An East Tennessee State Unversity student showed up to a campus Black Lives Matter rally on Tuesday wearing a gorilla mask and carrying a rope. Freshman Tristan Rettke has been charged with one count of civil rights intimidation, according to local Johnson City, Tennessee, station WCYB.
Rettke told officers he had heard about the rally from messaging app Yik Yak, and then went to the store to buy the gorilla mask, rope, and bananas, which he passed out during the protest. He also went barefoot, in overalls, and carrying a Confederate flag backpack—all in an “attempt to provoke the protesters,” he told officers.
Soon after Rettke was taken away by university public safety officers on Wednesday, ETSU President Brian Noland held a press conference to decry the freshman’s actions, noting, “I was offended, but I was also saddened. The nation is not only raw, but it’s healing.” He also praised demonstrators for handling the situation peacefully.
University officials also put out a statement saying they were “outraged” by the incident and held a community forum last night to discuss its impact.
On top of the criminal charges, Rettke has been suspended, the Johnson City Press reports, and is under an internal student conduct investigation.