a cluster of microphones in front of City Hall on Sunday afternoon, facing a crescent of cameras and hundreds of angry demonstrators.
The louder it got, the closer journalists moved in. Then a black-clad protester followed the reporters with both of his middle fingers extended at Kessler. Finally, the crowd pounced and Kessler ran.
A mob quickly caught up with him, throwing punches and tearing at his clothes. State police quickly closed ranks around him, hours after he blamed law enforcement for failing to protect his First Amendment rights.
Riot police lined up, blocking off journalists and protestors alike. Members of a state police SWAT team were deployed to block off a side street and hundreds of other state troopers covered Kessler's exit, brandishing automatic rifles.
Kessler is a white supremacist who has attracted a local following of a few dozen people. He became prominent after uncovering old racist tweets by a black member of Charlottesville's city council who is now deputy mayor.
Kessler joined a coalition of local white supremacist groups this summer that advocated for keeping the city's statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a public park. The controversy over the statue ballooned into a major issue as candidates in Virginia's gubernatorial Republican primary sparred over it, giving Kessler greater political relevance.
Kessler's followers. carrying torches, surrounded a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the University of Virginia campus on Friday night. The men yelled "you will not replace us" and "white lives matter" before a fight broke out with counter-protesters, with both sides using weapons.
Following Saturday's riot and attack, the white supremacists cancelled all plans for the evening and were asked by leaders, including Richard Spencer, to leave Charlottesville and return home.