May 22, 2018

Alt-Right Activist Disturbs Law Library, Banned From UVA

Students react to Jason Kessler at UVA Law Library
Photo courtesy of C-VILLE Weekly

Jason Kessler, the alt-right activist who was a primary organizer of the August 2017 Unite the Right rally that ignited violence in Charlottesville, VA, has been banned from the University of Virginia (UVA) campus in Charlottesville after visiting the UVA Law Library on April 18 and again on April 25. Kessler, a 2009 UVA graduate, stated that he was there to conduct legal research. Instead he verbally antagonized library users and was ultimately escorted off the premises by campus police.

After his second visit, the university announced that it would change its access policy to restrict use of the library—which had been open to the public during business hours—to only those with current university IDs for UVA’s exam period, which runs through May 11.

On April 26, the university announced that Kessler was banned from campus after several students alleged that they were threatened by him.


This is far from the first time Kessler’s presence has disrupted the UVA campus, and its libraries. The Unite the Right rally he helped organize brought hundreds of marchers, many of them white nationalists, to Charlottesville on the weekend of August 11 and 12, 2017, to oppose the removal of a status of Robert E. Lee from the city’s Emancipation Park.

The confrontation between right wing activists and counterprotesters turned violent, spreading across the city and onto the UVA campus; by Sunday three people were dead and 34 injured. The march on UVA grounds on the Friday before the rally drew a crowd of white supremacists who clashed with students, faculty, and staff—including a library employee, Tyler Magill, who suffered a stroke as a result of a blow he received. Magill, along with ten other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit on October 12, 2017, against Kessler and a number of other rally participants alleging that their actions that weekend violated the Enforcement Act of 1871 (also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act) and other statutes, and resulted in physical, mental, and emotional distress.

In November 2017, Kessler applied for a permit to hold a Unite the Right anniversary rally in August of this year. The city of Charlottesville denied the permit the following month, on the grounds that the city did not have the police resources to identify opposing groups or keep them separated, “and no reasonable allocation of city funds or resources can guarantee that event participants will be free of any ‘threat of violence,’ ” according to a letter written by city manager Maurice Jones.

Kessler filed a federal lawsuit of his own on March 6 against the city of Charlottesville and Jones, alleging that they violated his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. He was conducting research for this lawsuit, he claimed, when he visited the UVA Law Library in April.


Kessler was recognized immediately when he entered the Law Library on Wednesday, April 18, and sat down to use a computer. Word spread among students and faculty and a small crowd gathered. Students used library printers to create signs with messages such as “Blood on your hands” and “Murderer,” and held them up in silent protest as others shot video. The crowd ranged from five to 15 students over the course of an hour and a half.

He was told to leave by at least one faculty member, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Professor of Law Anne Coughlin. Ben Doherty, head of library instruction and research librarian—who is a member of the community organizing network Showing Up for Racial Justice, and who has been a target of Kessler’s tweets in the past—excused himself from the library. Two campus police officers arrived and stood by.

Kessler eventually stood up and walked through the library making loud racist and sexist statements, finally calling a friend to come pick him up. He left without further incident.

At a town hall convened the next day, many students spoke out emotionally about how his presence brought back the traumatic feelings they had experienced during last August’s clash on campus and the violence that occurred throughout the city. Some had been present when a man drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring 19 and killing Heather D. Heyer.

Kessler returned on April 25, working in a librarian’s office on the second floor while getting assistance on a research question. Again, a small crowd gathered outside the room.

Solidarity Cville, a social media platform that “generates local, accessible, and community-centered media that amplify the marginalized voices of Charlottesville,” tweeted that Kessler was again in the library. One protestor, Eric Martin—a Charlottesville resident but not a UVA student—entered the room where Kessler was working. Martin was asked to leave by a school administrator and given a warning; when he refused, he was arrested for trespassing.

Kessler approached the reference desk, where Doherty was on duty. He asked Kessler to leave and the two began arguing. A group of students stepped up to record the exchange on their phones, and campus police were once again called. They escorted Kessler out of the building, but he was not yet issued a trespass warning.


In an email sent to students after Kessler’s second visit to the library, Law School dean Risa Goluboff ordered access to the library to be limited to students, faculty, and staff only, “to ensure the physical safety and security of our community.” Although no one is required to present an ID to enter the library, if a patron is believed to be from outside of the Law School community, students or staff can notify the circulation desk and the visitor will be asked to provide ID.

Security at the Law Library and University Police Department (UPD) patrols were increased as well. Access will revert to the previous model once exam period is over; UVA’s main library system is administered separately from the Law Library, and access there remains unchanged.

The university is also considering a change, proposed by Goluboff, to its free speech policy, which would restrict speeches, rallies, and passing out pamphlets by people unaffiliated with the university to certain parts of campus at certain times of day.

The UPD issued a no-trespassing warning to Kessler on Thursday, April 26, prohibiting him from entering university grounds or facilities. A statement issued by UVA read, in part, “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.” Kessler is banned from the grounds for four years, with an exception granted for emergency care at the University Medical Center.

University policy states that UPD may issue a Trespass Warning to a person who has engaged in “conduct that threatens the health, safety, or property of a member of the University.” Kessler may appeal the warning to UVA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Kessler posted a video of the Law Library incident on his Twitter feed on Friday, claiming that he was being harassed by students and staff, referring to them as a “lynch mob.” He indicated that his attorneys would handle the matter.

UVA Law Library representatives did not choose to comment for this article.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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  1. Anonymous Librarian says:

    I certainly don’t support or agree with this guy or his views. However, this article makes it sound as though he was the victim of harassment in the library, rather than the perpetrator. If this story is accurate, it sounds like he was minding his own business on both occasions, and was surrounded and harassed by students and faculty, and then asked to leave. You say “Kessler eventually stood up and walked through the library making loud racist and sexist statements, finally calling a friend to come pick him up,” but that was after people had been surrounding him with signs and making video for over an hour and a half, which would provoke many people.

    I just hope UVA Library is not interested only in protecting the rights of those the students agree with.

    • It also says: “Kessler approached the reference desk, where Doherty was on duty. He asked Kessler to leave and the two began arguing.”

      Only those who were there may know, but it looks like from the description that Kessler walked up to a librarian on duty who he had already harassed via tweets. I don’t think he’s innocent or a victim on this by any means. And just because you may perceive to be harassed, that does not give you the right to start harassing others or not complying with staff’s request to leave.

  2. Way to go to UVA and their libraries for standing up to support their students and library staff!

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