An East Tennessee State University student has been criminally charged after he showed up at a Black Lives Matter protest in a gorilla mask and attempted to hand out bananas to the demonstrators. Tristan Rettke, an ETSU freshman, is being charged with one count of civil rights intimidation.
WCYB reports that Rettke showed up at the on-campus protest Tuesday after learning about it through the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak. He bought a rope, bananas, and the gorilla mask on his way and wore overalls and no shoes. He was also carrying a backpack bearing the Confederate flag, just in case he was not making himself clear. According to WCYB, he told police his intent was to “provoke” the protesters.
“You think that’s OK?” a woman can be asking Rettke, calmly, in cellphone video shot at the scene.
ETSU President Brian Noland called Rettke’s actions “incomprehensible, intolerable and impermissible,” and students and faculty held a “community dialogue” that night to talk about the idiot in the gorilla mask. The Johnson City Press reports that Rettke has been suspended, according to ETSU, and besides facing criminal charges will be subject to an internal student-conduct investigation.
Civil rights intimidation is either a low-grade felony or a misdemeanor in Tennesee, depending on the circumstances, and it’s unclear how prosecutors will charge Rettke. It’s also specifically illegal to wear a “mask or disguise” as part of an effort to keep others from exercising their civil rights, an aspect of the law likely put into place because of the Ku Klux Klan
According to WJHL, Rettke is studying public safety.