Keene white nationalist Christopher Cantwell is seeking to overturn his conviction last year in a federal extortion case, claiming that jurors were misled by prosecutors and the judge.
In a recent filing with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, Cantwell — an online talk show host who has regularly used racist, antisemitic and misogynist language — said prosecutors unlawfully relied on hearsay evidence from his then-girlfriend in their case against him.
He also argues in his appeal that Judge Paul J. Barbadoro may have confused jurors by telling them that Cantwell’s defense in court — that he was provoked into malice — did not negate his potential guilt.
Cantwell, 41, who became nationally known for his role in the August 2017 white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., was convicted by the federal jury last year for threatening and attempting to extort information from another white nationalist two years ago. He was sentenced in February to three years and five months in prison.
Cantwell is also a defendant in a separate federal lawsuit to determine whether he and other organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally should be held responsible for the ensuing violence, including a deadly attack on peaceful protesters.
His conviction last year in the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire arose out of a feud with an online group the other man belonged to — a collective of pseudonymous white nationalists known as the “Bowl Patrol” who have glorified racist and antisemitic mass murderers.
In June 2019, angered by what he felt was the group’s harassment of him, Cantwell sent a series of electronic messages to Bowl Patrol member Benjamin Lambert of Winfield, Mo., who went by the online moniker “Cheddar Mane.” In the messages, which prosecutors showed in court during Cantwell’s trial, he threatened to post pictures of Lambert’s family, tell online followers where Lambert lived and call protective services on him unless he revealed the identity of Bowl Patrol’s pseudonymous leader, “Vic Mackey.” Cantwell also made what prosecutors described as a rape threat against Lambert’s wife.
“So if you don’t want me to come and [expletive] your wife in front of your kids, then you should make yourself scarce,” he wrote in the exchange. “Give me Vic, it’s your only out.”
Cantwell was arrested in January 2020 at his Keene apartment, where a police officer later said law enforcement found 17 guns, a machete and a crossbow at the residence and in his car.
At his trial in Concord, Cantwell said he’d been repeatedly harassed by people he believed to be Bowl Patrol members and that he felt provoked when Lambert entered an online chat group he was in, prompting the exchange that included Cantwell’s threats.
Jurors found Cantwell guilty of transmitting extortionate communications and threatening to injure property or reputation. They acquitted him of a third count, cyberstalking.
Attorneys for Cantwell, who moved to Keene years ago as a libertarian “Free Stater” and later took up the racist ideology that other Free Staters have denounced, told the court in March that he planned to appeal his sentence.
In the recent court filing, Cantwell claims that some of the evidence federal prosecutors used to secure his conviction should not have been presented as factual information.
Prosecutors referred during their closing arguments to a recorded conversation between him and his then-girlfriend, in which she said Cantwell had threatened Lambert and had told Lambert he’d rape his wife. That exchange showed, prosecutors argued, that even other white nationalists felt Cantwell’s threats had crossed a line.
But the comments by his then-girlfriend, who didn’t testify in the case, were only meant — under federal legal rules — to provide context for his own remarks, not as legitimate evidence, Cantwell argues in his appeal.
Cantwell also claims in the 47-page document that Barbadoro, the federal judge, may have misled jurors by telling them, “provocation is not a defense,” after Cantwell described the harassment he’d faced from the Bowl Patrol.
“[Cantwell] did not argue that if the jury found all the elements against him, it could still acquit him because he was provoked,” the appeal states. “Instead, Mr. Cantwell argued that the context of this case, which included provocation in the non-legal sense, negated the elements.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Hampshire declined Monday to comment on the case while litigation is ongoing. Cantwell’s Boston-based defense attorney, Christine DeMaso, could not be reached for comment.
Federal prosecutors have until Dec. 29 to respond to his appeal. No response had been filed as of Monday afternoon.
More legal trouble may be coming for Cantwell, who has been referred to online as the “Crying Nazi” because of a tearful video he made about criminal charges he faced stemming from the Unite the Right rally.
Cantwell, who later pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery for pepper-spraying two people at that event, is a defendant in the ongoing civil case over whether he and others are responsible for the violence that ensued in Charlottesville.
Hundreds of white nationalists descended on that city for two days in August 2017, marching with tiki torches while chanting racist and antisemitic slogans. After several clashes between hate groups and counter-protesters, a white nationalist deliberately drove a car through a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing Charlottesville native Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring dozens of others.
Nine plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit, who say they suffered physical or psychological injuries due to the 2017 rally, accuse Cantwell and other organizers — including white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler — of conspiring to commit racially motivated violence.
Jury deliberations in the case began Friday after a highly publicized, multi-week trial, which some defendants, including Cantwell, who is representing himself, used as a platform to spread further hate, according to media reports. No verdict had been reached as of press time Tuesday morning.