As he spewed hate speech onto the web, alluded to violence against trans people and made the alleged threats that would land him in a federal courtroom this week, Christopher Cantwell complained repeatedly to law enforcement that he was being harassed online and by phone.
Cantwell, 39, a white nationalist content creator who lives in Keene, is scheduled to stand trial starting Tuesday on federal threatening, extortion and cyberstalking charges. The allegations stem from a dispute with another group of white supremacist podcasters, whom he had previously reported to the FBI for allegedly harassing him, according to court filings.
From late 2018 to mid-2019, Cantwell also notified the Keene Police Department several times that people were threatening or taunting him in text messages or online.
“If any of these are legally actionable, I would like to apply every lawful pressure available to deter these kinds of threats to my safety and property,” Cantwell wrote in a January 2019 email to a Keene police sergeant, in reference to Facebook posts about potentially vandalizing his vehicle. “If one of these idiots compels me to defend myself, aside from the human tragedy, it is going to be a goddamn media circus.”
But it is Cantwell who now faces a great deal of legal pressure.
This week’s trial caps three years of legal trouble for Cantwell, who brought national attention to himself when he traveled to Charlottesville, Va., for the now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017.
A Vice News documentary about the events captured Cantwell marching through the University of Virginia campus with a crowd of torch-bearing white nationalists, showing off his various firearms and claiming that the weekend’s violence — including a deadly vehicular attack by a man with a history of racist and anti-Semitic beliefs — was justified.
Two people soon went to police claiming Cantwell had used a chemical spray on them and others during Friday night clashes between the white nationalists and counter-demonstrators. He told The Sentinel that the counter-protesters had attacked his group and he acted in self-defense.
Within days, a video surfaced online of Cantwell fighting back tears as he announced he was wanted in Virginia, earning him the lasting nickname “the Crying Nazi.”
He ultimately turned himself in — after asking Keene police for advice — and was held without bail in Virginia for 3½ months on felony charges before being granted bond in December 2017.
The following spring, while out on bail, he was re-arrested in Leesburg, Va., on charges of public intoxication when a police officer saw him nearly get hit by two vehicles as he crossed a street around 1 a.m., according to a police report posted by the Loudon (Va.) Times-Mirror.
In the Charlottesville case, Cantwell pleaded guilty in July 2018 to lesser charges of assault and battery and was sentenced to time served, plus suspended jail time. He resolved the Leesburg charge by paying a $25 fine and court costs, according to the Times-Mirror.
Cantwell maintained he was framed for the Charlottesville charges, suing his two accusers. They counter-sued over what they described as a campaign of online harassment, including an online post in which Cantwell put their images above song lyrics about “gassing” Jews and transgender people. The lawsuits were later settled.
Cantwell was back in Keene by late July of 2018. That November, he reported to Keene police that he had received a voicemail and texts from someone challenging him to a fight, according to the records. The next month, a number that first harassed him in 2017 texted again with more taunts and claimed to know where he lived, Cantwell said.
In January 2019, Cantwell reported the Facebook posts in which people shared his address, discussed what they “wished they had done or could do to Cantwell’s car (to include defecating on the hood)” and hoped for him to kill himself, a Keene police official wrote in a report.
In May 2019, Cantwell told police that someone had threatened to kill him if they ever met, in a message sent through his website. Police determined the sender was a youth who lived out of state and did not pursue criminal charges in that or any of the other cases.
Meanwhile, Cantwell was urging the FBI to investigate a group of his ideological allies with whom he had had a falling-out.
While his Virginia case was still pending, Cantwell had a “short-lived online relationship” with members of the so-called “Bowl Patrol,” according to a motion by his lawyers. The online group venerates Dylann S. Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine people inside a Black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, and has produced a podcast that glorifies racist violence.
Later, Bowl Patrol members began to flood Cantwell’s audio show with prank calls and engage in what his defense lawyer called “a mob coordinating months of purposeful cyber bullying.” Cantwell, the defense attorney wrote, reported the calls and “alleged computer crimes” to federal authorities in February 2019, but they didn’t investigate.
Around that time, he also wrote in online chats that he would “ruin the people who came after me” and start outing members of the group, who use online pseudonyms, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors say that in June 2019, Cantwell messaged a Bowl Patrol member called “Cheddar Mane,” telling him he would “[expletive] your wife in front of your kids” if he did not make himself “scarce.” Cantwell also threatened to post a photo of the man’s family, share his location and call child protective services, all of which he did, according to prosecutors.
“The truth of the matter is, hon, I think that this guy is a problem and the thing is that what he does to the best of my understanding is not a criminal act, okay?” Cantwell told the child protective agency worker when he called, according to a motion filed by prosecutors. “So like, I just, basically, I’m looking to make this guy uncomfortable, is the truth of the matter.”
Prosecutors allege Cantwell was trying to extort identifying information about another Bowl Patrol member, who goes by Vic Mackey.
Cantwell’s attorneys point out that he knew Cheddar Mane only online and his words were just part of “the violent rhetoric and imagery commonly used in this subculture.” It was not a true threat against the man’s wife, they argue.
The FBI interviewed Cantwell in September and Cheddar Mane in October before arresting Cantwell at home in Keene in January. Law enforcement found 17 firearms in his South Lincoln Street apartment, along with a crossbow, machete and knives, a Manchester police officer assigned to a federal task force testified in February.
One of Cantwell’s guns caused a brief scare in October.
On the evening of Oct. 10, an FBI agent with a counterterrorism division in Seattle alerted Keene police that Cantwell had posted on the site Telegram, “I just sat down to see Joker, and I have a gun.”
Officers located Cantwell watching the movie at Keene Cinemas on Key Road with a loaded handgun in his waistband, according to police reports. Cantwell maintained it was just an “edgy joke” but agreed to leave the theater, one of the officers wrote.
Later that night, Cantwell posted on Telegram again, according to a police report.
“Somebody who knew damn well that I am not a threat to anyone, called the theater and/or the cops about my last post,” he wrote, apparently unaware that the tip came from the FBI.
“… Fortunately, what they actually ended up doing, was informing the theater owners and the police, that my enemies are lowlives and liars who phone in bogus threats to law enforcement,” he added. “Thanks for adding to my growing invincibility.”