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Students assemble at Rotunda to demand white nationalists be banned from Grounds

Jason Kessler was issued a trespass warning from the University earlier in the day

<p>While the University placed a ban on Jason Kessler from Grounds Friday, protestors advocated for a permanent ban on all white supremacists involved in the rallies of last August.</p>

While the University placed a ban on Jason Kessler from Grounds Friday, protestors advocated for a permanent ban on all white supremacists involved in the rallies of last August.

Students and local residents gathered around the Lawn-side of the Rotunda Friday to request the Board of Visitors ban Jason Kessler — organizer of the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally last summer— and other white nationalists from Grounds. 

The protest of around 50 to 60 individuals ensued as the Executive Committee of the Board of Visitors held a meeting inside the Rotunda and after the University announced a four-year trespass warning to Kessler earlier that morning. The warning prohibits Kessler from entering University property.

“The warning was issued due to multiple reports from students that Mr. Kessler threatened them, targeted them through cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment, and targeted them based on protected characteristics,” said a statement issued by the University Friday. 

The policy also indicates Kessler will be banned from Grounds for four years, though it makes exceptions for emergency care in the University Medical Center. Kessler can also appeal the warning to the University’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Kessler has appeared twice at the School of Law recently, claiming he is studying for an upcoming civil suit. 

The announcement did not placate protesters who were advocating for a permanent ban on all white supremacists involved in the rallies of last August.

Protesters said multiple organizations were involved in planning and leading the event, including the Latinx Student Alliance, the Living Wage Campaign at U.Va., Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society and U.Va. Students United.  

Protesters formed a circle outside the Rotunda doors yelling chants such as “No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist U.Va.” Protesters went around the circle expressing “their disgust at the University” for only temporarily banning Kessler while ignoring the threat of other white supremacists coming on Grounds.

“Kessler has consistently used his opportunities as a media figurehead to spread hate and fear, and we as a university have not responded to that at all pretty much until now,” first-year College student Nathaniel Coombs said.

One demonstrator laid a sign on the Rotunda door demanding permanent bans on Kessler and other white supremacists. The sign also requested that the University drop charges against Eric Martin, a Charlottesville resident who was protesting Kessler’s presence at the library. Martin was arrested by University Police personnel for trespassing after being asked to leave by administrators. 

One protestor read aloud a letter addressed to University President Teresa Sullivan and the Board on behalf of the demonstrators. The letter claimed the University has aided white supremacy by giving a preference to Kessler’s safety at the library while ignoring the safety of the student body. 

“[University Police Department] offered him protection and the University neglected to alert the student body either time he was on Grounds, completely disregarding its duty to keep the community safe,” the letter reads. “This is unacceptable. How can the administration boast of a community of trust when it prioritizes Jason Kessler’s safety over that of own students, faculty and staff … The double standard is clear. The administration has demonstrated its complicity in white supremacy.” 

Kessler's reappearance at the University Library partially prompted the protest. Kessler visited the library April 18 to allegedly research for an upcoming court case. Students followed him around the library until he eventually left. Kessler returned to the library last Wednesday. In response, the School of Law opted to restrict access to the library to students, faculty and staff.

The Executive Committee of the Board of Visitors were scheduled to hold a meeting Friday in the Rotunda, so protesters hoped to enter the meeting room and persuade the Board to take further action against Kessler. However, activists did not gain access to the Board meeting as they had wanted. 

Protesters still found the event successful, but several said they feel the Board will be slow to act.

“I think it’s going to take a lot more work and a lot more students showing up before they’re going to listen,” protester and physics Ph.D. student Brendan Hassler said. “It’s going to take a lot more pressure on behalf of students.” 

“The University doesn’t listen to reasonable demands in a timely fashion,” Coombs said. “I don’t think it’s going to get where we need it to be any time soon.”