University of Southern California (USC) professor was teaching some 40 students about the Holocaust late last month when a Russian mobster barged into the classroom.
Holding a silver briefcase and wearing a black muscle T-shirt, the mobster bellowed at the class, interrupting the lecture. Then, he walked up to one of the students and, towering over him, said that his father owed $50,000.
“It was at this point when a wave of panic appeared to flow over” the students, according to a new lawsuit. They bolted. Some tripped over their seats. Some tripped over each other. Frantic, they ditched their laptops and backpacks to escape what they considered “a credible threat of imminent classroom violence.”
Except it was all fake, according to the lawsuit USC filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week.
The Russian mobster and the student were YouTube performers Ernest Kanevsky and Yuguo Bai, USC officials alleged. The March 29 stunt was one of three “classroom takeover videos” the duo has carried out on the Los Angeles campus since September — part of a larger campaign to record themselves harassing, bullying and intimidating unsuspecting people, according to the suit. After wreaking “terror and disruption,” the lawsuit claims, they uploaded footage of their pranks to their YouTube channels to attract an audience.
It seems to have worked: Kanevsky’s YouTube channel — which features dozens of videos of him pranking people at grocery stores, gyms, beaches and other college campuses — has 111,000 subscribers and has racked up more than 8.4 million views since he started it in July 2020
On Friday, Judge James Chalfant granted the university’s request to temporarily ban Kanevsky and Bai from the campus as the case against them proceeds.
In addition to the restraining order, the university in its lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.
Neither Kanevsky nor Bai responded to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Wednesday, but in a statement Kanevsky told the New York Times that “the whole lawsuit and what everyone is reporting is very deceiving.”
The first of their stunts on the USC campus happened Sept. 20 when Kanevsky, Bai and a third person not identified in the lawsuit entered Mark Taper Hall of Humanities, the site of all three pranks they’d carry out over the next six months, the suit alleges.
The professor, who was teaching data sciences, asked the trio what they were doing.
The professor told campus police that he feared Kanevsky, posing as the Russian mobster, might unleash violence upon the class after he yelled that he was looking for “Hugo Boss.”
The German fashion designer of the same name made uniforms for the Nazis during World War II, which led the professor to suspect his class was being targeted.
Kanevsky told KNBC in a text that he’s Jewish and didn’t single out the class because the professor was lecturing about the Holocaust.
After Kanevsky and Bai fled the classroom, police stopped them at gunpoint in a campus parking structure and arrested them
USC officials told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that the judge’s ban will put those on campus a bit more at ease.
“The court’s order granting a temporary restraining order underscores the need to provide a sense of stability and comfort in an in-person learning environment and in light of campus safety concerns nationally on college campuses,” they said in the statement.
A hearing to address the temporary ban is scheduled for April 28.