Christopher Cantwell is not a nice guy. In fact, he used to carry a business card around that had this tagline on it: “Anarchist Atheist Asshole”. At least, that was back when he was a libertarian anarchist. Now he’s become the very thing that he then hated – a total statist. Several years ago, Cantwell changed from being a crass libertarian comedian – who never showed any racist beliefs – into a racist podcast host that then made a splash of publicity when VICE focused on him after his participation in the Charlottesville conflicts.
Along the way, whether as part of the libertarian migration to New Hampshire or later as part of a group of despicable NAZIs and other assorted white nationalist types, Cantwell has always been a polarizing figure and has caused schisms and drama withing whatever movement he put himself. This is one of the factors that leads people to believe that Cantwell himself is a federal agent. Having spent many hours with him over the years, I don’t believe he is a federal agent.
One thing’s for sure, Cantwell did do a lot of talking to federal agents in the last few years, and he allegedly even admitted to them having sent the messages he’s now been charged with sending via the Telegram chat app. The FBI raided his house last month on two felony charges, one of “Exortionate Interstate Communications” and one of “Threatening Interstate Communications”. Here’s the two-page indictment. In it, Cantwell is accused of sending the following message to someone over Telegram: “So if you don’t want me to come and fuck your wife in front of your kids, then you should make yourself scarce Give me Vic, it’s your only out.”
The feds are arguing that this is a rape threat. Beyond the fact that Cantwell didn’t say he would rape the woman, a little background and context is important to know. According to testimony at the detention hearing in federal court in Concord NH, the as-yet unrevealed “victim” in this case never complained to the feds about the message, but he did post it publicly online where a federal agent on the West Coast spotted it. The supposed victim is allegedly a member of an internet hate group called “Bowl Patrol”. The group is named as such because they worship the sicko church shooter Dylan Roof and he apparently had a bowl haircut. A Manchester police officer who works closely with the FBI testified that the “Bowl Patrol” was targeting Cantwell’s podcast phone lines with awful calls and allegedly hacked Cantwell’s website. That led Cantwell to attempt to discover their identities and to the chat where he threatened to have sex with the man’s wife if he didn’t give up the identity of the “Bowl Patrol” leader, “Vic”.
Cantwell’s racist views are despicable, but the “Bowl Patrol” people may be worse, if that’s possible. Either way, it’s just white hate group members fighting with each other. If they are busy infighting, they can’t be out doing publicly awful things. Rather than just let the white supremacists have their internet spats, the FBI used the fact that Cantwell trash-talked someone on the internet – free speech – to charge him with felonies for which he faces up to 25 years in prison.
That’s twenty-five years for the level of trash-talking that goes on all across the internet, every day. Cantwell’s persecution here is an attack against freedom of speech and also served as an excuse to take his computers, flash drives, guns, and drugs. There’s no doubt that he has a ton of bad karma out there waiting for him for the things he’s said and done, but that doesn’t mean he belongs in prison. Yes, he’s a rude guy with a big mouth and terrible, disgusting ideas, and that’s why he’s a perfect target for a government attack on freedom of speech.
In Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous poem from 1946, Niemoller wrote:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
In 2020, first they came for the “Crying NAZI”. I don’t agree with what he says, but I will defend his right to say it. Cantwell is a target because not only does he have views that good people will detest, he’s also detested by people who hold similar views to his. Not one single supporter was at his bail hearing. He may still have a small fan club on the internet, but according to the federal government, he doesn’t have much money in the bank.
However, Cantwell does know about cryptocurrency and internet privacy tools like Signal and Telegram. The agent who testified, Brett Fernald, explained that Cantwell used bitcoin and that bitcoin could be used to hide money and was anonymous. Though that’s not true – bitcoin is completely trackable. It’s Monero that’s a privacy coin. Anyway, according to the robed woman called a “magistrate judge”, Andrea K Johnstone, in a nine-page detention order, Cantwell’s computer knowledge is one reason he can’t be allowed out of a cage even with severe restrictions like gps tracking and even being disallowed from the internet, to which the defense was readily willing to agree.
The feds also argued at the hearing that Cantwell can’t be relied on to make it to court and cited the fact that he was drunk while on bail in Virginia, despite the fact that he never missed a single court appearance. When Cantwell was informed he was wanted on a warrant for his actions in Charlottesville in 2017 he took a week to turn himself in. Cantwell’s public defender pointed out that he wanted to acquire an attorney before turning himself in, which he did do. However because Cantwell didn’t IMMEDIATELY turn himself in, the prosecutors submitted that was a reason he wouldn’t show up to court.
Though Cantwell says he was acting in self-defense in the Charlottesville fights, he took a plea deal on assault and battery charges and that was brought up as evidence of why he’s a supposed danger to the community. That’s despite the fact that Chris has since kept to himself and his apartment in Keene since 2017 and that prior to that he was not known for any violent acts.
Further, they made him out to be meth-crazed lunatic. He may be a lunatic in his beliefs, and who knows what role his meth use several years ago had in forming his current racist mindset, but he’s been off the meth for a long time. A drug screening when he was arrested in January only showed cannabis use, according to the evidence in the case.
During the hearing, Johnstone, overruled every one of the defense’s objections and in her detention order agreed with the prosecution’s ridiculous assertions that Cantwell is somehow a danger to the community. In the order, She cited also his legal possession of over a dozen various guns, including one found inside an unlocked case magnetically attached underneath his car. Johnstone even parrots the prosecution’s point that somehow this was a danger to the school across the street from his apartment.
The guns, alleged threats, drugs, bail violation, plea deals to violent crimes, were all cited by Johnstone as factors, but most critically it seemed that it was Cantwell’s knowledge about internet secrecy techniques that is really keeping him behind bars. Johnstone wrote, citing another case on the matter, US v Savader:
given the defendant’s demonstrated facility with computer technology, it would be all but impossible to fashion terms and conditions that would eliminate defendant’s access to… certain electronic files that could be used to threaten victims
Now the case moves to trial, ostensibly set for April. The federal government has already spent likely tens of thousands of dollars on the court hearings alone, not to mention who knows how much more money on investigating Cantwell over years. After all that money and effort, some internet trash-talk between despicable people is all they have to go after him on. If Cantwell is convicted here, he’ll be a proverbial canary in the coal mine. The federal government would like to get a conviction here so there’s a precedent set for prosecuting people who say ugly things. Who will be targeted next? Maybe some trash-talking teens on an Xbox or Playstation online video game?
If you’d like an in-depth discussion of my experience attending the detention hearings, please listen to this episode of Free Talk Live. This link will start you where the topic comes up. Stay tuned here to Free Keene for the latest on Chris Cantwell, political prisoner. #FreeCantwell