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YouTube pranksters sued, banned from USC for ‘terror and disruption’

People walk around the University of Southern California's campus on March 12, 2019. (Reed Saxon/AP)
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A University of Southern California professor was teaching some 40 students about the Holocaust late last month when a Russian mobster barged into the classroom.

Holding a silver briefcase and wearing a black muscle T-shirt, the mobster bellowed at the class, interrupting the lecture. Then, he walked up to one of the students and, towering over him, said that his father owed $50,000.

“It was at this point when a wave of panic appeared to flow over” the students, according to a new lawsuit. They bolted. Some tripped over their seats. Some tripped over each other. Frantic, they ditched their laptops and backpacks to escape what they considered “a credible threat of imminent classroom violence.”

Except it was all fake, according to the lawsuit USC filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week.

The Russian mobster and the student were YouTube performers Ernest Kanevsky and Yuguo Bai, USC officials alleged. The March 29 stunt was one of three “classroom takeover videos” the duo has carried out on the Los Angeles campus since September — part of a larger campaign to record themselves harassing, bullying and intimidating unsuspecting people, according to the suit. After wreaking “terror and disruption,” the lawsuit claims, they uploaded footage of their pranks to their YouTube channels to attract an audience.

It seems to have worked: Kanevsky’s YouTube channel — which features dozens of videos of him pranking people at grocery stores, gyms, beaches and other college campuses — has 111,000 subscribers and has racked up more than 8.4 million views since he started it in July 2020.

On Friday, Judge James Chalfant granted the university’s request to temporarily ban Kanevsky and Bai from the campus as the case against them proceeds. In addition to the restraining order, the university in its lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.

Neither Kanevsky nor Bai responded to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Wednesday, but in a statement Kanevsky told the New York Times that “the whole lawsuit and what everyone is reporting is very deceiving.”

The first of their stunts on the USC campus happened Sept. 20 when Kanevsky, Bai and a third person not identified in the lawsuit entered Mark Taper Hall of Humanities, the site of all three pranks they’d carry out over the next six months, the suit alleges. The professor, who was teaching data sciences, asked the trio what they were doing.

Kanevsky told him that his father “owned the entire school” and said he was going to “supervise” the professor’s teaching performance, according to the suit. Moments later, he allegedly declared the professor “boring,” ordered one of his associates to remove the professor from the classroom and told the students Bai was taking over teaching duties.

By the time campus police arrived, Kanevsky and Bai had already left the classroom, USC alleges.

Less than two months later, they returned, the suit said. On Nov. 12, Kanevsky and Bai adopted a theme from “Squid Game,” a hit Netflix TV show about hundreds of cash-strapped people competing and trying to survive deadly contests for tens of millions of dollars.

Bai, dressed in a green track suit a la the “Squid Game” contestants, allegedly burst into a classroom at Mark Taper Hall where a professor was lecturing to about 15 students. Bai told the professor that “a bunch of people with weapons” were hunting him and begged for the professor’s help, according to the suit. Moments later, Kanevsky allegedly ran into the classroom wearing an orange body suit and black mask with another unidentified person dressed the same way.

The pair chased Bai, darting between rows of students and over chairs, the suit alleges. As they did, Bai yelled out, “If they catch me, my family will die!” Eventually, he cowered at the feet of the professor at the front of the class until Kanevsky and his masked partner allegedly picked him up. As they carried Bai out of the room, seemingly against his will in a fake kidnapping, he yelled out that his “mom was going to die!” according to the lawsuit.

USC junior Avery Kotler was one of the students attending the March 29 lecture about the Holocaust, she told KNBC. After Kanevsky allegedly burst into the classroom, Kotler said she feared she was about to become a victim of a school shooting.

“I’m just thinking that I don’t [want to] know what’s inside that briefcase,” Kotler said.

The professor told campus police that he feared Kanevsky, posing as the Russian mobster, might unleash violence upon the class after he yelled that he was looking for “Hugo Boss.” The German fashion designer of the same name made uniforms for the Nazis during World War II, which led the professor to suspect his class was being targeted.

Kanevsky told KNBC in a text that he’s Jewish and didn’t single out the class because the professor was lecturing about the Holocaust.

After Kanevsky and Bai fled the classroom, police stopped them at gunpoint in a campus parking structure and arrested them.

USC officials told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that the judge’s ban will put those on campus a bit more at ease.

“The court’s order granting a temporary restraining order underscores the need to provide a sense of stability and comfort in an in-person learning environment and in light of campus safety concerns nationally on college campuses,” they said in the statement.

A hearing to address the temporary ban is scheduled for April 28.