A federal jury on Monday found Christopher C. Cantwell, the white nationalist podcaster known for his role in the 2017 Unite the Right rally, guilty of threatening and extortion charges in what prosecutors called a scheme to unmask the identity of another online white nationalist.
Cantwell, 39, of Keene, has been in jail since his arrest this past January. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 4, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Concord.
Over the course of a four-day trial last week in U.S. District Court in Concord, federal prosecutors presented multiple witnesses and voluminous messages, social-media posts and audio recordings cataloguing Cantwell’s actions last year.
The allegations arose out of a feud between Cantwell and an online group the other man belonged to — a collective of pseudonymous white nationalists known as the “Bowl Patrol” who have glorified racist and anti-Semitic mass murderers.
In June 2019, angered by what he felt was the group’s harassment of him, Cantwell sent a series of messages over the app Telegram to Bowl Patrol member Benjamin Lambert of Winfield, Mo., who went by the online pseudonym “Cheddar Mane.”
In the messages, which were displayed in court last week, Cantwell threatened to post pictures of Lambert’s family, tell online followers where he lived and call child protective services on him unless he revealed the identity of the Bowl Patrol’s leader, who went by “Vic Mackey” online. He 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,” Cantwell wrote in the exchange. “Give me Vic, it’s your only out.”
The jury found Cantwell guilty of transmitting extortionate communications and threatening to injure property or reputation, according to court records. Jurors acquitted him of a third count, cyberstalking.
Monday’s verdict caps a rocky few years for Cantwell, who moved to Keene years ago as a libertarian “Free Stater” before shifting to the racist ideology that other Free Staters have denounced.
Cantwell rose to national infamy after a Vice News documentary highlighted his role in the Unite the Right rally, which drew neo-Nazis and other white nationalists to Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
Soon after, he was charged in Virginia with using a chemical spray on two counterprotesters during the weekend of the rally. His reaction, in a tearful video he posted online, earned him the nickname “the Crying Nazi” in national media coverage.
Cantwell pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in July 2018 in connection with the Virginia case and returned to Keene soon after.
Meanwhile, he had sued the two people who reported him to police in that case, claiming they were persecuting him for his political beliefs. They counter-sued Cantwell, accusing him of an online harassment campaign that included Cantwell’s posting their photos on his website above song lyrics about “gassing” Jews and transgender people. The competing claims were dropped by mutual agreement in late 2018.
Cantwell remains a defendant in an ongoing lawsuit seeking to hold him and other white nationalist figures accountable for the 2017 Charlottesville violence. In June 2019, Cantwell posted on Telegram about the lead opposing lawyer in the suit, writing that after she “loses this fraudulent lawsuit, we’re going to have a lot of [expletive] fun with her.”
The post prompted Cantwell’s attorneys to ask to stop representing him. A judge later condemned the post but held that it did not quite rise to the level of a criminal threat.
“Cantwell’s repugnant Telegram.com comment comes close to — but does not cross — the line between protected speech and a true threat of physical violence,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe of the Western District of Virginia wrote in a May order.
Days before that Telegram post, Cantwell had initiated the exchange with Lambert that would land him in federal court last week.
Lambert, who said he’s no longer in the Bowl Patrol, testified Wednesday that the group and Cantwell started out on friendly terms. Cantwell helped give them a platform and appeared on the first episode of the group’s “Bowlcast” podcast.
The group took its name from the bowl cut worn by Dylann S. Roof, who murdered nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. In court last week, lawyers presented evidence of the group’s racism, anti-Semitism and casual talk of violence. An FBI agent testified that the group adheres to an “accelerationist” philosophy that endorses violence as a way to bring about a “race war” and societal collapse.
Around late 2018 or early 2019, Lambert said, the Bowl Patrol began to see Cantwell as a sellout and turned on him. Lambert said he and others prank-called Cantwell’s live audio shows. In February 2019, Cantwell reported to the FBI that he suspected Bowl Patrol leader Vic Mackey had defaced his website, according to court testimony.
Lambert said he backed off around the time Cantwell first threatened to post information about him online, that March. But that June, Lambert said, he entered an online chat group called “Peaceful White Folk” not knowing Cantwell ran it.
This prompted the Telegram message exchange in which Cantwell said he would post information about Lambert unless he gave up Vic Mackey’s real identity.
When Lambert refused, Cantwell posted the pictures and the street Lambert lived on in an online chat group with about 300 followers, according to evidence presented in court. He also called a Missouri child-abuse hotline, claiming without evidence that Lambert might be indoctrinating his children in a poisonous ideology.
“People call me a Nazi, and I don’t care,” Cantwell said in the call, according to a recording played in court. “By my standards, I think this guy is dangerous.”
The Missouri authorities did not act on Cantwell’s information.
That summer and fall, Cantwell corresponded with the FBI and sat for a three-hour interview in Keene because he wanted the agency to investigate the Bowl Patrol’s alleged harassment of him, according to evidence presented in court. But the FBI was also looking into his communications with Lambert, which the Bowl Patrol had posted online, catching the eye of an intelligence analyst in Washington, D.C., Special Agent Shayne Tongbua testified.
Federal agents interviewed Lambert in Missouri in October.
A federal grand jury charged Cantwell in January. Federal authorities arrested him at his apartment on South Lincoln Street in Keene. They found 17 guns, a machete and a crossbow in the residence and his car, a Manchester police officer assigned to a federal task force testified at a hearing in February.
The officer said Cantwell could legally possess guns because he was not a convicted felon.
Monday’s verdict changed that.