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Florida man among three arrested in connection to white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

By Kathryn Varn, For Tampa Bay Times , On 14 August 2017, Read Original
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A violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., led to several arrests, including of a Florida man with a Tampa connection who runs a blog espousing white nationalist beliefs and encouraging violence against the political left.

Virginia State Police said on Twitter that 44-year-old James M. O'Brien, of Gainesville, was arrested on a charge of carrying a concealed handgun. His blog — Bacon, Books & Bullets — says O'Brien "has led projects and missions through conflict zones on behalf of the US military, the US government, and international humanitarian organizations." He was hired this year as the director of purchasing and logistics for North American Roofing, a company headquartered in Tampa.

After being contacted by a Tampa Bay Times reporter on Facebook, O'Brien said his arrest was an "independent matter" not related to the rally, called "Unite the Right" by its organizers. He said he was given a misdemeanor citation and sent on his way for an incident in which police thought he was breaking into his own car after he lost his car keys. A photo of the citation provided by O'Brien had an issuance time of 6:38 p.m., hours after the demonstration.

"I voluntarily disclosed the weapon and was issued a misdemeanor citation," O'Brien said. "I do not know why the State Police have stated what they did."

Saturday's rally was organized to protest the removal of a statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city's Emancipation Park. It erupted into chaos as white nationalists and counter-protesters clashed at the park, leading the governor to declare a state of emergency. The day turned deadly when, after the rally had dispersed, an Ohio man plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring at least 19 others.

The Virginia State Police said Saturday night on Twitter that officers had made three arrests "related to the planned rally" including O'Brien. The other two were Troy Dunigan, 21, of Tennessee, and Jacob L. Smith, 21, of Virginia.

The Facebook page for O'Brien's blog included a since-deleted post describing the scene at the rally, which began peacefully then turned violent when "Marxist agitators" surrounded the group.

"While the media lies about the truth of events, blaming White Nationalists and Southern Heritage groups for inciting violence, no one from those groups started any violence until assaulted by Marxists," the post said. "I was there."The post echoes O'Brien's online presence, which paints a picture of a world where Southerners and Christians are under siege from a political left that should be eliminated. His blog includes posts blaming black mothers for high incarceration rates of black men; denying climate change as scientific fact; and referring to Democrats as "violent extremists."

On Facebook, he weighed in on Hillsborough County's contentious debate over whether to move a Confederate monument with racist roots from the county courthouse, sharing a post that questioned why Commissioner Sandy Murman flipped her vote from keeping to removing the monument.

"If you don't get that Republicans are angry at their elected officials," he wrote, "you don't have your finger on the conservative pulse."

O'Brien was hired in March at North American Roofing Services, which recently moved its headquarters from Asheville, North Carolina, to Tampa, according to a news release published in a roofing trade publication.

CEO Kelly Wade declined to comment Sunday, saying "at this time we don't know anything."

Before that, the news release says, he is a former Marine who worked in several capacities for the federal government, including as a contractor for the State Department and Department of Defense. The news release said he also worked as the director of purchasing and logistics for Blackwater Worldwide, a private military company now operating under the name Academi.

According to his blog, he earned his master's in business administration from the College of William & Mary and a master's of arts in law and diplomacy from Tufts University.

In the week leading up to the rally, O'Brien wrote on his blog a post titled "Motivated to Fight: Southerners are reaching the point of no return" in which he said removal of Confederate monuments was the last straw for a beleagured class. He said events like Saturday's rally "are only the beginning."

"After years of suffering depredations, the Southerner is now preparing for a fight," he wrote. "If history is our guide, this will not end well for the Left."