Home Campus The Counter Opinion: Picking apart the gun girl drama

The Counter Opinion: Picking apart the gun girl drama

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On Feb. 17, Kaitlin Bennett, a right-wing gun rights activist and face of the far-right website Liberty Hangout, showed up on campus unannounced to ask students trivia about President’s Day, according to Bennett. Instead, she was met with hundreds of protestors who gathered around her, shouted and threw things. She and her cohort left campus within two hours of arriving.

The event attracted the attention of several national news outlets. Some believe that Bennett deserves an apology and the students were in the wrong, while others believe that both parties freely exercised their First Amendment rights.

We asked our opinion writers their take on the event, the future for the campus and the possibility of Bennett returning. Contributing are Bryce Hoehn, a junior political science major, Maddie Kramer, a junior political science major, Sydney Walters, a sophomore meteorology major, Hannah Fleming, a freshman political science major and Charlotte Caldwell, a sophomore journalism major.

Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.

 

Is Bennett and/or the media portraying what happened correctly or incorrectly?

Bryce: Bennett’s tweet claims that leftists terrorists “started a riot” because she supports President Donald Trump, and attacked the Ohio University Police Department for letting it happen. Students’ response was not just because she supports Trump, it was because she is perceived to be transphobic, homophobic and racist. Also, what happened was hardly a riot. The closest thing to violence was water bottles being thrown. 

The true story is that Bennett came to Ohio U to spread hateful rhetoric with the intent of creating a public disturbance so she could claim that Ohio U isn’t welcoming to conservative ideas or free speech. Freedom of speech means that the government cannot prosecute you for what you say, it does not mean that your speech has to be accepted. When Bennett exercised her freedom of speech on campus, her speech was rejected and we exercised our freedom of protest in response.

Sydney: As expected, Bennett is taking this too far and misrepresenting what actually occurred. Her videos aren’t showing her attacks on students, like her racist and ableist remarks. She came to the university to cause a scene and get propaganda material she could use to attack a group of people that disagree with her radical views. It is clear she knew that the way she presented the events would increase her reach — especially on social media — and make the university look like a group of radical liberals, which is not the case. 

Certain media outlets are also only dealing with her side of the story. They aren’t showing stories or videos from the students she attacked or those that witnessed her attacks. By presenting only her videos and statements, they are silencing the majority and not accurately depicting the events that occurred. 

Maddie: It started correctly, however as the situation grew it quickly became portrayed more incorrectly. In her tweet, Bennett expressed that the situation was a “riot.” Also via Twitter, the OUPD said that the protest did not reach the level of a riot. Seeing as this situation started as a misunderstanding between Bennett and OUPD, this continued in the coverage of the media. It is easy for media outlets — especially conservative ones — to see that, according to Bennett, she was greeted with a riot and report on that narrative. I will admit that from someone who heard about the story via social media it may seem like more of a situation than it was; however, there was no large scale vandalism or violence that Bennett insinuated. 

Hannah: People like Bennett play the victim when they can’t take advantage of people with opinions other than their own. Her entire media presence revolves around eliciting a response from others. She only came to Ohio U to trigger a reaction from students that she could then misinterpret for her own political and financial gain. In other words, she is a provocateur and nothing else. 

Bennett has portrayed this situation as a riot where she was unfairly attacked by liberal student “terrorists,” yet she is known for attacking anyone of a different race, sexual orientation or ideology than her own. If anything, Bennett’s xenophobic remarks and her threat to return to campus with “an army of gun owners” are the closest things to terrorist acts. 

Charlotte: Bennett’s whole goal all along was to incite a response out of the students so she could tell her conservative supporters what a bad school Ohio U is and how President Donald Trump needs to “strip funding from universities like this” — otherwise she wouldn’t have rolled up with a bodyguard at one of the busiest times and places on campus. Bennett posted a 40-minute YouTube video that didn’t show any of the riot type behavior she is describing, but yet she continues to spread lies about the incident on any media platform that will interview her. 

Many media outlets just recounted the event by using articles from local outlets, but Rolling Stone took the time to tell the story from the perspective of the students. This article portrayed what happened correctly because the students were on campus and were able to witness the event — every other media outlet is mostly relying on hearsay.

 

Does the university or its students owe Bennett an apology?

Bryce: No. The university itself had nothing to do with the protest anyway. As for the students, why should we apologize for protesting her hateful statements if she is not willing to apologize for making them? She came here knowing what the response would be and decided to come anyway for the attention. She exercised her first amendment rights, and so did we.

Sydney: As far as the university goes, they have no reason to apologize for what happened on Monday. The university itself has no control over the actions of the students, so they really did nothing wrong in this situation. One of Bennett’s prominent claims against the university is that OUPD did nothing to control the situation. In this case, there was nothing they could’ve done. Students were exercising their first amendment rights, just as Bennett was. I can understand why she believes the students owe her an apology. Even though they were exercising their rights, some did take it too far by throwing water and toilet paper. Although not necessarily as violent as she portrayed, these actions weren’t necessary and are some of the main reasons this event is leaving a bad impression on people. 

Maddie: No. I think the OUPD’s statement suffices. It is evident that the students did not want her here, and I applaud the university for not offering a further statement or apology. 

Hannah: No. Bennett came to Ohio U with the sole purpose of getting a reaction from people. If the university as an institution, or the students as individuals apologize, then she will be getting exactly what she wants. There is no need for the students or the university to apologize for an act of free speech intended to let Bennett know her hateful comments are not accepted here.

Charlotte: If even the national Libertarian Party disowned Bennett’s actions publicly, then no one should give her the time of day to apologize. However, university officials probably should have followed suit with OUPD and released a statement on the incidents that occurred, backing up OUPD’s claims that the crowd did not start a riot.

 

If Bennett returns to campus, how might the students respond? How might the police respond?

Bryce: Personally, I am opposed to the silent protest idea circulating Twitter. The idea is to stage a “die-in” whenever she comes back where students simply drop to the ground to protest gun violence. I think simplifying Bennett’s political role down to just gun rights is a bad idea because there is room for legitimate debates on gun control laws, but Bennett also represents homophobia, transphobia, racism and the alt-right generally. 

The ideal response would obviously be for nobody to acknowledge her so she doesn’t get any media attention out of it, but this seems incredibly difficult to enforce and would likely keep her around campus for several days until she gets a reaction she can capitalize on. I’d argue that it’s much better for us as a community to respond the way we did so we can at least get her off campus as quickly as possible and reassure marginalized communities that Ohio U is a safe place for them. Although, if she actually does follow through with the threat to bring an army of gun owners, we should prioritize the safety of students over protesting, and the police will need to get involved to protect students.

Sydney: I think if we can get the entire campus on board, the silent protest idea will accomplish what we want as opposed to giving Bennett what she wants. Even if the entire student body participates with the exception of a small group of students and those students repeat what occurred during her first visit, she will continue to use her media presence to falsely portray the university. Participating in the silent protest would also be a safety measure for the students because it gives her no reason to use her guns for self-defense if she truly views what happened the first time as assault. If she continues to get the response she wants, she will continue to return to the university for more footage and propaganda, which would make Ohio U a more hostile and unsafe place for the groups she has marginalized. Since it is legal to open carry in public spaces, the police really can’t respond except as a presence to keep students safe if she or her “army” were to do anything beyond an open-carry walk. 

Maddie: There is a new move on campus to greet her with a silent protest. I think this is a smart move — however, there should also be a movement to make sure we are compliant with the freedom of expression rules on campus. Technically, Bennett is able to open carry on campus. So it should be important to educate our out of state students, our international students and those who may have not been raised around guns or are uncomfortable around guns. If she returns, we need to make sure everyone is safe and not worry about giving her attention the second time around. 

Hannah: I feel that planning a silent protest is the best option. Bennett’s media presence grows when she gets reactions countering her alt-right statements. Although I feel that the students’ response to Bennett on Monday was justified, I fear that if we act out again she will further use Ohio U to spread propaganda claiming that liberal college kids are dangerous and intolerant. We shouldn’t give her more footage to perpetuate these lies — that is exactly what she wants. It is important that as a student body, we decide how to deal with her return beforehand, so we can ensure the safety of everyone on campus. 

Charlotte: If Bennett lets OUPD know beforehand that she is coming, they should make sure they are fully staffed and prepared to protect everyone involved. She should also be offered a designated space so no one is almost run over and traffic isn’t held up like it was last week. If Bennett engages in a civil dialogue with students, then the students should either act the same or ignore her. Either way, she wouldn’t have any footage to give to her followers.

Is Ohio U a safe space for all opinions?

Bryce: People are entitled to their own opinions and have the freedom to express them, but that does not mean anyone has to accept them. The College Republicans have events throughout campus and write columns for campus media outlets. There’s even a yearly event called Pizza and Politics put on by the College Republicans and College Democrats where both parties sit down and just openly discuss issues. So I’d say the university is definitely a safe space for all opinions, but when someone like Bennett or the homophobic preachers come to campus to spread hateful messages and refuse to participate in an honest discussion, then we have every right to utilize our freedom of speech and protest to drown them out.

Sydney: Almost anywhere you go, different political ideas are accepted when presented in a civil manner. It’s pretty well known that Ohio U is a more liberal university, but there are a good number of conservative students on campus who can all freely discuss their views on politics without causing a riot. The response to people’s political views comes down to how the person presents them. In this situation, violence results in violence. 

Maddie: It is true Ohio U is a very liberal campus. However, the Ohio U College Republicans are a prominent group on campus. They host events, table and register students to vote just like other political organizations on campus. They write Republican columns in The New Political and The Post, two large newspapers on campus. While the campus may be more liberal, there are plenty of ways for College Republicans and conservatives on campus to speak their opinion. 

Hannah: Ohio U is definitely accepting of a variety of political views, as long as they are presented in the correct way. Bennett comes to college campuses solely to spread hateful rhetoric against minorities, and she approaches other views with violent disdain and intolerance. There is a distinct difference between political discourse and threatening others by reminding them that you have a gun when they disagree with you. Obviously, violently belittling the other side is not welcome here. However, discussion with other political views is healthy and occurs often on Ohio U’s campus. I have seen it in a lot of my classes and have even experienced differences of opinion within my own friend group. The difference is that most people are willing to hear points made by the other side without purposely inciting a violent reaction.

Charlotte: There are still times where, as a moderate conservative, I think twice before I share some controversial opinions, mainly because of the negativity I have received in the past. However, if the select few professors and students who have a hard time acknowledging dissenting opinions are disregarded, Ohio U is usually an open marketplace of ideas. I was drawn to enroll at Ohio U because of the welcoming atmosphere I experienced and the way that everyone seems like a family, and I still see that every day in some form.

 

Bennett came on an OHIO Up Close day where prospective students toured campus with their families. How could the altercation with Bennett and the protestors impact the image of the school to prospective students?

Bryce: This event will probably promote Ohio U’s image as a politically active liberal university, which could increase enrollment numbers from the demographics that Bennett attacks who might be looking for a place they will feel safe. We could also see a drop in enrollment from conservatives opposed to the political culture of Athens, but any conservatives who would care about this incident either already know that Ohio U is a liberal campus and already decided to come anyway or they weren’t really considering Ohio U in the first place. I can’t see too many conservatives who would have otherwise come to this openly liberal university but changed their minds after this protest.

Sydney: For most people, college isn’t about going somewhere that is uniform in beliefs. A lot of people view college as an opportunity to experience cultures, people and even ideas that are different than what they’re used to. There is definitely a potential that some conservative students might feel unsafe after what happened, but I doubt most of them will act on it and choose to not attend the university. Prospective students know the common political stance of the university and if that stance didn’t change their decision beforehand, this event probably won’t change it either. 

Maddie: In hindsight, I don’t think this will impact the number of students who enroll. Athens is known for being a liberal corner in southeast Ohio, maybe hence why there are not many more outspoken conservatives on campus. However, I generally don’t think that it will affect prospective conservative students. If the students were hoping to go here, it’s because they are in love with the campus, Athens and Ohio U itself. This won’t be changed by one event if they were truly in love with Athens and Ohio U — like I was on my OHIO Up Close day. 

Hannah: I don’t think that this event will have a negative impact on the school’s image. If anything, Monday’s incident shows that Ohio U has a politically active student body that is willing to protect the minorities that Bennett and her followers denigrate. 

Charlotte: Some prospective students may not be fazed by the image Bennett created for Ohio U, but the parents who disagree with what the students did during the protest and/or agree with Bennet’s views may discourage their children from enrolling in the university. Since I am a first-generation college student, I know that first impressions of the campus for a student and their parents are make or break for enrollment because they generally don’t have an idea of what to expect. Parents and students who didn’t previously know of Ohio U’s progressive population may be turned off by the display they saw if they didn’t have the full context of the situation. The diverse opinions that these students could bring to campus are important to continue the important conversations that happen on campus daily, so I hope for the university’s sake that this is not the case.

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