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Students Demand Penn State Cancel Show With Proud Boys Founder

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  • Students at Penn State want the administration to cancel an event with the founder of the Proud Boys.
  • The university has defended its decision by referencing the First Amendment.
  • The Proud Boys have been labeled a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.

Students at The Pennsylvania State University are demanding the administration cancel an event featuring Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, citing a “direct threat of violence to marginalized students.”

A petition created by The Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity at Penn State criticized the university for allowing McInnes on campus and using student fees to pay for the event. “Free Speech does not mean paid speech,” according to the petition which has garnered over 3,o00 signatures.

The event on October 24 is called “Stand Back & Stand By” — a nod to former President Donald Trump’s comments about the Proud Boys during a presidential debate in September 2020 — and is hosted by the Penn State chapter of Uncensored America, a group that calls itself a free speech organization.

McInnes is the founder of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, some of whose members said they planned to “kill people” during the January 6 insurrection, according to internal emails released by the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot.

In 2018, McInnes declared he was distancing himself from the group after the FBI categorized the Proud Boys as an extremist group and having ties to white nationalism, according to The Guardian.

The group was declared a terrorist organization in 2021 by the Canadian government and labeled a hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center. During the January 6 insurrection, members of the Proud Boys breached the Capitol and were charged with seditious conspiracy, a crime that can result in up to 20 years in prison.

According to Sean Semanko, the founder of Uncensored America, the event is a comedy night featuring Alex Stein and McInnes.

Stein is a right-wing comedian, who sexually harassed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol, calling her his “favorite big booty Latina.”

He told Insider he’s grateful Penn State is following through with upholding the First Amendment and said he wants the protestors there. 

Uncensored America received $7,522.43 from The University Park Allocation Committee, a student group that provides funding for student events and makes its decisions independent of the University. That money will be used to cover Stein and McInnes’ hotel and airfare as well as provide them with a financial honorarium, according to Uncensored America.

University cites First Amendment

On October 11, the university issued a statement in response to Uncensored America inviting Stein and McInnes to University Park. The institution said that as a public university, it is obligated under the US Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints it doesn’t agree with.

“Once again, we find ourselves in the unenviable position of sharing space with individuals whose views differ dramatically from our University’s values of inclusion, diversity, equity, and respect,” the statement said.

In a statement to Insider, Vic Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the First Amendment protects the university’s right to host McInnes as a speaker, just as the First Amendment protects protesters’ right to criticize the university and demonstrate against his visit.

“Colleges and universities are supposed to be the ultimate marketplaces of different ideas,” Walczak said.

People walk by Old Main on the Penn State University main campus on Nov. 9, 2017 in State College, Pa.

People walk by Old Main on the Penn State University main campus on Nov. 9, 2017 in State College, Pa.


AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File



In a letter to the editor published by the school’s newspaper, The Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity pushed back on the university’s response and referenced the administration’s actions in 2017 when they denied Richard Spencer, an alt-right figure and white nationalist per SPLC, permission to speak.

At the time, Eric Barron, Penn State’s past president said, “the First Amendment does not require our University to risk imminent violence,” according to The Washington Post

When asked by Insider whether Penn State would provide comment on students’ demands the event be canceled, the university reiterated the First Amendment.

“As a public institution of higher education, Penn State considers the right to free speech and expression essential to our mission — regardless of how hurtful, revolting, and offensive the speech may be,” the statement said. 

An organizer with The Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity, who asked Insider to withhold their name for fear of retribution, said the organization sent a mass email to students on Thursday to participate in an upcoming protest they are hosting on Monday called “Stand Up, Fight Back.” 

In response to the committee’s email, the university sent out its own email which Insider reviewed, calling the student group “provocateurs” and imploring students “not to take the bait” and attend the protest. Instead, it urged students to attend one of its counter-programming events.

‘There’s never violence at these shows that is from us’

Last November, Uncensored America hosted Milo Yiannopoulos, a British alt-right political commentator, who gave a speech called “Pray the Gay Away.”

Lauren Ogden, the president of United Socialists at Penn State, said their frustration with the university has been building since it allowed Yiannopoulos to speak on campus in 2021. 

“Penn State is really fighting a losing battle on this one. They’re on the wrong side,” Ogden told Insider.

When asked what he’ll be talking about at the show, McInnes told Insider he’s going to “attack” academia and the professors at Penn State. He added that he doesn’t know whether members of the Proud Boys, which he called the “greatest fraternity in the world,” will be at the event on the 24th.

“There’s never violence at these shows that is from us,” he said. 

Past speaking events McInnes has been part of have resulted in people getting hurt. In 2018, outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York where McInnes was venerating a far-right Japanese assassin, members of the Proud Boys assaulted counter-protesters outside. 

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