53-year-old Richard Preston, the so-called “imperial wizard” of the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, will spend the next four years in jail.
Preston was sentenced on Tuesday to eight years in prison, with four years of that sentence suspended, for discharging a weapon within 1,000 feet of a school. This means that following Preston’s jail sentence, he’ll effectively be on four years of probation. If he commits a crime anytime between August 21, 2022, when he is released from jail, and 2026, he’ll have to spend the remainder of the suspended sentence behind bars.
The sentence is comparatively light, given the nature of his crime. Virginia law states that anyone who discharges a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison. Because Preston is a Ku Klux Klan leader who uttered a racial slur before targeting a black person, he could have also been charged under federal hate crime statutes.
During a hearing in May, Preston pleaded no contest to firing a handgun into a crowd during the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last year. The bullet did not harm or injure anyone. In addition to the Ku Klux Klan, the rally attracted various other neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate, and white supremacist groups.
Video taken that day from the Virginia ACLU shows 24-year-old Corey Long, a black man counter-protesting the rally, directing a homemade flamethrower at a crowd of white supremacists. Preston then pulled out a gun, shouted “hey n***er,” pointed it at Long, and fired off a shot. Preston then walked back into the crowd without any challenge from law enforcement.
Preston initially claimed that he fired his gun in self-defense. However, eyewitnesses said the counter-protester’s flamethrower wasn’t used close enough to anyone to actually cause harm. Prosecutors agreed, stating that nothing about the counter-protester’s flamethrower would “justify the discharge of a firearm in self-defense.”
“It was just pure belligerence,” Charlottesville circuit judge Richard Moore said of Preston’s actions.
“I am sorry,” Preston said after giving his plea. “I only had [a] second to figure it out… I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
By the end of the “Unite the Right” rally, initially organized by white supremacist Jason Kessler, three people were dead. 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer was run over by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Berke Bates and Jay Cullen — two Virginia law enforcement officers monitoring the rally from a helicopter — died when their helicopter crashed.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.