Jason Kessler, the white supremacist behind the 2017 and 2018 extremist Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, VA, and Washington, D.C., announced he won’t be organizing a third iteration of his racist event. Kessler’s first rally in 2017 resulted in the murder of counterprotester Heather Heyer and injuries to dozens of other counterprotesters, and the second one was sparsely attended. While making the announcement, Kessler blamed “the alt-right’s obsession with Jews” for bad publicity surrounding his events, claiming that his motivation to go ahead with the second rally in 2018 was “to not back down to a heckler's veto.”
In a February 26 Periscope session, Kessler said his decision to not organize the event a third time came down to him thinking that it is not “helpful to have a pro-white movement which is really just about anti-Jew activism.”
Kessler also said his intentions for arranging the first Unite the Right rally “were noble,” but he hinted at the real reasons for his backpedaling on organizing public events as he bemoaned, “Every time I lowered myself to the alt-right’s level and started using that kind of sensationalistic rhetoric, I got slapped for it and I was made to look like a fool.”
According to Kessler, there’s nothing wrong “with trying to make sure that white people get a fair shake” but instead of holding public rallies, he said white supremacists should endorse what he called “the Covington strategy.” Kessler was referring to the professional public relations campaign launched by students of Covington Catholic High School and members of their families to turn them into the victims of a tense encounter with a Native American activist.
The encounter and its fallout -- which Kessler called “a perfect example of what white identity activism should be” -- has now been embraced by neo-Nazis, who have turned it into a 4chan meme rallying for white supremacy with the slogan “Stand Your Ground.” In the same vein, Kessler praised the effectiveness of white supremacist memes like the “it’s OK to be white” catchphrase that originated from 4chan, suggesting the dog-whistle racism in meme format as the way forward for white identity causes. (White nationalists like Richard Spencer and white supremacist darling Tucker Carlson have also praised and elevated the “it’s OK to be white” campaign.)
Far from distancing himself from the toxicity of his “white identity” movement, Kessler’s Periscope video was another example of the “optics” strategy used by similar groups like Identity Evropa. In this strategy, extremists use sanitized language that substitutes explicit racism for pro-white “identitarianism,” thus allowing them to operate in the mainstream while opposing social justice initiatives and promoting white supremacist grievances. After all, Kessler clearly continues to believe in the premise that inspired his first rally: “My original purpose was to advocate for white people because I felt like we were being unfairly discriminated [against]. There’s one set of rules for white people and one for everybody else.”