CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Nearly two weeks after a heated encounter between social justice activists and a group of people including white nationalist blogger Jason Kessler on the Downtown Mall, a woman has been charged with assault and battery and disturbing the peace.
Charlottesville police arrested 38-year-old Veronica Haunami Fitzhugh on Wednesday. She is accused of assaulting Kessler on May 20 during an encounter around 9:30 p.m. Her attorney, Jeff Fogel, says cell phone video of the incident doesn't show physical contact between Fitzhugh and Kessler.
"There's nothing on the warrant or complaint that suggests what it is she's actually charged with and what the source of the information was," said Fogel, who is also a candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney.
Fogel said people accused of misdemeanors are usually just summoned to court, not arrested and photographed for a mugshot. The details of Fitzhugh's arrest raise questions, Fogel said.
"Is there something happening in the police department that's aimed at retaliating at Ms. Fitzhugh because of her activism in opposing neo-Nazis and opposing white supremacists," he asked.
A Charlottesville Police Department spokesperson declined to comment on the arrest and referred inquiries to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. A request for comment left with that office was not immediately returned.
Kessler acknowledges that Fitzhugh didn't actually touch him during their interaction on May 20.
"Veronica shook my chair and was screaming in my face," said Kessler.
Cell phone video of the event corroborates that Fitzhugh was among a group of people shouting "Nazis go home" and other phrases at Kessler and his friends. She can be seen standing close to him at various points and shouting.
On Friday, Fitzhugh posted a statement on her Facebook page regarding her arrest.
She wrote, "I was arrested, put in the darkness of the paddy wagon, and delivered to the magistrate stemming not from a May 20 incident but from the white supremacy that has been an undercurrent of Charlottesville for too long. It’s not about heritage. It’s not about division. It’s not about assault and battery. It’s about white supremacy, hidden and torchlit. It’s not about rights. It’s about defending our community against fascism, hidden and torchlit. It’s about centering, defending, and honoring brown and black Charlottesville voices, bodies, spirits, freedoms, spaces, and dignity. Rise up, Charlottesville. Fiercely Love."
Kessler has been at the center of the controversy over removing the statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park in downtown Charlottesville. He also led an unsuccessful effort to oust Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy from office after a series of offensive tweets were discovered on Bellamy's Twitter feed.
Kessler said Bellamy was among the group that verbally accosted him and his friends on the Mall May 20.
Bellamy declined to comment.
Kessler also recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault against another man, and he is currently facing a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a May 14 altercation at a vigil at Lee Park.
Kessler said after the recent altercation involving Fitzhugh, he initially wasn't going to press charges. He changed his mind because he feels threatened by the activists from the group Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). He accused activists of posting flyers in downtown Charlottesville with his and others' names and addresses. The flyers accused him of being a Nazi, which he denies.
"The level of hatred or intimidation that's come from this SURJ group is so great that the only way that I can protect my friends and my family is to go through the legal process," said Kessler, who went to the magistrate's office on Thursday to request protective orders against Fitzhugh and members of SURJ, including Pam Starsia, an attorney who represented Bellamy.
He cited a Facebook post by Starsia that referred to a post-election Internet meme about hitting Nazis with a handbag as an example of Starsia's threatening behavior.
Starsia scoffed at Kessler's claims.
"No one has harmed or threatened Jason Kessler," she said in a written statement. "However, he is learning that his abhorrent views have not found as much harbor in Charlottesville as he once hoped, and he's lashing out at those he blames for the unpopularity of his racist and misogynistic ideology."
Fogel also dismissed Kessler's claims and said he's focused on getting answers from police about the charges against Fitzhugh and the way she was arrested.
"People in this community know her and know she's not a dangerous person," he said.