U.Va. bans 10 men from Grounds in connection to 2017 white supremacist rallies

Aug. 11 rally organizer Richard Spencer, among others, will not be allowed on Grounds for the next four years

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The Aug. 11 torchlit march ended with white supremacists surrounding anti-racist demonstrators near the Jefferson statue north of the Rotunda. 

Tim Dodson | Cavalier Daily

The University issued trespass warnings to 10 alleged white supremacist protesters Friday afternoon, banning the individuals from all University property for four years. Officials believe the individuals each participated in at least one violent demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017 — either the torch-lit march across Grounds on Aug. 11 or the “Unite the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville on Aug. 12.

The list of bans includes Richard Spencer, who is a well-known white nationalist, U.Va. alumnus and an organizer of the torch-lit rally.

It also includes Cole White, Thomas Gillen, Benjamin Daley and Michael Miselis — members of the Rise Above Movement, a militant hate group based out of California who participated in the Unite the Right rally. The violent rally, organized by Jason Kessler, drew hundreds of white supremacists to the city, where they claimed to be gathering in protest of the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from what is now known as Market Street Park.

Lastly, Antonio Foreman, Elliott Kline, Vasillious Pistolis, Robert Ray and Wil Smith are banned for their participation in the in the Aug. 11 rally, in which white supremacist protesters carried lit torches down McCormick Road and onto the Lawn, before encircling anti-racist counter-protesters standing at the Thomas Jefferson statue on the North Plaza of the Rotunda. Each individual listed will be barred from University property until 2022.

Kessler was issued a trespass warning in April, pursuant to reports of threats and harassment against students. University Counsel Tim Heaphy said he has not spoken to Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci about criminal charges, but that the University continues to provide evidence to Tracci about criminal conduct on Grounds.

Heaphy said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily it was the mens’ alleged criminal conduct, not their speech, that warranted the trespass warnings.

"We decided that we are going to take this action against anyone whose conduct on Grounds on August 11 went beyond speech, however offensive,” Heaphy said. “It became a criminal conduct. A couple of them committed assault. Two of them were actually using pepper spray aggressively and offensively against the anti-racist protesters ... these were individuals who were not just chanting offensive slogans, but went beyond that to commit acts of assault, or to lie to police, or to conspire to do so.”

According to Heaphy, Kline — Kessler’s “self-declared security person” — lied to University police about the Aug. 11 rally.

“He and Kessler were both in touch with the University Police Department in the minutes before the march occurred and they both misled UPD about where they were going to march and what their plans were,” Heaphy said.

White, Gillen, Daley and Miselis joined the Unite the Right rally the next day in downtown Charlottesville, culminating in dozens of injuries and three deaths, including activist Heather Heyer. Heyer was killed when white supremacist protester James Alex Fields, Jr. drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters. 

The four were arrested Oct. 2, and each are charged with one count of violating federal rioting law and one count of conspiracy to violate 18 U.S. Code § 2101, a law established as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that prohibits inciting riots and sets a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Fields is facing 30 federal charges — 29 counts of hate crime acts and one count of racially-motivated interference in federally-protected activities — and 10 state charges, including first-degree murder, malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding and failure to stop at the scene of the crash. Fields will go to court for the state charges Nov. 26.

Heaphy said the that the University may choose to issue more warnings if they identify more people or evidence involved in similar conduct. Issuing the warnings, he said, was the decision of the newly-inaugurated University President Jim Ryan, a former U.Va. School of Law professor.

"President Ryan personally made this decision,” Heaphy said. “When he saw this evidence — evidence that the 10 crossed that line — he made the decision that we should issue these no-trespass orders."

In a press release, Ryan thanked law enforcement for their work in the investigation.

“The trespass warnings issued today reflect our commitment to ensuring the safety of our community while upholding the principles of freedom of speech and assembly,” Ryan said.

The University administration and former University President Teresa Sullivan came under fire last August after students argued police did not do enough to protect students during the torch-lit rally. Heaphy — in his role as a lawyer for Hunton and Williams and before he was counsel for the University — authored an independent report examining how public authorities responded to the events of Aug. 11 and 12, which said the University police had a “woefully inadequate” response to the torchlit rally on Grounds. 

This time, Heaphy said, the warnings exemplify close cooperation between UPD and state, local and federal law enforcement.

“We're fortunate that there's been a cohesive response,” Heaphy said. “They didn't cooperate very well on Aug. 11 and 12, but since then, they have worked closely together to share information and to work together to investigate these events. This is a product of that coordinated investigation."

The warnings do not prohibit the 10 individuals from entering the University Medical Center’s Emergency Department, labor and delivery unit or any other Medical Center facility in the event of medical emergencies.

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