Penn State cancels campus comedy show featuring Proud Boys founder

  • Penn State canceled an on-campus comedy show on Monday due to a “threat of escalating violence.”
  • The event featured Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys, a far-right group.
  • Students had been lobbying the university for weeks to cancel the event.

Pennsylvania State University on Monday night canceled a comedy show featuring Gavin McInnes, the founder of the far-right Proud Boys, due to a “threat of escalating violence” after hundreds of people showed up to protest the event.

About an hour before the event was to begin, the university released a statement, saying it was necessary to cancel the event in the interest of campus safety as “protests have unfortunately turned violent.”

Pete Kurtz-Glovas, a Penn State graduate student who attended the event, said that at its peak the crowd grew to what he estimated to be in the hundreds. He told Insider that at one point during the protest, someone pepper sprayed a number of people in the crowd.

Kurtz-Glovas said he was proud that the university decided to cancel the event, even though it waited until the last minute to do so.

“I was worried it would lead to violence and it looked like they shared the same concern at the eleventh hour, so it was, I think, a good move on their part,” he said.

The students demanded the cancellation of the event

For weeks, Penn State students had demanded that the administration cancel the event featuring McInnes.

A petition created by Penn State’s Student Defense and Solidarity Committee criticized the university for allowing McInnes on campus and using tuition to pay for the event. “Free speech does not mean paid speech,” according to the petition, which has collected more than 3,000 signatures.

The Oct. 24 event was 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 uprising, according to internal emails released by the House Select Committee investigating on the Capitol Riot.

In 2018, McInnes said he was distancing himself from the group, saying he was resigning, after the FBI classified the Proud Boys as an extremist group and with 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 uprising, members of the Proud Boys breached the Capitol and were charged with seditious conspiracy, a crime that carries 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 was accused of sexually harassing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol, calling her his “favorite big-booty Latina.”

Before the event was canceled, he told Insider he was grateful Penn State was following First Amendment compliance and said he wanted the protesters there.

Uncensored America received $7,522.43 from the University Park Allocation Committee, a student group that funds student events and makes its decisions independently of the University. That money was to cover Stein and McInnes’ hotel and plane tickets as well as provide them with financial fees, according to Uncensored America.

The university cited the First Amendment

On October 11, the university released 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 First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect various speech rights, even for those whose rights it disagrees with. perspectives.

“Once again, we find ourselves in the unenviable position of sharing space with people whose views differ radically from our university’s values ​​of inclusion, diversity, equity and respect,” the statement read. .

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

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

People walk past Old Main on the main campus of Penn State University on November 9, 2017 in State College, Pennsylvania.

People walk past Old Main on the main campus of Penn State University on November 9, 2017 in State College, Pennsylvania.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file

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

At the time, Eric Barron, the former president of Penn State, said that “the First Amendment does not place our university at risk of imminent violence,” according to The Washington Post.

When asked by Insider if Penn State would provide comment on student demands to cancel the event, the university reiterated the First Amendment.

“As a public institution of higher learning, Penn State views the right to freedom of speech and expression as essential to our mission, even though speech may be hurtful, upsetting, and offensive,” the statement read.

An organizer with the Student Defense and Solidarity Committee, who asked Insider to withhold his name for fear of reprisal, said the organization sent a mass email to students on Thursday to join an upcoming protest that they organize on Monday entitled “Stand Up, Defend.”

In response to the committee’s email, the university sent its own email, which Insider reviewed, calling the group of students “provocateurs” and imploring students “not to take the bait” and attend. at the demonstration. Instead, he urged students to attend one of his counterprogramming events.

“There is never any violence in these shows that comes from us”

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

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

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

When asked what he would talk about on the show, McInnes told Insider he was going to “attack” academia and professors at Penn State. He added that he did not know if members of the Proud Boys, which he called the “greatest fraternity in the world”, would be present at the event on the 24th.

“There is never any violence in these shows that comes from us,” he said.

Past speech events that McInnes has attended have resulted in people getting hurt. In 2018, outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York where McInnes worshiped a far-right Japanese assassin, members of the Proud Boys assaulted counter-protesters outside.

October 24, 2022, 5:59 PM PT: This story has been updated to indicate that there have been protests and the event has been cancelled.

Javier E. Swan