Kaitlin Bennett, a far-right gadfly associated with Infowars and Liberty Hangout, visited Ohio University on Monday to make a video for Presidents Day. In response, mobs of students surrounded her, screamed in her face, and threw liquids at her.
The students' behavior is contemptible. It's also a terrible strategy for countering the kind of narrative that people like Bennett want to tell about college campuses—indeed, it gives them the exact ammo they need to claim censorship. I would implore student activists to consider the optics: A mob of people surrounding and throwing things at a woman with a camera phone is only going to invite well-deserved opprobrium from the wider public.
Unsurprisingly, Bennett has leveraged the situation to her advantage, calling on President Donald Trump to "strip funding from universities like this that harbor terrorists." In her tweets about the incident, she also slammed the police for failing to prevent the students from throwing liquids at her.
This is what happens when a Trump supporter goes to a college campus. Leftists at @ohiou started a riot when @Joelpatrick1776 and I showed up, and the @oupolice let it happen. I think @realDonaldTrump should strip funding from universities like this that harbor terrorists. pic.twitter.com/5TMlfdto9O
— Kaitlin Bennett (@KaitMarieox) February 17, 2020
Ohio University police described the incident as two-sided—Bennett and one other person, and the students—each engaging in First Amendment-protected activity, according to CNN:
Despite the tension, Ohio University police said there were no injuries or violent outbreaks reported during the protest. The students were exercising their First Amendment rights just as Bennett was, police said. "Contrary to allegations circulating on social media, the incident did not rise to the level of a riot," police said in a statement.
The incident may not have constituted a riot, but a person should be able to visit a public university campus without having liquids thrown at them by hostile throngs. What happened to Bennett is another reminder that the threat to free speech on college campuses primarily comes not from the faculty but from a tiny subset of radical, anti-speech students. (For more on this subject, read this excellent piece by The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf.)