Team Ryan Defends Shutdown of Tent Encampment

President Jim Ryan during virtual Town Hall

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia called in the Virginia State Police to disperse “UVA Encampment for Gaza” protesters because they feared the demonstration was spiraling out of control, said President Jim Ryan, University Police Chief Tim Longo, and other University leaders in a virtual town hall early this afternoon.

Some protesters had tried to smuggle in wooden structures that could be used as barricades to fortify the encampment, as seen at pro-Palestinian demonstrations at other universities. Although that effort was thwarted, law enforcement authorities learned that four individuals associated with previous Charlottesville events “that resulted in violence” had entered the so-called liberation zone. Meanwhile, organizers were using social media to appeal to more outsiders to join them, and the numbers were growing.

Ryan said he acted before more outsiders joined, the encampment became more entrenched, and the potential for violence increased. “If we didn’t act, would we be faced with 50 tents and 20 outsiders?” he said. “Where would we be then?”

Ryan, Longo, and Provost Ian Baucom stated repeatedly that protesters spurned repeated efforts to engage in dialogue. The limited communications that did occur were relayed through faculty members. University officials were at pains to contrast the anarchist protest with other pro-Palestinian demonstrations organized by student groups, in compliance with university guidelines.

UVA leadership also addressed criticisms raised by critics and local media in the aftermath of the action that resulted in a total of 27 arrests (up from 24 in earlier reports), including 12 students, four employees, three former students or employees, and eight individuals not affiliated with UVA.

An ad hoc anarchist group billing itself on Instagram as UVA Encampment for Gaza set up tents Tuesday near the UVA Chapel, similar to pro-Palestinian encampments and liberation zones at other universities. Unlike other pro-Palestinian rallies at UVA, this one took the president and provost  by surprise. Baucom described how he and Ryan first learned of the demonstration when they were presenting some faculty awards at the Rotunda and happened to look out the window. “There was no pre-notice,” he said.

Police Chief Tim Longo

Longo responded immediately. The university police chief  told the protesters to take down the tents, which violated multiple university rules, but said they could maintain their around-the-clock vigil as long as they followed the rules.  

Relations with the administration were testy, however. Many protesters, who included students, grad students, and members of the community, wore masks that concealed their faces. As is standard for anarchist groups, participants were discouraged from speaking to the media, and outsiders were warned not to take photographs. Likewise, the group refused to talk to administrative officials, relaying messages through faculty members they trusted.

By Thursday the protest showed signs of petering out, but on Friday the protesters set up tents in defiance of University orders, called for reinforcements from the community, and issued a set of demands — divestment of UVA endowment assets of companies doing business in Israel, cutting off relations with Israeli universities, and a promise of no punishment for participants in the protest — with a noon deadline the following day. The University countered with a letter politely refusing the first two demands but offering to engage in dialogue. The Encampment responded by publishing the letter on Instagram with “Bullshit” scrawled over it in large red letters.

The excuse for setting up the tents was that it had begun raining. The University suggested the demonstrators go home for the evening and return in the morning, when they would be free to resume the tent-free protest, according to Ryan. The protesters refused. Instead, the group issued calls for more people to join the protest and bring supplies.

While the encampment remained peaceful up until the weekend, University police saw troubling signs. According to Longo, three or four young people brought in wood materials hidden under a tarp that could be used to build barriers like those seen elsewhere to “fortify and defend” the encampment. The police persuaded the protesters to remove the wood. More worrisome on Friday, information from “law enforcement assets” revealed that four black-clad individuals had moved into the encampment. Longo referred to them obliquely as “persons known to have been associated with historic events that resulted in violence.” Black is the preferred color of Antifa “antifascist” radicals, some of whom had participated in counter-demonstrations against white supremacists in 2017.

Due to the presence of families and children Friday night, however, Longo said, the police “stood down.”

The chief returned the next morning to tell protesters to take the tents down voluntarily. After 45 minutes of fruitless palaver with faculty liaisons, he then announced that the university’s facility management would remove the tents and store them for safekeeping; the demonstrators would be free to remain in place. But when staff moved in to dismantle the tents, protesters gathered around them and blocked their way. Longo found the situation threatening. “They said they had a duty to fight for their cause. Their actions and words forced me to conclude that voluntary compliance was not going to occur.”

The next step was to set up a perimeter around the encampment to prevent outsiders from swelling the number of protesters. Longo then ordered the anarchists to disperse. The order was met by defiance. Protesters locked arms. Officers were met with umbrellas wielded in an aggressive manner. Said Longo: “My fear was that active resistance would continue to escalate, and that the need for police force would escalate.”

As the showdown dragged on Saturday morning, hundreds of onlookers — many of them friendly to the protesters — gathered to watch the unfolding drama.

Ryan, Baucom, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis, Dean of Student Affairs Kenyon Bonner, and representatives of different law enforcement groups were huddling in a command post at an undesignated location. They followed events on a live video feed. Sensitive to accusations that he was nowhere to be seen during the confrontation, Ryan told the Town Hall viewers that he thought that his presence at the demonstration would “inflame the situation rather than de-escalate it.” Baucom explained that he thought his place was with the university president. “There was a lot of information flowing in. It was a fluid situation.”

To Ryan, the principles at stake were very clear. Encampment for Gaza had a right to free speech and assembly. But there are “time, place and manner” restrictions on the exercise of both rights. University policy has some 18 rules regarding the erection of tents on the Grounds. Many are related to safety and the environment. Tents cannot be raised close to buildings or underneath trees. Permits were required, and the demonstrators didn’t have one. “The rules were being violated,” Ryan said. More to the point, he added, “the protesters knew they weren’t allowed and wanted to keep them up anyway.”

Ryan said he made the call to order the police to remove the tents. “Demonstrators were given multiple opportunities to comply. They refused to do so,” he said. Because University police were not trained in or equipped for crowd-control tactics, the Virginia State Police were called in. “These were very hard calls, excruciatingly hard,” he said. 

Longo gave the demonstrators seven distinct orders to disperse. They refused. Then police formed a phalanx with their shields and advanced on the encampment. Although some people resisted, the camp was quickly cleared. At one point, police deployed pepper spray — not tear gas — to disperse the crowd. Protesters were treated for the irritant by medical personnel on the scene. No one suffered significant injuries. Twenty-seven individuals were arrested.

“I’ve been president for six years,” Ryan concluded in the virtual town hall. “I’m fully and painfully aware that we lost some of our trust Saturday.” But decisions had to be made. Sometimes decisions will leave some people unhappy. “Once you make a decision you have to own it, and you face the personal and professional consequences.”

James A. Bacon is contributing editor to The Jefferson Council. This article has been republished with permission from the Jefferson Council blog

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29 responses to “Team Ryan Defends Shutdown of Tent Encampment”

  1. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    President Ryan should familiarize himself with the model set by Fr Theodore Hesburgh in 1969–15 minutes to follow Notre Dame’s regulations or be suspended.

  2. Turbocohen Avatar

    What a clown show. The new UVA banner should be a pro Hamas protester putting a jewish baby in an oven.

    1. Lefty665 Avatar

      You liked that propaganda didn’t you?

  3. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    So fewer than half of those arrested were current students, and four were “employees.” Faculty? Employees refusing multiple orders to disperse should already be former employees.

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Astroturfing is all the rage currently. Causes are so important you have to pay people to be outraged.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Appreciate the blow by blow account. I doubt the University press or the C’ville press will present the facts in a matter of fact manner.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Jim Ryan has been proving himself a capable university president. While I don’t always agree with his actions or comments, he seems to be genuinely concerned with the University of Virginia and makes generally good decisions.

  6. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    As a recall, Dr. Martin Luther King never wore a mast to hide his identity.

    When Disney was proposing to build a theme park near the Bull Run Battlefields (I’m a Union guy), our Civil War Reenactment unit (28 Mass., Co. B) showed up at the national park with full kit, sans black powder cartridges and caps as per the fed’s rules, after hydrating, marched in perfect order in mid-90s summer heat for about 15 minutes in protest. After being dismissed by the captain, we shed our wool blouses and headed back to our gear. We packed up and went home.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    People are going to fault Ryan , especially those who already do, or oppose the cause of the protestors, but it appears that some careful thinking was going into their response and the result so far, is far less chaos and disorder.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      If Ryan acted as is described in the article, then I see no reason to find fault.

      And I disagree that those who oppose the protesters will be faulting him on this issue. It is those who unquestioningly support the protesters who are now criticizing Ryan and the university administration.

  8. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    The Jefferson Coucil’s pejorative de jour… “anarchists”…

    I suppose it is better than “militants” and “terrorists”…

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Why do you consider ‘anarchist’ a pejorative?

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        That how the author is using it here – as noted, it is what they do…

        This might help explain:

        “The term “anarchist” is also used as a pejorative empty signifier to show abrasive disdain. The term’s association with societal malady has been, in part, an intentional strategy by its detractors to discredit it. “Libertarian” saw a similar diffusion of purpose within the American libertarian movement as a wider group less studied and less interested in minimal government adopted the term, diluting the potency of its association with the strict rights-based libertarianism of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard. Anarcho-capitalists and those who believe in abolition of the state have occupied the fringe of the libertarian movement.”,its%20detractors%20to%20discredit%20it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          lemme get this straight…

          if someone calls someone else an anarchist… there is a question as to whether it’s a pejorative or not?

          Good Lord!

          1. WayneS Avatar

            if someone calls someone else an anarchist… there is a question as to whether it’s a pejorative or not?

            I’ve been called an anarchist before, and I’ve always taken it as a compliment.

          2. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            No, Larry. Anarchist could be an accurate description. If someone murders another, is it OK to call the murderer a murderer?
            Don’t make me describe you, the AI tool will block it!

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            so someone who is protesting something is an anarchist?

          4. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Absence of any form of political authority.

            Political disorder and confusion.

            Absence of any cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose.
            So…on a University campus, that manner of “protest” is Alinskyite, meant to intimidate, and the practice of anarchists.
            You could try having a rational debate to protest. It is not intended to have a rational debate. It is intended to cause a useful optic for people too dumb to realize they are being played… (Lengthy pause….)

          5. WayneS Avatar

            anarchy – the organization of society on the basis of voluntary cooperation, without political institutions or hierarchical government.

    2. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      I agree! Marxist performance artists is far more accurate.

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive


      Amazing how nihilistic the American conservative has become. They willingly accept the lies told by Trump that fly in the face of their previous convictions.

      It’s amusing to watch them drinking the “Biden Crime Family” Kool-Aid in preparation of justifying the vote they will cast for Trump.

      They don’t even bother to hold their nose. They think that smell is normal.

      1. WayneS Avatar

        I would not deny I have anarchic tendencies, but I am definitely not a nihilist.

    4. Randy Huffman Avatar
      Randy Huffman

      I did not care for the word militant used to describe these protesters. But I did look it up as follows (in part):

      militant /mĭl′ĭ-tənt/
      Fighting or warring.
      Having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause.
      “a militant political activist.”

      Many of those at Columbia certainly are properly called militants, but at UVA, I would agree not properly used. But they were no angels either after reading the articles of what happened. They ignored the many demands to leave, etc. and did get aggressive when they were being pushed out.

      Now, if you really want to analyze what words politicians and many in main stream media use to depict a protester or rioter as something they are not, lets not forget the two extremes:

      Summer of 2020 – “mostly peaceful protesters”

      Jan. 6 – “Insurrectionists”

      Much more deceptive and manipulative than the use of the term militant.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        “But they were no angels either after reading the articles of what happened.”

        I am perfect fine if The Jefferson Council does not call the protesters “angels”.

        1. Randy Huffman Avatar
          Randy Huffman

          The Charlottesville Daily Progress depicted them as such. It will be interesting to see what Jim presents later, after reading his recent summarization of the 2017 tiki march by the white supremist’s.

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        Randy, who did the majority of the protestors attack?

        1. WayneS Avatar

          I can answer that. They attacked people who were doing their jobs.

          But I disagree that the “majority of the protesters” participated in those attacks. A significant minority, perhaps, but not a majority.

        2. Randy Huffman Avatar
          Randy Huffman

          I am assuming your question involves the recent protest. So the only articles I read was from the Daily Progress and then their summary of what UVA said. And a bunch of people howling about the response. I have not heard they attacked anyone. Just that they ignored repeated requests to take down the tents, then started getting aggressive in their response to the police.

          In summary, it appears they wanted this confrontation. But that’s my short understanding. I wasn’t there. It will be interesting what JC view is, especially if someone was physically there.

  9. Lefty665 Avatar

    Antifa caused the violence at Unite the Right. C’ville thought they were attractive then. Glad to see that common sense has prevailed. Unmask ’em and publicly identify them through their arrest records.

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