In the wee morning hours after Rolling Stone’s now-retracted gang rape story roiled the University of Virginia campus, a masked group of five women and three men unleashed their fury on the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the center of the controversy.
Bottles and bricks were tossed through nearly every first-floor window, sending shards of glass and crashing sounds into the house around 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 20.
Profane, hate messages such as “F—k Boys” were spray-painted on the walls of the colonial facade, along with anti-sexual assault epithets such as “suspend us,” and “UVA Center for Rape Studies.”
The Charlottesville, Virginia, police blotter unmistakably describes the attack as a crime. “Vandalism and destruction of property,” it reads.
Felony charges also could be attached because the crime involved throwing dangerous objects into a private dwelling and because the damage may total over $1,000. It’s unclear how many fraternity brothers were in the house at the time.
Yet more than a month after the attack, no arrests have been made and no charges have been filed. The fraternity house, its shattered windows now boarded with plywood, remains vacant. Like the Ferguson riots, there has been little accountability for those who perpetrated violence in the name of protest.
Police and prosecutors declined to say whether or when they might make arrests in the attack on the fraternity house.
Yet finding a student willing to admit his or her role as well as eyewitnesses who saw the group conduct the attack was relatively easy for a Washington Times reporter who spent two days on campus. After all, a witness who found a cellphone at the scene he believed belonged to a perpetrator gave the device to police.
The witness, who spoke to The Times only on the condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation, said the cellphone had a text message from a second person he believed also participated in the attack. “That was exhilarating,” the message said.
After finding witnesses, cellphone information and social media postings bragging about the attack, The Times tracked down a male student identified by witnesses as a possible leader of the attack. The student agreed to talk to The Times only on the condition that his name wasn’t published, saying he didn’t want police to find him.
The young man, the progeny of a privileged family, readily and unrepentantly admitted his role and described the attack his friends carried out in details that match police and eyewitness reports. He also said he knew his actions would be considered illegal.
“I texted one of my friends and I was like, ‘Let’s throw bottles at the Phi Psi house tonight,’ and she said, ‘Yes!’ I think that the article made it clear that victims at the university have no legitimate channels to take action, and I think vandalism is a completely legitimate form of action when like, legitimate authority is corrupt. I think it was justified,” he said in an interview with The Times.
Asked whether he believed the ends generally justified the means, he casually replied, “Sure.” He also said he is not opposed to “armed revolution” as a means to end what he termed “systemic oppression.”
The student said his group of friends sent an anonymous letter to various news organizations several hours after the attack warning that it was “just the beginning.” The letter threatened to “escalate and provoke until certain demands were met,” including “an immediate revision of university policy mandating expulsion as the only sanction for rape and sexual assault.”
Only police and prosecutors ultimately will be able to determine whether the man, who said his group didn’t spray-paint “UVA Center for Rape Studies” on the house, is telling the truth. The cellphone, the text messages, fingerprints on the bottles, security footage and eyewitness accounts will help determine his credibility or culpability.
But on this police matter, the wheels of justice have been turning slowly.
Steve Upman, public information officer for the Charlottesville Police Department, said he could not comment on the stage of the investigation because the department is not discussing anything related to the Rolling Stone article. But other law enforcement officials and the student who said he took part in the attack confirmed that no arrests had been made as of Sunday.
U.Va. spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said school disciplinary boards could take action if they learn the identities of the perpetrators, but he made it clear that “the Charlottesville Police Department has jurisdiction over that incident.” He gave no indication whether school officials were conducting a separate inquiry.
The mentality on campus — including from the one student who claimed to have taken part in the attack — raises issues far beyond a single criminal act, analysts say.
Alan Dershowitz, one of the nation’s premier defense lawyers and a Harvard law professor, told The Times that university displays of double-standards in excusing violence from the political left and failing to punish activities such as attacks on fraternity houses can have dangerous consequences.
“Look at people like [Bill] Ayers and [Bernardine] Dohrn, who were violent radicals in the 1970s who now hold distinguished positions of respect [at universities]. It’s clearly a left-right issue. No one would reward the Ku Klux Klan decades after their acts of violence, but if violence is committed by the hard left, then it becomes acceptable in the academic context,” Mr. Dershowitz told The Washington Times.
Mr. Dershowitz also said the mentality expressed by the student who claims to have participated in the fraternity house attack also should raise alarm.
“It’s the notion of collective punishment; you punish an entire fraternity for the allegations of several people, and you take the law into your own hands, and it’s a total violation to the notion that punishment should be based on proof of individual guilt,” he said. “It’s become a mantra of the radical left, whether it’s about punishing all policemen for Ferguson or all fraternity persons for alleged rapes. It’s a road to lawlessness.
“That’s the argument the terrorists make,” he said. “That’s the argument that Hamas makes, that al Qaeda makes, and it’s the argument that some radical Weathermen made in the U.S. when they blew up universities in the 1970s. It’s the first baby step on the road to justifying terrorism.”
Many students on campus seemed apathetic to seeing the attackers brought to justice. One young woman who answered the front door of her sorority told The Times that she did not feel the fraternity attack was the right story to cover.
“I think the next important story is continuing to focus on the problem of sexual assault of young women on campuses, whether Jackie’s story is true or not,” she said.
Asked whether she felt it was important to consider the rights of the fraternity members and the violence inspired by the falsities published by Rolling Stone, she paused and said, “Well, I guess that’s true.”
Men from Phi Kappa Psi whose fraternity house was attacked seemed despondent over the inaction.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now, anyway,” one man said with frustration as he left the fraternity house.
The student who claimed to participate in the attack said he had no regrets despite the fact that the accuracy of Jackie’s story in Rolling Stone has come under significant doubt, including the name of the fraternity where the alleged attack occurred. Asked whether he felt at all bad about attacking the wrong fraternity, he showed no remorse and justified the attack on the broader woes of “social injustice.”
“I’ve done some thinking about that, but the answer is no. Everyone knows this is a house that does not respect women. They are part of the problem, and I do not feel bad. We have an objective set of laws that empowers the police to kill black men with impunity and protects white rapists at U.Va. from prosecution. The laws are only legitimate when they work. This is not a particularly radical campus, but we’re mad.
“As a college student, I know a lot of people who have been the result of direct oppression. We have tried peaceful political change, and I think a huge percentage of people in this country are fed up with that because we’re not getting anywhere.”
Those views, he said were supported by the textbooks issued at U.Va., which he described as “tools for understanding” oppression.
Rolling Stone declined repeated requests for comment.
The University of Virginia, which previously issued suspensions for findings of fault in school-sponsored tribunal rape cases, changed its penalty to expulsion shortly after the attackers’ threats were published Nov. 20. Some school faculty echoed similar concerns in a letter of their own.
Asked whether the school’s decision was based partially on the threat made by the students who attacked Phi Kappa Psi, U.Va. spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said he could not comment on anything related to that the incident because police were still investigating.
One of the student’s last statements during The Times’ interview was a commentary on law enforcement.
“The police force does nothing but harass the black community and protect white students from being uncomfortable,” he said.
If Charlottesville police eventually arrest those responsible for the Phi Kappa Psi attack, that student may find out the hard way that he is wrong.