Folks whose politics lean right might see local Republican activist and community journalist Chad Nesbitt as a staunch defender of conservative values; those steering more toward the left may have a less favorable view of the man. But if you’re among the thousands of people who’ve arrived in Asheville within the last five years, or you simply haven’t paid much attention to local politics, Nesbitt might be a name you’ve heard only in passing.
The latest Nesbitt headlines concern a head injury he sustained on Sept. 23 while livestreaming a demonstration in downtown Asheville. The protesters were demanding justice in the case of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot dead by police officers inside her Louisville, Ky., apartment.
During the march, a handful of participants attempted to block Nesbitt’s camera with umbrellas and signs. After a brief verbal exchange, Nesbitt was knocked over, hitting his head against a parking meter. Footage taken by someone else at the event shows Nesbitt’s bodyguard appearing to be shoved by an unseen person, precipitating the conservative activist’s fall and injury.
Asked for additional information, Asheville Police Department spokeswoman Christina Hallingse said only that the incident remains under investigation. On Oct. 5, Nesbitt posted on Facebook that he’d received 30 stitches and had been released after spending a week at Mission Hospital. Xpress reached out to Nesbitt for comment but did not hear back from him.
His supporters have left hundreds of comments on Skyline News — Nesbitt’s Facebook-based media outlet — sending thoughts and prayers. Friends have also created a GoFundMe campaign to cover his medical expenses. Meanwhile, Nesbitt’s critics convene on Reddit threads and other news and social media outlets voicing their disdain for the man and his activities.
To bring readers up to speed on Nesbitt’s often controversial role in local politics, Xpress combed through past reporting, press releases and community responses concerning his initiatives and antics over the last 20 years. Below are some of his professional and political highs and lows.
Family and politics
Known today as an outspoken conservative Christian, Nesbitt began his political career as a Democrat, serving on the 1991-92 board of directors for the Buncombe County chapter of Young Democrats. “My entire family were Democrats,” Nesbitt told Xpress in 2007 (see “Fighting Mad,” Dec. 5, 2007, Xpress). That included his stepfather, longtime state legislator Martin Nesbitt, who died in 2014.
Chad, however, said his early exposure to the party’s inner circle, along with the 1994 birth of his daughter, Savannah, ultimately shaped his conservative beliefs. “When she was born, I realized that abortion was wrong and that entire philosophy that the Democrat Party’s been feeding me for all these years was a lie,” he explained in the same article.
Raised in West Asheville in the 1970s and ’80s, Nesbitt graduated from Erwin High School in 1988 before attending the Savannah College of Art and Design. Over the ensuing years, he wore several hats including efforts in radio, television and, most recently, community journalism through Skyline News.
Alongside those endeavors, Nesbitt worked at WNC Parking Lot Services, a business his grandfather Jim Rhew launched in 1973. A Jan. 30, 1994, article in the Asheville Citizen-Times described Nesbitt as Rhew’s “right-hand man.” By 2016, while pursuing an unsuccessful campaign for chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Nesbitt listed himself as the company’s vice president and manager. According to his Facebook page, Nesbitt is currently self-employed.
Although he’s been active in the community throughout much of his adult life, Nesbitt began appearing more frequently in local news coverage around 2003. On March 1 of that year, he helped organize the Support Our Soldiers rally, which attracted around 1,500 participants according to a Citizen-Times report. In a March 17, 2003, guest commentary, however, Nesbitt disputed the official police estimate, claiming that 4,900 people had attended the event.
Numbers aside, the budding activist applauded the rally and assured readers that his organization stood ready to assist those in need. “If you think your loved one is missing or hurt in battle, we will help you find out his or her status,” he wrote. “If you need any handyman work done around the house while your loved one is serving overseas, just ask. If you need someone to sit with an elderly family member, just ask. If you are a soldier and need help for anything — medical, communication, etc. — just ask. If you need prayer or spiritual guidance, just ask.”
Nesbitt subsequently chaired Citizens for Decency in Broadcasting, a grassroots group that opposed Buncombe County government’s interest in and support for public-access television. “Using our tax dollars and cable fees to promote someone else’s agenda on TV is wrong,” he wrote in a March 2, 2004, guest commentary in the Citizen-Times. “Don’t let our leaders subject our children to racism and pornography.”
Despite the group’s efforts, URTV hit the airwaves in 2006. Five years later, funding shortages ended Channel 20’s run.
A year after URTV’s debut, Nesbitt launched an unsuccessful bid to chair the Buncombe County Republican Party. A few months after his defeat, he formed the Carolina Stompers, a for-profit organization that aggressively promoted conservative causes. Early on, the group opposed a proposed amendment to the state personnel act that would add sexual orientation to the rights protected by law; the amendment was co-sponsored by Nesbitt’s stepfather. The bill never made it out of committee.
In his Dec. 5, 2007, interview with Xpress, Nesbitt stated that the Stompers’ opposition to the bill was part of a larger effort to combat the “homosexual agenda.”
Flamboyance and controversy
In 2010, Nesbitt was elected chairman of the Buncombe County Republican Party. His tenure was controversial and brief, however. That year, he worked actively against his stepfather’s reelection campaign for state senator.
“Frankly, if he loses the election it will be a good thing, because the North Carolina Democratic Party is so corrupt, we’ll probably keep him out of jail,” Nesbitt told Xpress in an April interview. “So we might do him a favor when he loses the election.” (For more, see “Askville,” April 7, 2010, Xpress)
In the same interview, Nesbitt predicted that local Republican candidates would win every race. Any losses, he declared, “I will consider my fault.”
That September, the Republican chairman drew harsh criticism from the local chapters of both parties for a political fundraiser he organized on the ninth anniversary of 9/11. Supporters were asked to contribute $100 for every person who rappelled down a 90-foot tower at the Bee Tree Fire Station in Swannanoa. But while Nesbitt claimed that the money raised would go to victims of the 2001 terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, a promotional video for the event indicated that most of the money would be spent on political advertising for Republican candidates in the upcoming election (see “Rappelling 9/11 Fundraiser Creates Fallout for GOP,” Sept. 13, 2010, Xpress).
The following month, Nesbitt appeared in a campaign ad driving a street sweeper through downtown Asheville; a sign on the front of the vehicle urged viewers to “Sweep out the Democrats.”
And though Republicans celebrated that November after gaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the local results favored Democrats. Rep. Susan Fisher defeated challenger John Carroll in N.C. House District 114; Rep. Patsy Keever beat Mark Crawford for state House District 115; and Rep. Heath Shuler breezed past Jeff Miller in the 11th Congressional District race. Meanwhile, Nesbitt’s stepfather defeated RL Clark in the 49th District state Senate race.
In a Nov. 7, 2010, Citizen-Times interview, Nesbitt stated: “Sure, we missed some opportunities, but let me tell you — and this is on the record — there are some dumb people in Buncombe, some of the dumbest people on the planet.”
Soon thereafter, Nesbitt announced that he would not seek reelection in the spring. And in a Jan. 2, 2011, opinion piece in the Citizen-Times, Chris Dixon, a Democratic candidate for the state Senate in 2010, wrote: “GOP Chair Chad Nesbitt will give up his post in a few weeks. However, this crafty self-promoter will cause more grief for the GOP establishment from the outside than he ever could as an insider. (Remember: Carolina Stompers were tea partying before it was cool.)”
Since leaving his position with the local Republican Party, Nesbitt has remained an active and controversial figure in Buncombe County’s political and social affairs. If you’re a conservative, you may have applauded his August 2011 protest against Asheville’s Go Topless rally; if you’re a liberal, you might have covered your ears that November when he blasted an air horn from his street sweeper while driving in circles around the downtown Occupy Asheville movement. But if you’re new to the area, you might know Nesbitt only as the guy who, this June, summoned counterprotesters to edit the “Defund the Police” mural on Spruce Street to read “Fund the Police.”
Or maybe you’ve merely been following the comment threads on his hospitalization. Like everything else about Nesbitt’s public life, the events leading up to his injury continue to elicit a range of responses. To many of his online critics, he is an unsympathetic firebrand. To his Skyline News followers, he’s a beloved community member and family man.
And, in a phenomenon that seems increasingly rare these days, some in Buncombe County recognize him as both.
“I am not a fan of his media style or his politics. However, CN is an injured human being with a family who loves him, and I’m praying for him, his wife, his daughter and family,” wrote Amanda S. Turbyfill, one of the many commenters responding to the Skyline News Facebook post announcing the GoFundMe campaign to defray Nesbitt’s medical expenses. “I’ve watched several livestream videos of the accident in which he was injured, and head injuries can go from being no big deal to being serious very quickly. Praying for his full and speedy recovery.”