A conservative Pennsylvania State University student group will host Gavin McInnes, founder of the far-right group the Proud Boys, for an event on Oct. 24. The plan has sparked outrage from students and worries over potential violence at the University Park campus.
The student group, Uncensored America, invited McInnes to participate in “Stand Back & Stand By,” a comedy hour billed as “an opportunity to hear different political viewpoints in a funny and entertaining way.” The event will also feature right-wing internet personality Alex Stein, who made headlines this summer for catcalling Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in a viral video stunt. Uncensored America received $7,000 in funding from student services to hold the event, the majority of which will be used to pay speaker honorarium fees.
The Proud Boys were declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and a designated “extremist group” by the FBI. An all-male organization, they describe themselves as a “Western chauvinist” brotherhood opposed to political correctness and came to fame after helping to organize the neofascist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Since then, the Proud Boys have been a major presence at protests across the country, intimidating left-wing activists and often picking violent fights. In 2018, 10 members were arrested for assaulting antifascist protesters in New York. More recently, more than 40 Proud Boys members were indicted for helping to lead the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
In 2017, an appearance by McInnes at New York University led to riotous demonstrations that ultimately resulted in 11 arrests, none of them students.
Penn State condemned McInnes’s “repugnant and denigrating rhetoric” in a statement yesterday but said the event would be allowed to continue regardless.
“As a recognized student organization, Uncensored America has the undeniable constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus,” the statement reads. “These individuals are not the first of their ilk to appear on our campus and we are certain they will not be the last. We take every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of those associated with activities on our campuses.”
But leaders of the Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity at Penn State said the question of whether to invite McInnes to campus was “not a speech issue, but a safety issue.”
“‘Free Speech’ does not mean ‘paid speech’ nor does it mean ‘platforming fascists and promoting hateful, meritless disinformation with thousands of student-fee dollars,’” the committee wrote in its petition demanding the university cancel the event, which had garnered over 1,600 signatures as of Thursday. “Paying and platforming Gavin McInnes while allowing him to build networks and political prestige goes against everything for which we Penn Staters stand, including the core values of our university.”