The University of Virginia on Friday imposed a four-year ban from campus on Richard Spencer and nine other people who participated in a white-supremacist march on the school’s grounds last year.
Spencer, a U-Va. graduate, led the torchlight procession of 150 to 200 marchers chanting “Our blood, our soil” and “Jews will not replace us!” through campus on Aug. 11, 2017. The march culminated with participants surrounding and attacking a much smaller group of counterprotesters who had circled a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder.
The following day, Spencer and the others took part in the white-supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that led to violent clashes and the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, who was run over by a car that police say was driven by a man with neo-Nazi ties.
“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,” U-Va. President Jim Ryan said in a statement.
Spencer, in a written response to a request for comment, said: “Ideas have no jurisdiction and ultimately can’t be censored. That said, I have no immediate plans to engage in activism on campus, at U-Va. or anywhere.”
The university announcement of the no-trespass orders followed a year-long investigation by the U-Va. Police Department in coordination with state and federal law enforcement agencies that identified the 10 individuals as “either committing or conspiring with others to carry out acts of violence or other conduct that directly threatened the health and safety of members of the community and other people on Grounds,” Assistant Vice President and Chief of Police Tommye S. Sutton said in a statement. “We have drawn a distinction between free speech and conduct that is aimed to intimidate others and promote violence. Such conduct and intimidation will not be tolerated.”
A violation of the no-trespass order is a criminal trespass offense and violators would be subject to arrest. According to university policy, trespass warnings expire four years after the date the warning is served.
In an interview, Timothy J. Heaphy, U-Va. counsel, reiterated that the decision to ban the men was because they violated policies of conduct, not speech.
“If you cross the line from offensive speech to take action, that goes over the line of protected expression,” Heaphy said.
Heaphy said he hopes to identify more individuals who took part in the march who acted in violation of university policy and add them to the list of banned individuals. Jason Kessler, another organizer of the Unite the Right rally and a U-Va. graduate, was issued a trespass warning in April.
Walter Heinecke, a U-Va. associate professor who rushed to help students injured by the white supremacist marchers, called the university’s decision to ban Spencer and the others “a highly appropriate move.”
“As someone who was at the Rotunda on Aug. 11, I feel grateful the university is finally taking some responsibility and action,” Heinecke said in an interview. “To hear that they’re banning Spencer and Kessler and the others is a positive sign to me that the university is taking seriously its obligation to address white supremacy.”
The university said it was prohibiting Spencer because of his role in organizing the torchlight march and for giving a speech at the statue “in which he took credit for ‘occupying space’ and ‘defeating’ counter protesters that evening.” In its statement, the university said Spencer’s “words and actions at and after the rally provide evidence of his involvement in a conspiracy to commit acts of violence at the Jefferson statue.”
Earlier this week, Spencer was accused by his wife, Nina Koupriianova, of physical, verbal and emotional abuse during their eight-year marriage, according to documents filed as part of their divorce proceedings. Koupriianova submitted emails, text conversations and photographs in a court brief as evidence of her allegations.
Spencer disputed Koupriianova’s charges in an affidavit. “More importantly, none of the allegations of ‘abuse’ have anything to do with my children,” he wrote. “My interactions with my children have only been healthy . . . Petitioner’s behaviors reveal that she simply wants to ‘score points.’ ”
In addition to Spencer, the university identified those who were banned as Benjamin Daley of Redondo Beach, Calif.; Antonio Foreman of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Thomas Gillen of Redondo Beach, Calif.; Elliott Kline of Reading, Pa.; Michael Miselis of Lawndale, Calif.; Vasillious Pistolis of Charlotte; Robert Ray of Frankston, Tex.;, Wil Smith of Nocona, Tex.; and Cole White of Clayton, Calif. Efforts to reach them were unsuccessful.
Four of the men banned Friday — Daley, Miselis, Gillen and White — were arrested by federal agents earlier this month and charged with violating federal laws against rioting for their alleged actions in the Unite the Right rally. Pistolis was dismissed from the Marines this summer after being tried at a court-martial and found guilty.