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GOP Lawmaker Regrets March Meeting With 'Unite the Right' Rally Organizer

Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Va., said he regretted a March meeting with Jason Kessler, who organized a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville this weekend.
Image: Tom Garrett
State Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, gestures during debate on a bill that would allow home school students to participate in public school sports during the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia on Feb. 2, 2016.Steve Helber / AP file

Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Va., said Sunday he regretted a March meeting with Jason Kessler, organizer of the white nationalist rally that sparked deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.

In an interview with Fox News, Garrett condemned Kessler and called the meeting "an occupational hazard." The white nationalists and white supremacists who rallied in his home district are "bigots" who wanted to "incite hatred," Garrett said.

The Virginia lawmaker met with Kessler and several others this past March at his Washington, D.C. office and posed for a picture with the group, which was posted on Facebook in the group "Unity and Security for America."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has compiled a file on Kessler, notes that while the Charlottesville resident is "a relative newcomer to the white nationalist scene," he has "made waves" in his hometown when he waged an online campaign against Charlottesville's black city councilman. Additionally, the SPLC has called "Unity and Security for America," which Kessler founded, is "a nativist, white nationalist group."

Garrett told Fox News that he did not know who Kessler was at the time of their meeting.

"That's what we do, we meet with people all the time," Garrett said. "I didn't know who that cat was at that point in time. I know who he is now and I don't like him any more than anybody else does."

He said Kessler and some associates drove to his D.C. office and requested a meeting. He did not describe what they discussed or how long the meeting lasted.

His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According the caption on the Facebook photo, the group discussed the RAISE Act, legislation recently touted by President Donald Trump that would dramatically reduce the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States.

Asked in Sunday's interview if he regretted the meeting, Garrett said: "Yeah, sure. But what do you do? My time machine is broken. So, I can't go back and undo it."

"What I want to do is condemn in the strongest possible terms anyone who believes that they might be better than someone else by virtue of a character trait that they had no voice in determining," he added.

Garrett is not the only Virginia politician to meet with Kessler.

Corey Stewart, a GOP candidate for Senate in Virginia who has championed Confederate symbols, joined Kessler at a press conference in February to protest the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park and call for the ouster of an African American city official, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.

The presser was organized by Kessler's Unity and Security for America group. Both men have made appearances with white nationalist hate groups during campaign stops, according to the SPLC.

Stewart, who is challenging Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.