In the aftermath of the attacks on the United States Capitol by supporters of President Trump, college leaders are being asked to confront dangerous and offensive speech by students and faculty and staff members that promote false claims about the 2020 election and support the violence that occurred last week as a result of the spread of such claims.
The calls for administrators to rid their colleges of those who hold such views, and to examine how their institutions combat misinformation, is often complicated by First Amendment protections. Colleges and universities, after all, are meant to be forums for students to voice, debate and defend arguments founded in truth, experts on political expression said.
Some of the comments supporting the rioting in the nation’s capital were founded in falsehoods, however. They often echoed the sentiments that led to the violence -- such as claims that the election was "stolen" from Trump -- and justified the actions of the people who stormed the Capitol building. Such comments, most of them posted on social media, are protected speech, yet, students, alumni and faculty members fear the potential that they have to stoke further lawlessness.
For instance, the College Republicans chapter at the Georgia Institute of Technology minimized the attack on Twitter and said that racial justice protests over the summer in Washington, D.C., caused worse damage, despite being mostly peaceful. “Cops let Black Lives Matter riot and kill people in the streets for six months,” said one tweet, which was later deleted.
“All cops are bastards,” the College Republicans chapter tweeted on the evening of Jan. 6, as law enforcement officers cleared the Capitol of rioters. That tweet, also since deleted, was screenshotted and circulated by Georgia Tech students and alumni who expressed outrage at the statements and brought them to the attention of Ángel Cabrera, the institute’s president. The Georgia Tech College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment sent to a Facebook account and email addresses associated with the group.
Jaden McNeil -- a former Kansas State University student who previously made national headlines for an offensive comment about George Floyd in June -- again caused a stir with tweets that showed him at the pro-Trump riot. McNeil, who is the founder of a pro-Trump student group called America First Students, falsely claimed the election was “stolen” and that the law enforcement response to the rioting demonstrated that “police brutality is against American patriots not black thugs.”
A spokesperson for Kansas State said in an email that McNeil is not enrolled in classes at the university for the spring 2021 semester. The spokesperson declined to provide more information, citing federal privacy laws. McNeil did not respond to a request for comment.