At Virginia’s Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, he’s inmate 631424. But outside jail walls, Keene white supremacist Christopher Cantwell has enough of a following to raise more than $28,000 on an alternative crowdfunding platform and about $460 per month on a subscription-based website that hosts alt-right causes. Cantwell has 40 monthly supporters and about 430 one-time donors between the two sites.
Cantwell, who espouses anti-Semitic and racist views on his podcast and online, gained national notoriety after last summer’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. White supremacists clashed with counter-protesters at that rally, and one counter-protester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was fatally struck by a car that plowed into the crowd. The night before, Cantwell was among more than 200 white supremacists who marched on the University of Virginia’s campus. Violence also erupted between protesters and counterprotesters that night, and Cantwell said he used pepper spray on someone in what he described as an act of self-defense.
A Keene resident since 2012, Cantwell traveled to Charlottesville to be a guest speaker at the August rally, alongside white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, among other speakers. He was arrested a couple weeks later on charges of illegal use of tear gas and other gases, and causing injury with a “caustic substance,” explosive or fire. After a judge dismissed two of his felony charges, WMUR reported, he now faces a single charge of illegal use of tear gas and other gases.
Though the subscription-based webpage on Hatreon carries Cantwell’s name, the crowdfunding page does not. The page, hosted on goyfundme.com, has a goal of $75,000 and is billed as a justice fund for an unknown cause, though people who commented on the page referred to Cantwell by name. Cantwell lists links to both on his website in a message posted on his behalf Thursday. Neither page indicates what the funds will be used for.
But Cantwell likely needs money for lawyer fees. In addition to his pending criminal case, he has been named in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by University of Virginia students, staff and others who say they were injured by the violence in Charlottesville. Cantwell is among more than 20 defendants, in a list that also includes Spencer, the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, the white supremacist group Identity Evropa and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Alt-right finds funds
George Hawley, assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and author of a book about the alt-right, said the rally in Charlottesville changed the way white supremacists such as Cantwell raise money for their causes.
Before the march, white nationalists raised money using the online payment processing platform PayPal and the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, among other websites. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog reported last August that Cantwell raised money on PayPal for his podcast, Radical Agenda.
But after the march, PayPal and other technology platforms announced they would ban users who raise money for hate-related causes, Hawley said.
Cantwell’s website no longer has an option for donating via PayPal. Following the August rally, Cantwell told the Concord Monitor that he has been banned from the platform, which he said was “the most important part of my financial life.”
But he found another outlet for financial support in the two alternative platforms. At the crowdfunding platform Cantwell uses, nearly 30 other pages raise money for alt-right causes, such as a Unite the Right defense fund, a fund to “create a future for our white children” and a fund for Dennis Mothersbaugh, who was arrested on charges of assaulting two people during the rally in Charlottesville.
Hawley said the platform is part of a broader trend within the alt-right.
“They call it ‘the alt-tech movement,’ that is trying to build their own institutions that would make them more resilient in the face of crackdowns on hate speech and that sort of thing, so that they wouldn’t be subjected to the whims of corporate owners who disagree with their politics,” he said.
It is still too soon to know the impact of these sites, Hawley said. But, he noted, the alt-tech movement began with Gab, an alternative to Twitter that was created about a year ago.
According to an employee of the subscription platform Cantwell uses, the account was set up in October. Cantwell was arrested at the end of August. The employee declined to identify himself by name, citing security reasons.
The employee wrote in an email that staff believe in “the market place of ideas, and if Alt Right personalities are being denied services in that marketplace, we see an opportunity to provide a service and to create a great business that can cater to that market’s needs.”
The crowdfunding platform Cantwell uses bills itself as a champion of free speech, but also says that staff are “working closely with the Alt-Tech community.”
The Sentinel reached out to the crowdfunding platform on Thursday and Friday, but did not receive a response by press deadline. The Sentinel also contacted the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail to arrange an interview with Cantwell, but did not receive a response Thursday.
However, a post on Cantwell’s website that same day maintains he’s being imprisoned unfairly.
“I have no interest in Charlottesville,” he wrote on the website. “All I want to do is to go back home to Keene, New Hampshire and do my radio show.”
New Hampshire Public Radio reported that Cantwell also called in to a show hosted by Ian Freeman of Free Keene last week.
“I can’t wait to get back to Keene so we can have the ‘crying Nazi’ and ‘redneck Muslim’ all in one place,” he said on the show.
Cantwell was derided as the “crying Nazi” after he posted a tearful video, which went viral, about his arrest warrant in August. William Coley, a Tennessean who calls himself “America’s favorite Redneck Muslim Libertarian,” plans to open Keene’s first mosque.