A self-professed white nationalist featured in a video about protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend has been identified by Suffolk County political figures as a man who once tried to run for Congress in the 1st District on the East End.
Christopher Cantwell, 36, announced as a Libertarian Party candidate in 2009 but failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot, according to his website and Republican, Democratic and Libertarian political operatives.
In a video documentary from Vice News that was viewed by millions of people, Cantwell brags about his capacity for violence and he and others chant anti-Semitic slogans as they march with torches to a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Facebook banned Cantwell, and YouTube removed his videos on Wednesday for violating their policies on hate speech.
As recently as 2014, Cantwell was a featured speaker at the Suffolk County Libertarian Party’s annual fundraiser at a Babylon restaurant, according to Suffolk Libertarian Party chairman Michael McDermott. “There was no indication of hatred or violence” on Cantwell’s part, McDermott said.
Cantwell attended Ward Melville High School and court records show he had multiple arrests in Suffolk County and served time in jail.
Cantwell told Hatewatch, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit whose mission is to fight extremism, that he grew up in Stony Brook and lives in Keene, New Hampshire.
The center describes him as an “unapologetic fascist” who uses his call-in Internet show and website to argue for a state “free of African-Americans, Jews and nonwhite immigrants, save, perhaps for the occasional exception.”
In a separate video posted Wednesday, Cantwell wipes away tears and says he’s facing an arrest warrant and is “terrified” of being killed. He says he did not provoke any of the violence in Charlottesville. In a post on his Web page Thursday, Cantwell says he’s preparing to turn himself in to police in Virginia.
Cantwell did not respond to requests left on his cellphone, in text messages and through his website seeking comment.
Long Island political operatives said they recognized Cantwell from videos of the Charlottesville march.
Cantwell became involved in Suffolk politics in 2009, local political figures said.
“I remember him being a passionate libertarian,” said Kevin Tschirhart, a political consultant who worked for Republican congressional candidate George Demos at the time.
“This is just very surprising, and frankly very sad that someone would fall into this sick type of thinking,” Tschirhart said of Cantwell. He said he has not had contact with Cantwell since the campaign.
McDermott, the Suffolk Libertarian Party chairman, described Cantwell’s 2014 speech to the annual fundraiser in Babylon as “very calm and normal.”
“It was a warm and tender speech that came from the heart,” he said.
McDermott said he has followed Cantwell’s progression toward racism and fascism through Facebook. “Now I can’t even listen, it’s so obscene,” McDermott said.
In a 2014 posting on his website of his prepared remarks for the 2014 speech, Cantwell said a DWI arrest in 2009 caused him to lose his job and nearly bankrupted him. He said he contemplated violence against the police officers and the government.
Gary L. Donoyan, a Nassau Libertarian who Cantwell has said managed his congressional campaign, said he helped Cantwell only briefly.
“I did not know that he is a racist or a fascist, as he himself calls himself,” said Donoyan, who recognized Cantwell from current pictures. “That’s a shock to me, and I’m very disappointed.”
Donoyan, an attorney, said he last spoke with Cantwell about a year ago when Cantwell called him with a business issue. Donoyan said he told him he couldn’t help him.
Cantwell in 2000 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and driving while intoxicated. Cantwell told the Southern Poverty Law Center he served four months in jail before being released.
The issue of his criminal record was raised by his opponents in his attempted run for Congress, in particular because he had faced another DWI charge after a March 2009 arrest by East Hampton Town police, according to Tom Stevens, a Mineola-based attorney and libertarian activist. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail, according to Suffolk County court records.
During his try for Congress, Cantwell listed a Stony Brook address, and his mother as his campaign treasurer on Federal Election Commission documents.
A man at the Stony Brook house, who confirmed he was “Mr. Cantwell,” said Wednesday he did not know a Christopher Cantwell.
Shown pictures of Cantwell from the Charlottesville rally, two neighbors in Stony Brook confirmed that it was Christopher Cantwell who had lived there years before. They declined to give their names.