An event featuring the founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, and right-wing provocateur Alex Stein was canceled following student protests. The event scheduled to take place at Pennsylvania State University on October 24 was protested by hundreds of students under the banner of groups like SCDS: Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity.
At 7:15 pm, 45 minutes before McInnes and Stein were set to speak, the University decided to cancel the event, citing “escalating violence.” Students cheered the cancellation with chants of “Whose campus? Our Campus!”
Students held signs saying “Dismantle white supremacy” and “Racists off our campus!” and chanted “who do you protect, who do you serve?” at the police that arrived on scene. As reported by Vice, José, a lead organizer of SCDS, explained to the crowd that they weren’t here to just protest the event, but also the university administration that chose to both host and fund the event.
McInnes is one of the founders of the all-male, extreme-right wing group the Proud Boys, recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group is also at the center of criminal investigations surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capital. Alex Stein is a right-wing provocateur most infamous for lewdly cat-calling progressive US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In addition to the student protestors, two Proud Boys in their yellow-and-black uniforms and four black-clad right-wing provocateurs entered into the foray. One of the speakers, Alex Stein, entered the crowd and recorded the protests with his phone on a selfie stick, attempting to rile up students. Individuals dressed in black reportedly pepper sprayed students. Students told reporters that they were furious that the police did essentially nothing to apprehend these individuals.
— Zach D Roberts – Photojournalist for hire (@zdroberts) October 25, 2022
The canceled event was organized by Uncensored America, a group with three chapters on three separate college campuses. In its own words, Uncensored America is “dedicated to fighting for freedom of speech,” but in reality focuses almost entirely on providing a platform for far-right figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, John Doyle, and Elijah Schaffer. The event featuring McInnes and Alex Stein was pitched as “different political viewpoints in a funny and entertaining way,” and titled “Stand Back & Stand By.”
The title of the event refers to the refusal by then-President Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential debates to condemn white supremacists. During the first presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacist violence erupting in the US all the way from Kenosha to Portland. After a back and forth between Wallace, Biden, and Trump, in which Trump was asked to specifically denounce the Proud Boys, Trump said, “The Proud Boys: stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.” Proud Boys across the nation expressed enthusiasm at the turn of phrase.
On October 25, Penn State president Neeli Bendapudi had publicly defended the university’s decision to host the event, writing that “From the start, Penn State’s administration firmly denounced the two speakers. However, they were invited to speak on campus by a registered student organization and as an institution of higher education, we support the fundamental constitutional right of free speech and free expression of all members of our community.” However, McInnes and Stein were not only invited to speak, but the university agreed to release nearly $7,000 in funding for flights and honorariums for the two men.
Bendapudi also denounced the student protestors, writing, “tonight, counter-protestors also will celebrate a victory that they forced the University to cancel this event, when in actuality they have furthered the visibility of the very cause they oppose.”
“Tonight, the message too many people will walk away with is that one can manipulate people to generate free publicity, or that one can restrict speech by escalating protest to violence,” Bendapudi wrote, although some have pointed out that it was only right-wing forces that escalated to violence on the night of October 24.
Totally embarrassing statement from Penn State when the stated "violence" was actually people who showed up to support McInnes spraying mace at counter-protesters and journalists. Just incompetent. https://t.co/Z14wrTLFFn pic.twitter.com/5lRtTtLl01
— Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) October 24, 2022
In his Telegram channel, McInnes wrote, “I have proof the pepper sprayer who shut down our talk last night was not a ‘fascist’ but was in fact a Penn State provocateur who did it to justify their false claims of ‘endangered students.’” McInnes’ “proof” was a video of the pepper-sprayer supposedly speaking to someone wearing a Penn State sweatshirt.
After the event was canceled, McInnes and Stein were caught on video fleeing the campus with a police escort.
Gavin McInnes and Alex Stein exited Thomas Building with a police escort pic.twitter.com/16H3qRoqpS
— The Daily Collegian (@DailyCollegian) October 25, 2022