Roughly 20 people gathered at CitySpace Thursday morning to hear from supporters of a petition for the recall of Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy from City Council.
Jason Kessler — a local blogger who uncovered a series of profane tweets Bellamy posted between 2009 and 2014 — is leading a movement to submit a petition to Charlottesville Circuit Court for a judge to remove Bellamy from office.
Kessler also recently founded a conservative organization called Unity and Security for America, which describes itself on its website as “dedicated to defending Western Civilization.”
Critics of Kessler argue he is a white supremacist and believe him to be associated with the white nationalist “alt-right” movement.
In a press statement issued ahead of the press conference, Showing Up for Racial Justice Charlottesville explicitly called Kessler a white nationalist.
“Wes Bellamy is a target for Kessler because Mr. Bellamy is a Black leader in the city and the only Black city councilor,” SURJ said.
Despite these claims, Kessler has denied being a white supremacist and has continued to push for Bellamy’s resignation.
“I call on the commonwealth to initiate an investigation into civil rights violations, corruption and other misuse of office as required by law under Virginia election recall statutes,” Kessler said. “We will not stand for double standards when it comes to anti-white bigotry or for the trivialization of rape victims. We ask that he be charged with misuse of office and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Bellamy declined to comment Thursday.
The controversial tweets were first reported by Kessler in November 2016, and a subsequent investigation by The Cavalier Daily uncovered additional tweets containing homophobic slurs and sexist language.
Bellamy has since apologized for the tweets, which led to him leaving his teaching position at Albemarle High School and resigning from his post on the Virginia Board of Education.
At Thursday’s press conference, four supporters of the petition addressed a mixed crowd of press and community members. The speakers outlined their various motives for supporting the bill. Teresa Kay Lam, a supporter of the petition, criticized Bellamy’s tweets about women.
“It makes the entire community uncomfortable for a person with his authority to make such derogatory, demeaning and sexist comments about women,” Lam said. “Now that he has been called out for his comments, he would like for us all to believe he has changed, that he has matured, but these comments were not made once or twice. They show a pattern over a period of years.”
Unity and Security for America Secretary Isaac Smith shared his thoughts on homophobic comments in Bellamy’s tweets.
“The second highest ranked man in the city of Charlottesville makes such bigoted, callous and disgusting remarks on public social media for the whole world to see,” Smith said. “I will not be governed by a man who holds me in contempt. I will not be governed by a man who looks down on me.”
Corey Stewart, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, spoke after Smith and focused on Bellamy’s support in City Council’s recent vote for the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Lee Park, calling it “politically correct madness” and an act of “historical vandalism.”
“There is going to be a lawsuit filed to prevent Wes Bellamy and his group of thugs and tyrants on the Charlottesville City Council, to prevent them from tearing down a statue which was placed in trust to the city of Charlottesville by its citizens,” Stewart said.
Stewart also called Bellamy a “racist.”
“Can you imagine, if you had a white politician saying things about African-Americans, the same things that Wes Bellamy has said against Caucasians? And nobody says anything about it.”
The speakers concluded with Kessler, who echoed the sentiments of the previous speakers and used strong language to express his opinions against Bellamy.
“Hundreds of men and women of different races have stood up to voice their view that we will not stand for bigotry in elected office,” Kessler said. “This is why I come before you on behalf of over 527 signatories, to initiate the recall process of the hate merchant and race pimp Wes Bellamy who came from Atlanta to sow seeds of division and contempt within our community.”
The event then opened up for questions from the press.
Kessler was questioned on the accuracy of the number of signatures needed to submit the petition as well as the legal team assisting him through the process. He claimed only 527 signatures were required and refused to comment on the identity of his legal assistance.
According to Virginia code, the number of signatures must be equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last election for the office an individual holds.
It is unclear if this 10 percent requirement applies to the votes Bellamy specifically received for office or to the total number of votes cast in the 2015 City Council election.
In the 2015 election for City Council, 15,798 votes were cast, meaning the petition would need approximately 1,580 signatures if the 10 percent requirement applies to the whole number of votes.
Fewer signatures would be required if the percentage only applies to the 4,688 votes Bellamy received in 2015, however.
Kessler was also asked about allusions to the “alt-right” on the Unity and Security for America website, which includes an image of a frog that the Anti-Defamation League has labeled an anti-Semitic symbol.
Kessler disclaimed any affiliation to the “alt-right” and called Pepe the Frog an allusion to youth culture.
“Pepe is a cartoon symbol that can be appropriated by anybody,” Kessler said. “It’s not an alt-right organization.”
Kessler and petition supporters proceeded to walk to the Charlottesville Circuit Court following the press conference to submit the petition.
The petition is now in Circuit Court and will be considered for further review.