Federal prosecutors argue that Christopher C. Cantwell, the Keene-based white nationalist shock jock who became infamous after the 2017 Charlottesville violence, should be sentenced to more than four years in prison for a “campaign of extortion” that included online threats.
Cantwell, 40, is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Concord.
In September, a federal jury found Cantwell guilty of two charges, transmitting extortionate communications and threatening to injure property or reputation.
According to evidence presented at his trial, the case grew out of Cantwell’s dispute with a group of fellow white nationalist podcasters that culminated in a June 2019 exchange he initiated with one of them, Benjamin Lambert of Winfield, Mo.
In a series of messages on the app Telegram, Cantwell demanded Lambert give him personal information about a second group member, known online as “Vic Mackey,” and threatened to rape Lambert’s wife.
When Lambert refused, Cantwell posted photos of Lambert and his family and the street they lived on in an online chat group, and called a child-protection hotline in Missouri, trying to get them to investigate Lambert. (The state’s child-protection agency took no action.)
Lambert was part of the “Bowl Patrol,” a group of pseudonymous podcasters who venerated hate-fueled mass killers like the man who gunned down nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.
Around late 2018, Lambert testified, the Bowl Patrol began to see Cantwell as a sell-out. Lambert began spamming Cantwell’s call-in talk show with prank calls, and two of his cohorts defaced Cantwell’s website in February 2019, according to prosecutors. Meanwhile, Cantwell started posting that he would “ruin” Bowl Patrol members and “dox” them — reveal their true identities online. Lambert said he stopped the prank calls months before the June 2019 exchange.
Lambert testified that he later left the Bowl Patrol and told a journalist for the news site The Interpret last fall that he was “beginning the process of removing myself from this dark, hateful ideology and poisonous culture completely.”
Cantwell was arrested at his home on South Lincoln Street in Keene in January 2020 and has been in jail since.
Cantwell gained national notoriety after traveling to Charlottesville, Va., for the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017. A Vice News documentary captured him showing off weapons and speaking approvingly of violence.
Days later, after learning he was wanted on charges that he assaulted two counter-protesters with a chemical spray, he released a tearful video that earned him widespread derision and the nickname the “Crying Nazi” — a fact his defense lawyers mentioned in their sentencing motion.
“Since becoming publicly maligned, Christopher has oscillated between defiantly embracing his public persona and wishing to escape it,” the attorneys, Eric Wolpin and Jeffrey S. Levin of the federal public defender’s office, wrote.
Cantwell’s defense attorneys are asking that he be sentenced to time served — about 13 months at this point — and two years of supervised release.
“Although threatening statements among internet enemies must be deterred, this is not a case where a threat was intended to deter governmental action, silence vulnerable crime victims, or impair the functioning of a business,” Wolpin and Levin wrote. “... This was a dispute between two men who were actively engaged online in a tit-for-tat, line-pushing rivalry.”
They argued that harassment by Lambert and other Bowl Patrol members provoked Cantwell’s statements and said his sentence should reflect that.
They noted that Cantwell has already spent more than a year behind bars, contracting COVID-19 during the recent surge, and would be further punished by two years of supervision by federal probation officers and losing his right to own guns due to his felony conviction.
On his release, the lawyers wrote, Cantwell plans to move out of New Hampshire to “an unoccupied residence in an East Coast state” and work remotely for a software-development company that has offered him a job.
In their response, prosecutors disputed the defense’s characterization of events, saying that Lambert had not interacted with Cantwell for months prior to his threats.
“This was not an impassioned response to a perceived threat, as the defendant now claims. Nor was it provoked,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys John S. Davis and Anna Z. Krasinski wrote. “Rather, it was a coordinated, planned attack to obtain Vic Mackey’s identifying information.”
They also say Cantwell’s past behavior — including his two misdemeanor assault and battery convictions resulting from the Charlottesville case — show that a longer sentence is warranted. They noted his history of making threatening or harassing statements online, including about his two Charlottesville victims while that case was still ongoing.
“The defendant is a 40-year-old man with a history of advocating violence, flouting the law, and violating bond conditions,” the prosecutors wrote.
In addition to four years and three months in prison, prosecutors are asking a judge to impose three years of supervised release and allow probation officers to install monitoring software on any computers he uses during that time.
Cantwell’s attorneys object to that last condition, arguing it would be an unnecessary invasion of privacy and give the government access to his future employer’s customer data.