Leverett & River Street Residents Compete for Worst Neighbor Award

When hearing stories about how high tensions have risen in Keene regarding activist adventures, one ponders the many indicators of derision. There’s the fear and hate mongering at STOP FREE KEENE!!!, which when boiling over to violent rhetoric or threats thereof, occasionally gets censored. Then there’s the realistic incidents of actual violence in Keene’s streets regarding activist related activities. Two violent clashes on consecutive evenings tangentially related to Central Square chalkings led to one person’s hospitalization and earned another a felony charge. It would be nice to believe that the xenophobic posturing that has been aimed at individuals were to have reached its climax long ago, but judging by a shouting match in the streets of an otherwise quiet suburban neighborhood, it seems there are those who are making it their life’s effort to embody the forces of antagonism.

This synthesis of negative energy came together after recent re-mover to Keene Christopher Cantwell decided to have a word with neighbor Matthew Schmidt, as the two live a handful of houses away from one another. Matthew drives a work truck and often yells from it while stopping at the intersection near his house, “Get a job!”. This intersection also abuts Chris’ house, and thus Cantwell, whether it had been directed at him or not, falls victim to the distastefulness of Matthew’s sullen chant.


Polar Activists Square Off In Shouting Match


What we can surmise from this situation without having been present is all the more enabled by the existence of video documentation, covering more or less point-of-view shots of each antagonizer as their commotion erupts. Chris Cantwell’s fourteen minute raw video contains slightly more footage prior to the dialectic explosion and the following police engagement of the scene than does Matthew’s. Though separated during questioning by authorities, we as the audience to their spectacle are given the privilege of hearing how each actor engages the police and what information each relays about their level of concern regarding the other.cantwell-2013_12_02_Confronting_a_Facebook_Tough_Guy

When comparing the profiles of the two figures involved in the embarrassing public dispute, it is laughable the extent to which they are mirror images of each other on different life paths. Complimenting each other perfectly in the video, we are exposed to the different styles that the two loud, angry, middle class males from different urban areas use to degrade and dehumanize the other. While Chris begins with somewhat offensive body language and bold words on a feebly elegant edge, Matthew is consistent throughout the ordeal in his volume and disdain for Chris. Contrasting this bstrongGazebo_Corporate_Seizure_23_30.mp4stability, Cantwell gradually, for seemingly no reason other than needing to one-up Matthew’s diversity of profanity, accumulates anger before unleashing into a vile string of ad-hominem verbal attacks directed at his equally upset neighbor shortly before the police arrive. When Jennifer Schmidt called attention to Chris approaching them openly armed, he let fly a veiled threat before stomping off to meet with police. “I’m gonna fucking leave the fucking gun at home one of these days, and you’re gonna be really fucking upset, pal.” Upon clarification, Chris may have intended that to be nothing more than an inflammatory offer to mutual combat and not an actual threat to use preemptive violence outside of the presence of a firearm. Through the thin facade of responsibility that Cantwell presents, this is the exact sort of conduct that propaganda deriding firearm owners and enthusiasts as lunatics is sourced.

If one may speculate; the position of the man defending his gruff behavior in amplifying pleas to obtain employment likely envisions himself as the defender of a derided system. Appropriately, the opposite position being held by the man yelling in response to wanting yelling to stop being that of a critic of the State, as Christopher Cantwell’s website catchphrase is, “Anarchist Atheist, Asshole”. If it were Chris’ purpose to make the police appear as though they were the most calm and level-headed folks prepared to engage in peaceful mediation, he succeeded alongside Matthew in this task with their videos.

When the police do arrive, Chris becomes the most sober and composed as he will appear anywhere in the two videos. The fact that he is openly wearing a firearm is kept from being an issue by KPD, who do not address it. Chris claims that Matthew had yelled in front of his house, which had been acknowledged as a regular activity with vows to continue acting out in this manner by the accused.

There’s no doubt that neighbors acted poorly all around in the two featured videos, but this point ought always be contrasted with what the actors did right. As far as not totally throwing the other under the bus, Matthew handled Chris’ wearing of a firearm reasonably well. Both men acknowledged that there was no physical confrontation to police, and both were honest about distances that they had maintained from each other. It is worth noting that Matthew does alter the narrative that he supplies to police, initially denying having shouted out on that day, then ultimately correcting to say that he had shouted earlier that day, but not immediately before being confronted by Cantwell. Of all the negative that can be said of Chris Cantwell, while he will often stretch definitions to meet his perspective, he is not known to give incorrect factual information. His contention is that Matthew did yell upon having driven by, and knowing that this person does often yell the same phrase, and that this person admits to doing it often, it is hard to believe Matthew’s assertion to police that he hadn’t yelled on that day.

Police inform Chris that it is inappropriate for someone to continually yell and that such behavior should come to an end. Police do not make quite as strict a pronouncement to Matthew, as the officer dealing with him states, “If you have a right to yell stuff at their house, he has a right to come over and say whatever he wants to you guys, unfortunately.”


Other instances of bad neighbordom


While both parties have dirty hands on some level in their handling of their mutual outbursts, it is worth taking a moment out to reflect on their previous acts of disturbing the community’s peace.

For incidents in Keene, on the evening before an infamous violent encounter that landed a man in the Central Square fountain with multiple injuries, there was a shouting escalation that led to a coordinated attack on one person. A portion of that escalatory yelling engagement involved Matt doing his usual, “Get a job!” mantra. He also dropped a few profanities into the mix, though he did not continue any engagement at the point that one other party (seemingly coming to his shouting aid) began issuing threats.

As yelling is not illegal and being profane is at best unpreferable, one can consider appreciating the promotion of peace. The incident that arose from that evening’s disturbance of the peace earned at least one person present, Rich Paul, a pseudo-criminal charge as he faced a violation of probation hearing for allegedly possessing a weapon near an area where someone was attacked. Video that I myself captured and published was used as evidence against Rich, though following my testimony in court regarding the circumstances of the content depicted, Rich was found not guilty of the violation at the hearing. In speaking about his decision, judge John Kissinger did not totally absolve Rich of responsibility in the incident. He commented on his heckling of Matthew Schmidt, who that day was himself washing away chalkings made by others and heckling them back. Arriving on the scene later that evening, I do not know nor does it really matter who began the yelling, but the fact that two adults choose to engage in that sort of primitive method of communication (and that others choose to join them) does not create harmony, nor the sort of environment that responsible others would wish to frequent.

This is not to say that individuals should never attempt to communicate vocally over considerable distances, but when in an urban environment, there comes a point to which your activities are imposed upon others who share in the space. The individuals who chose to attack someone on that evening probably felt that the conflict of another was infringing on their association. The attackers (likely intoxicated, though not an excuse) made the poor decision to involve themselves in someone else’s public dispute. In addition, they made the poor decision to attack someone for verbally mocking them. If there is no loud public dispute, people are free to utilize the diplomatic option of civil conversation. Even if others choose to yell at the individual, the individual can still choose not to return the hostility and antagonism.


Sign outside of the Cantwell home which was removed shortly after being posted

Chris Cantwell’s history of unneighborly action is likely too long to list, and as someone who does not follow his public spectacles, I am not the appropriate person to formulate such a list. One particularly memorable incident he had broadcast was an episode from December 2013 in which he travels to an internet opponent’s home at night in his van, taunts the man from a loudspeaker, and ultimately runs off-camera onto the man’s lawn, in the direction of his front door yielding a can of bear repellent, which is a strongly concentrated capsicum/pepper spray. Currently, bear spray is not legally controlled in the manner that standard defensive human pepper spray is, but it is not hard to imagine this sort of action and documentation of such leading a self-righteous politician to regulate bear repellent in the same manner as standard pepper spray. Citing its use by maniacs as a weapon of intimidation, New York assemblymen (where Cantwell produced the video and where human-grade pepper spray is illegal) would cite the already low number of bear maulings in the state when banning the product. Though Cantwell has several videos that have earned hundreds of thousands of views, surprisingly his provocative nighttime visit to a supposedly dangerous character video has under 5,000 views. When I remember being told about this video and ultimately deciding to dedicate some time to watching what sounded like either a prank or suicidal attention seeking, I saw the entire presentation as evidence of how far from a position of peace Chris Cantwell had drifted. Granted, he never had identified as a peace activist. At the time that he was last in Keene, there was consensus among folks identifying as liberty activists that being pro-peace and nonviolent was equally as important as concepts of social liberty.


After leaving Keene the first time, Chris traveled back to the dark reaches of Long Island, New York. He went on to write some pro-violence blog pieces that he confirmed after writing were not a comedy piece alone but also his sober position on the matter, celebrating acts of violence on people he had deemed deserving of such atrocity. For holding such a position, he had his membership as well as his permission to be present at the Keene Activist Center revoked last October. Choosing to make the matter public, Chris further entrenched himself in a blog post on the matter. In June of this year, he gained fame for posting to Twitter and Facebook on behalf of CopBlock.org celebrating murders of police in Canada and the US, after someone apparently thought that he would be an appropriate person to grant admin status over the otherwise decentralized website’s account. Fortunately, his privileges from that organization were pulled shortly thereafter, but not before a damage control campaign had to be engaged in. While he has not changed his position to no longer be in support of violence, apparently enough members of the KAC felt that it would be appropriate to allow him back on a guest basis, though not allowing him formal membership into their club. The strongly pro-peace position of the unorganized group in Keene calling themselves liberty activists has withered, though perhaps it is otherwise admirable qualities which have led some to normalize the moral vacancy of others. Where else would someone like Chris Cantwell feel welcomed but among those who would turn away no other? There are those who confuse free speech to mean that one may (or must) say whatever one wishes, to include threats, implications of hostility, or other sorts of otherwise universally unpreferable verbal conduct. The American concept of free speech is defined from what is essentially a conditional prohibition upon government conduct. To evolve human conduct, we ought develop a higher standard than the lowest agreeable allowance of the general consensus.

Not yelling at people, ever, is a noble goal to pursue. A simpler start that I hope all could agree on is to not yell at people without direct provocation. This would mean individuals choosing not to yell at folks who are not yelling at them, or to say, not being the initiator of yelling. Imagine how peaceful a community we could live in if we had all adopted this guideline. I hope my neighbors can join me in the pursuit of non-yelling communication.

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