CONCORD — A Missouri man who got involved with online white nationalism told a jury Wednesday how his life intersected Christopher Cantwell’s in a way that landed them both in a federal courtroom.
Cantwell, 39, a white-nationalist podcaster who lives in Keene, is being tried this week on federal charges alleging he harassed, threatened and attempted to extort the other man, Benjamin Lambert of Winfield, Mo.
The allegations grow out of Cantwell’s feud with an online white-nationalist collective known as the “Bowl Patrol,” which initially hailed him as a fellow traveler before turning on him, according to court testimony.
Lambert — who went by the online handle “Cheddar Mane,” among other aliases — was part of the Bowl Patrol.
The Bowl Patrol has used its online channels to venerate mass shooters and glorify racist violence. Its name refers to the bowl-cut hairstyle of Dylann S. Roof, who murdered nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.
Lambert joined the group in 2018 after seeing a YouTube video posted by a group member known as “Tactical — Bowlcut,” he testified in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, the second day of the trial.
“I came across one of the videos and then we became friends on Facebook, and it just went from there,” Lambert said.
Soon Lambert was a core member of the group, appearing on its “Bowlcast” podcast.
Lambert said he listened to Cantwell’s live shows and arranged for Cantwell to be a guest on the first Bowlcast episode.
But Lambert and his friends soured on Cantwell around the end of 2018.
“I think that many of the members of Bowl Patrol thought that he had shifted his ideology, and so it appeared that he was trying to use his platform to make money and didn’t believe what he was saying,” Lambert testified.
Lambert and others began prank-calling Cantwell on air, which seemed to enrage him, according to evidence presented in court.
In February 2019, when someone defaced Cantwell’s website, he blamed it on Bowl Patrol members and reported it to the FBI. (Lambert said he wasn’t involved in that.)
The following month, in an online exchange, Cantwell warned Lambert to stay away “or I’ll dox your stupid ass.” Doxing means to expose someone’s real identity or personal information online.
Lambert said he stopped bothering Cantwell for a time and told others they should stop too.
But in June 2019, Lambert said, he followed a link for a chat group called “Peaceful White Folk” on the social-media site Telegram, without realizing it was run by Cantwell. He posted a few times, then was kicked out, and Cantwell messaged him privately.
“I guess you forgot the lesson which kept you away for a short while, do you need to be reminded?” Cantwell wrote before adding the name of Lambert’s street, according to a screenshot of the conversation displayed in court.
The back-and-forth that unfolded over the next couple days forms the core of the government’s case. Cantwell threatened to dox Lambert and publish images online of him, his wife and their three kids; said he would report them to child protective services; and implied that he or one of his listeners would sexually assault Lambert’s wife if he didn’t get what he wanted.
Prosecutors say Cantwell was pressuring Lambert for information on the Bowl Patrol’s unofficial leader, who goes by “Vic Mackey” online.
“Give me Vic, it’s your only out,” Cantwell wrote.
In court Wednesday, Lambert said he was angered that Cantwell brought his family into it. He also said the threat to dox him made him anxious.
“The things that we are saying are not things that are good,” he said. “It’s terrible stuff that people would be offended by. It could have cost me my job, it could have cost me friends.”
Cantwell had gotten Lambert’s address and the photos from an ex-girlfriend of Cantwell’s, who went as “Peach” online and had visited Lambert in late 2018 after they connected through an online group for one of Cantwell’s shows, “Radical Agenda.”
That June, Cantwell posted the photos and Lambert’s street in the Radical Agenda group, according to evidence presented in court. He also called a Missouri child-abuse hotline to report the person he then knew as Cheddar Mane. (The authorities did not act on it.)
“If I could just drive down to [Lambert’s road] and shoot this idiot I would,” Cantwell wrote as he posted the photos, according to a screenshot presented in court. “But I can’t, so I’ll let the law do it.”
The first two days of testimony featured numerous references to online culture, with witnesses pausing to define terms like “dox,” “meme” and “screenshot.” The lawyers frequently displayed private messages and social-media posts on large screens in the courtroom. Witnesses sometimes had to read back text replete with curses and ethnic slurs.
FBI Special Agent Shayne Tongbua also walked the jury through some of the web’s darker concepts, including “incels” — a misogynistic subculture of sexually frustrated men — and “accelerationism,” or the idea of hastening the government’s collapse, including through racist violence, to start anew. Tongbua said the Bowl Patrol adheres to that idea.
On Tuesday, prosecutors elicited details about Lambert’s real life. Married, with three kids and a fourth on the way, he has worked in manufacturing.
Prosecutors also highlighted the actions he said he took after the June 2019 exchange with Cantwell. Lambert testified that he drove his wife to and from work for a couple days, asked his lawyer whether he should contact police and bought a motion-activated camera for his property, though didn’t install it until October.
Lambert said he left the Bowl Patrol about a year ago.
Cantwell’s attorneys, meanwhile, played up Lambert’s former online persona.
Defense attorney Eric Wolpin displayed Cheddar Mane’s avatar — a ghoulish skeleton in camo carrying an assault rifle and, in one image, wearing a headband that read “KILL JEWS.”
In an audio clip from a Bowlcast episode played in court, Vic Mackey joked about raping Jason Kessler, an organizer of the Unite the Right rally that drew white nationalists to Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.
“Is it cool if I hold him down while you rape him?” Lambert, as Cheddar Mane, chimed in.
Cantwell’s defense attorneys are advancing the theory that his words should not be seen as true threats in the context of a subculture awash in rape jokes and casual talk of violence.
They also said Lambert was recorded on a call to a friend in jail saying, “Doxing people is not really a big deal like it used to be.”
Closing arguments are expected Friday or Monday.
In a statement Monday to the journalist Hilary Sargent, Lambert said he is “beginning the process of removing myself from this dark, hateful ideology and poisonous culture completely” and apologized for what he had said on the Bowlcast.
“During these podcasts, I said horrific racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic things,” he said in the statement. “I am beginning to understand the impact of these hateful, hurtful statements.”
This article has been changed to correct the description of Jason Kessler.