“Today, I just want to come before you and I want to tell you the story of what really happened before this narrative is allowed to continue spinning out of control,” Kessler said, gesturing as he raised his voice to try to overcome the crowd.
He continued: “The hate that you hear around you — that is the anti-white hate that fueled what happened yesterday.”
Kessler did not mention that the woman who was killed after a car plowed into the crowd had been a counterprotester who had wanted to oppose the neo-Nazis, nor did he identify the alleged driver of the car as a Nazi sympathizer who had marched with the white supremacist groups.
Instead, he blamed local law enforcement for letting the situation get out of hand.
“What happened yesterday was the result of the Charlottesville police officers refusing to do their job,” Kessler said. “They stood down and did not follow through with the agreed-upon security arrangements.”
For a couple more minutes, Kessler described the security concerns and legal battles that had led up to Saturday’s violence. He insisted that the planned rally, originally slated for noon Saturday, had been about constitutional freedoms. And he began addressing the violent clashes when he was shut down.
“I would like to condemn any of the violence that happened yesterday,” Kessler said. “I disavow anything that led to folks getting hurt. It really is a sad day in our constitutional democracy when we are not able to have civil liberties like the First Amendment. That what leads to rational discussion and ideas breaking down and people resorting to violence. Yesterday —”
At this point, a pair of counterprotesters approached the podium. One began yelling at Kessler: “Indict for murder, now! He invited these people. Indict for murder, now!”
In the crowd, a voice could be heard shouting: “Nazi scum! Nazi scum!”
Kessler backed away from the crowd as it closed in on him, cameras following. Other video footage showed Kessler rushing away — being escorted to safety by members of the same police forces he had just criticized.
Before he ran off, Kessler said there would be another news conference Monday in Washington with Richard Spencer, a self-proclaimed “alt-right” leader who was at the demonstrations on Friday and Saturday.
Kessler later took to Twitter to vent after his news conference had been shut down.
“I tried my best but once again violence rules over speech and ideas in #Charlottesville,” he wrote. “The first amendment is finished it seems.”