It’s been almost two weeks since the “Unite the Right” rally, organized by Charlottesville resident Jason Kessler, and the violence and the death of Heather Heyer, who grew up in Greene County.
There is still a makeshift memorial at the site of her death on Fourth Street on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, as well as a sign by the Robert E. Lee statue that says “Heather Heyer Park.” Hundreds attended Heyer’s memorial service on Aug. 16 at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville.
As the victims of the violence and the city begin to heal, Matt Hardin, who is running for Greene County commonwealth attorney, announced that Kessler was an associate member of the Greene County Republican Committee and requested the group consider expelling him as a member.
“Heather Heyer was a Greene County native, a graduate of William Monroe High School, and a valued member of the legal community. She was killed by some violent thugs brought to our area by Jason Kessler,” Hardin said in a release. “I am calling on prosecutors in Charlottesville to hold Kessler to account. I am also calling on the Greene County Republican Party to expel Kessler and make clear that his beliefs do not reflect those of the Republican Party. If the right is united, I hope it will be united against Kessler, and the dangerous criminals he brings to our community.”
Ed Yensho, Greene County Republican Committee chairman, said Kessler had applied to be an associate member, who is a nonvoting member, earlier this year but was no longer a member as of Aug. 18.
Kessler requested to become an associate member at the March 2017 committee meeting, according to the minutes found on the Greene County Republican Committee website. He said left the Democratic Party because of its “exaggerated focus on transgender rights, illegal immigration and the assault on private property rights,” according to the minutes. “Ultimately, he thought his views boiled down to a basic belief in the goodness of western civilization’s values.” “
Kessler was asked questions prior to being unanimously accepted into the committee.
“Bob Young asked when he had left the Democrat Party, and Jason said it was about a year and a half ago,” the minutes show. “Chairman Yensho noted that Jason has been accused of being a white supremacist, and Ed asked how he would respond to that. Jason said he thought the accusation was ridiculous, and he saw it as nothing more than a slur – much like many people recently being called racists for no legitimate reason. However, Jason added that he does believe that it is inappropriate for America to be intentionally ‘socially engineered’ into a certain demographic make-up.”
By May, however, it seemed the committee was questioning the decision, according to the meeting minutes.
“Next, although not on the agenda, Ed briefly interjected his thoughts on the ‘torch rally’ that was held in Charlottesville’s Lee Park [on May 13, 2017]. He described it as being similar to a ‘flash mob,’ and he conceded that the people promoting the event did not have a positive reputation,” according to the minutes. “He also noted that one of our Associate Members, Jason Kessler, had attended and gotten arrested. Based on the media’s coverage of that incident, it seems to be portraying Jason as one of the organizers – even though he had nothing to do with it.”
The event had been organized by Richard Spencer, according to the Daily Progress. Spencer co-organized the Unite to Right rally held on Aug. 12, 2017, with Kessler.
“Jason confirmed that he had nothing to do with the event’s organization, but he had been made aware of the event about a week beforehand. However, this was because he is a journalist who covers such things. Among his other comments, Jason defended the right of white people to have their own advocacy group, just like other demographics (blacks, gays, Latinos, etc.),” according to the committee’s May meeting minutes.
Yensho released this statement on the committee’s Facebook page last week:
“The Greene County Republican Committee is committed to the Virginia Republican Creed, which includes prominently our belief "[t]hat all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society [.]" As such, we stand resolute against racism and individuals and organizations who support it.
"We have always invited any who agree with our principles and support our candidates to join our committee. Jason Kessler took advantage of that invitation and joined our committee earlier this year.
"Because of his role in the so-called Unite the Right Rally, which neither fostered unity, nor represented the political right as we know it, members of the Committee began the required steps in our bylaws to remove him from membership based on his obvious disagreement with our core principles. Upon learning of the removal effort, Mr. Kessler resigned his membership.
"The Committee will continue to welcome all who share our beliefs and will act decisively against those who claim to do so, but act contrary to them, failing to meet their obligations as citizens in our free society."
Kessler also went to the Albemarle County Republican Committee to seek membership this spring. Kessler has never been a member of the Albemarle County Republican Committee, George Urban, chairman, said on Aug. 18.
“He applied for membership in April or May of this year; however in the face of substantial opposition to his admission among our membership, he chose to withdraw his application instead of being voted down,” Urban said. “Political terrorism cannot be tolerated, excused or rationalized; it must be rejected in whole. Each of us has a responsibility to embrace civility, reject poisonous ideologies and condemn those who engage in political violence. Our common humanity demands as much.”
The city of Charlottesville Republican Committee did not respond by press time.
The Greene committee had begun the process to remove him as an associate member prior to the violence on Aug. 12 and before Kessler tweeted disparaging remarks about Heyer on Aug. 18. Kessler has since disabled his twitter account.