Protesters face internal conflict
Occupy Charlottesville expels member following disagreements about groupís direction, ideologies
Despite the departure Saturday of a self-proclaimed "key" member of Occupy Charlottesville who says the movement is in a "downward spiral that will only end badly," Occupiers in Lee Park maintain that the group is still strong.
Members of Occupy Charlottesville voted Evan Knappenberger, an Albemarle High School graduate and Iraq War veteran, out of the group Saturday after he left Lee Park as a result of significant disagreements with other Occupiers about the direction of the group. On the day of his dismissal, Knappenberger released a statement saying Occupy Charlottesville was breaking up into "radical sub-elements." He said "many of the mature people" have left the group, adding that he witnessed a "steady exodus" during the past two weeks.
Current Occupiers dismiss Knappenberger's claims about the group's internal struggles.
The ouster comes on the heels of a Daily Progress article in which Knappenberger speculated that the movement would divide into two different sub-groups with competing ideologies. The article served as a catalyst for the brewing controversy among the Occupy Charlottesville members.
Occupy Charlottesville, the local faction of a now-international movement against corporate greed, which began with Occupy Wall Street in New York City, has been camped out in Lee Park for about a month.
"The general tone of fear and mistrust is so high, [others in the Occupy movement] are talking about snitches and moles," Knappenberger said in the statement. "They are playing around with unusual definitions of 'self-defense' and 'non-violence' ... they have lost sight of their own values and even their consensus process. The revolution has begun eating its own babies."
Megan Renfro, a fourth-year College student and group member, said Occupy Charlottesville dismissed Knappenberger once his actions began to conflict with the group's main purpose and core beliefs.
"We have requested that he no longer participates in our group," Renfro said. "[He was dismissed] due to the fact that he has not adhered to these core principles of respect and non-violence."
Knappenberger, meanwhile, claims that the movement is deteriorating and the people within it have abandoned the core beliefs of the Occupy movement, including non-violence. During the past week, he said, a small section of the group held a private meeting and decided they no longer wished to remain completely non-violent.
"It was supposed to be an open movement that was inclusive of people and [it has] really changed," he said in an interview. "Now it's being secretive and it's using tactics that will alienate people ... It's more of a front for people with agendas."
Current members of the Occupy movement disagreed strongly with Knappenberger's comments, saying they had not given up on core values. They contend Knappenberger had put the group in danger of being disbanded.
"I know that what he's saying is made-up," Occupier Brent Palmer said. "He was telling things about us that were dangerous and not true to the police."
Knappenberger painted a picture of himself as the victim of a movement quickly degenerating into more of a disorganized and factious group than a peaceful and sustainable protest.
"They're not bad people; they're just really misinformed," he said. "They're inexperienced activists. They don't know that real activism is building bridges."
Knappenberger added that he was doing his best to build up the movement and get the Occupy message out, but others in the group were not cooperative in his efforts.
"They called me a snitch because I was talking to the police," he said. "Several of them have [a] lengthy history of problems with the police in general, problems with authority. They unfortunately bring that to the group."
Palmer acknowledged that he grew to like and trust Knappenberger during the month of the occupation of Lee Park, but ultimately decided that Knappenberger had put the group in danger.
"There has been a great deal of dissatisfaction in the meetings with the things Evan has been doing," Palmer said.
Knappenberger, who referred to himself as a "key member" of the Occupy Charlottesville group, highlighted the work he put into the movement.
"I personally did a lot of groundwork," Knappenberger said. "I spent a lot of time talking to the police. I asked the city council for permission to stay there before we had a permit. A lot of that groundwork went unnoticed."
Knappenberger noted a rising number of "radical feminists," among others, who were diverting the movement from its main objective. "Their interpretation of the way things are going is that when you're victimized your movement will grow," he said.
Occupier Luis Oyola said Knappenberger had raised some alarm among several Occupiers through his interactions with certain, mostly female, members of the group.
"Behind the scenes through texts he would harass people," Oyola said. "I do not consider that to be a non-violent act."
Knappenberger thinks the protest will eventually end in arrest rather than success.
They're losing legitimacy; they're losing public support," he said. "I think it's going to end with a group of people who are going to get arrested and end up doing community service."
Current members of the Occupy group say they plan to remain in Lee Park even after their current permit expires on Thanksgiving Day.
"The biggest chunk of people here are planning on staying after the permit [expires]," Oyola said. "We have different plans, but ... I would say with or without [the permit]" people will stay.
-Kaz Komolafe contributed with reporting