When University of Virginia alumnus Bruce Kothman planted himself on the steps of the Rotunda last week and began reading from Isaiah 40, a university police officer ordered him to stop. He was violating rules promulgated by the university in the aftermath of the Nazi/Klan rally last year restricting the right of people “unaffiliated” with the university, which includes alumni, to speak on the grounds without properly obtaining permission from the administration.
Kothman, who is Jewish, was appalled by the United the Right rally last year, which included a torch-lit parade across the Lawn accompanied by chants of “Jews will not replace us.”
But he also worried about the freedom-of-speech implications of the new university rules. He decided to test them last week — and he lost, reports the Washington Post.
To the broader public, Kothman is a much more sympathetic character than Jason Kessler, an Alt-Right provocateur who organized the United the Right rally and has made it his business to get in the face of progressives, lefties, and Charlottesville city officials. While 99% of the population may find his behavior hateful and obnoxious, he hasn’t been convicted of breaking any laws. But when he began visiting the law school library to read up on his law — apparently, he’s the subject of civil litigation — a library employee tipped off local activists who then began harassing him. Kessler engaged in argumentation with them and posted on social media referring to the protesters as “stalkers” and “Alt-Left scumbags.”
The university then banned Kessler from the grounds, issuing the following statement by way of explanation:
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 also intentionally and purposefully misled officers of the University Police Department regarding the torchlight rally that he helped organize on Aug. 11. His conduct on Aug. 11 threatened the health and safety of members of the University community.
Given his role in the United the Right rally, it is totally understandable that the university would regard Kessler as a malign presence. But he was not looking for trouble when he visited the library. To the contrary, the protesters were the ones who precipitated the confrontation.
There seems to be a new logic taking hold in Virginia universities. When the presence of a non-leftist person or group causes campus leftists to get agitated and disruptive, the non-leftists are held responsible — and their activities are curtailed. (I have been informed that Virginia Tech is charging the Young Americans for Freedom and Turning Point, two conservative organizations, for the security costs of their speakers rather than disciplining the students who threaten to shut them down. But I have not confirmed the accuracy of this information.)
It’s not controversial to ban a reviled character like Kessler. But it’s a slippery slope when people like Bruce Kothman are prohibited from reading from the Old Testament out loud on the Rotunda steps. And the trend is all the most troubling when the restrictions are applied in such a way that members of protected groups can engage in harassing and disruptive behavior without suffering any consequences at all. I had hoped that Virginia institutions of higher education would prove resistant to the creeping totalitarianism on college campuses, but I’m not encouraged by what I see.