The social media mob has come for Kyle Kashuv, a teenage conservative activist and survivor of the Parkland mass shooting. On Wednesday, critics of Kashuv circulated screenshots of old text and Skype messages in which he used racist language.
"I'm embarrassed by it," said Kashuv in a statement. "But I want to be clear that the comments I made are not indicative of who I am or who I've become in the years since."
Kashuv, who recently resigned as director of youth outreach for conservative organization Turning Point USA, said that the Parkland shooting transformed him as a human being, and he is no longer the "petty, flippant kid" who said those terrible things. (The texts in question were all sent before the massacre.)
The controversy was covered by both The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post, the latter of which anonymously quoted former classmates of Kashuv. On Twitter, author Sebastian Murdock sounded quite proud of himself for producing such a hit piece.
But it is not just the left out to cancel Kashuv: Some of the most furious denunciations are coming from the far-right. Alt-right troll Laura Loomer called for Harvard to rescind its acceptance of Kashuv, who plans to attend the university in the fall. David Wohl, father of the conspiracy theorist and failed far-right political operative Jacob Wohl, said the same. A few others on the right—Teens for Trump leader CJ Pearson, and conservative populist Ali Alexander*—have said that Kashuv's apology does not go far enough. Some of the people in the far-right orbit have engaged in much worse behavior than what Kashuv is accused of, which makes these attacks fairly odd.
What Kashuv said was indeed horrible, and well-worth criticizing. But his claim that he is no longer the same person who made those remarks is quite plausible. Teenagers' ideas, personalities, and viewpoints are constantly in flux. Learning right from wrong is part of growing up, and our society is far too unforgiving of kids who made mistakes that they regret. Alas, technology now makes it possible to keep a record of every bad thing an imperfect teenager says.
People on both the left and the right should probably be a little less eager to put kids on pedestals and anoint them as leaders of political movements. In any case, unless evidence emerges that Kashuv is being dishonest about his change of heart, it seems like the right thing to do is forgive him. It would be a shame if Kashuv's enemies on the far-right and far-left got their way, and Harvard reconsidered its acceptance because of this. I wouldn't expect Harvard to do that, but then again, I didn't expect its administration to unilaterally surrender to activists demanding the firing of faculty dean Ronald Sullivan, and yet here we are.
Update: Pearson and Alexander objected to being called "arch conservative." I have revised my description of their views.