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Extremist protestors occupying Washington Road heckle students, spew hate-speech

<h5>Aden Rusfeldt and other protestors stared down a crowd of students at their demonstration Wednesday.</h5>
<h6>Julian Gottfried / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Aden Rusfeldt and other protestors stared down a crowd of students at their demonstration Wednesday.
Julian Gottfried / The Daily Princetonian

Self-identifying Christian protestors displaying homophobic, racist, and sexist signs occupied the sidewalks along Washington Road on Wednesday, attracting a large gathering of students who responded with their own demonstration.

The protestors’ largest sign addressed “homos,” “Muslims,” “cow worshipers,” “racists (KKK, BLM, Obama),” and “rebellious women,” among others, and warned them, “obey Jesus or hellfire.” Another sign declared “feminists are witches” and “not a virgin + not married = whore.”

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Several of the protesters’ children were present.

Students brought their own messaging: A number of them waved LGBTQ+ pride flags, held signs that read “BLM” (Black Lives Matter), and played popular sex-positive songs by Lil Nas X, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion.

Nubia Morales ’25 was one of the counter-protesting students.

“It wasn’t combating hate with hate, but with being proud of who we are regardless of what other people are saying about us,” Morales said. “I felt safe and comfortable once I realized there [were] people there from the Princeton community that did not agree with what they were saying and we’re gonna let that be known.”

At one moment in the protest, physical contact reportedly took place between the demonstrators and students.

Kyung Lee ’25 reported being pushed to the ground by two male protesters after attempting to grab an extra sign of theirs lying on the ground.

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“Initially, I didn’t rationalize the decision to try and take their signs, since they had already taken one of the student’s signs and ripped it up, littering it on the ground,” Lee alleged in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “But when I got there, one of the men on the left … grabbed me by the arm and pushed me to the ground, while the other man on the right of me shoved me to the ground as well, stepping on my foot in the process.”

“I am [now] aware that this group of protestors are known for frequenting the Princeton campus,” Lee continued, “but I didn’t know that at all yesterday and just thought they were random protestors who would leave us alone if we just gave them one good confrontation.”

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ University spokesperson Ben Chang wrote that the University was not made aware that the protestors were coming to campus beforehand. He did note that “once the demonstration began, University staff — Public Safety officers and free expression facilitators — arrived to ensure that University policies were upheld.”

Images and videos from students show the group stationed on both sides of Washington Road, both by Scudder Plaza and McCosh Walk. According to Chang, because these areas are under municipality jurisdiction, the University did not have jurisdiction over the protestors’ actions.

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“Nonetheless, the University has taken a number of immediate steps to address the impact of this group’s actions on community members,” Chang wrote.

Chang wrote that “senior staff” at the University gathered on Thursday morning to ensure appropriate action was taken, including outreach to individuals targeted during the protest to provide them information about resources.

He also wrote that the Department of Public Safety “will discuss the demonstration with Princeton Police and coordinate planning for any future occurrence in order to minimize the risk to those who have to traverse the area where the demonstration took place.”

Who are the protestors?

The protestors’ signs included web addresses that lead to the Key of David Christian Center, a group that is, according to their website, a nondenominational Christian church led by Pastor Aden Rusfeldt. Rusfeldt and his congregation have traveled to a number of college campuses in the Northeast, sparking lively counter demonstrations from students.

Wednesday was not the first time Rusfeldt appeared on Princeton’s campus and agitated students.

In 2019, he told the ‘Prince’ that he came to the University “because we heard a rumor that there are whores and homosexuals at Princeton, and we love them, and we want to warn them that they are going to hell without Jesus.”

In spring 2021, the group was sighted on campus again, displaying similar banners and engaging in charged conversation with students.

Rusfeldt was ordered by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to pay over $6 million in restitution and a civil monetary penalty following a number of lawsuits brought against him for fraudulent business dealings.

"I used to have a greed problem," he reportedly told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I [also] used to have sex before marriage. I used to hit the bong like Cheech and Chong.”

A number of students took to social media with videos and memes mocking the protestors, and others danced before them in various states of undress.

After a video of Morales in a short dress posing in front of the protestors circulated on Instagram stories, she told the ‘Prince’ that the sex-positive environment created by the students allowed her to feel “confident and safe enough to express my feelings and [show] that this is my body. I’m choosing to present myself in this way, and that doesn’t make me any less worthy of respect.”

However, while the situation included moments of empowerment, one student we spoke with, Jane, acknowledged the effects of hearing the targeted, anti-LGBTQ+ slurs once they left the protest.

Jane is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the student.

“I got home, sat down on my bed, and just started shaking,” Jane remarked. “I couldn’t even explain why in words, but it all hit me — the bad parts. It feels really awful to process something like that. I think part of it was because there wasn’t that strong community physically around me anymore. For quite a while, I was not doing very well.”

Another aspect of the protest that disturbed students was the presence of the young children partaking in the offensive messaging, but it did serve to curtail any escalation of the interaction.

“It was heartbreaking to see that there [were] children there,” Morales said. “There was common consensus among people on the [student] side of the street that ‘we can’t let this get too intense, there’s children.’”

Jane recalled the children reading scripture to them through megaphones. It was reported in 2018 that Rumsfeld’s fellow protestors frequently include his two daughters, stepson, and teenage Key of David Christian Center members.

Morales also reflected on the inclusivity she has experienced during her time on campus more broadly.

“There are groups [at the University] that we feel are safe spaces,” Morales said. “Just from our orientation groups alone, we see that they take into consideration our pronouns or they are very careful about certain phrasing. I feel like Princeton has created a lot of safe space, but at the same time, people want to create dialogue that might put people in uncomfortable situations.”

Jane expressed frustration over the limitations of the University and Public Safety to remove the individuals from campus.

“I know the University is limited in what they can do in terms of free speech and actual legal ramifications, but there’s got to be something they can do,” Jane said. “There were [Public Safety] officers just hovering in the back and watching it happen as the protestors were calling us slurs and telling us to kill ourselves. The only time they intervened was when they pushed [Lee].”

In his email to the ‘Prince,’ Chang wrote that, “Hatred expressed to any member of our community is an affront to our entire community.”

“As abhorrent as this group’s messaging is, previous encounters with them have demonstrated that one of the most effective ways to combat their hate is to ignore them, as difficult as that may be,” he continued.  “Our community members’ deliberate lack of engagement with their hateful provocations serves to minimize their voice. The University will continue to stand against all forms of hatred and in support of dignity, respect, and community.”

Caitlin Limestahl is a Head News Editor and has previously covered the Undergraduate Student Government and University Affairs. She can be reached on Twitter @caitlin_lime. 

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