An April 24 event featuring self-proclaimed professional troll Alex Stein, who gained headlines last summer for sexually harassing U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was canceled by the organizing student group after the university said it could not accommodate a “last-minute request” to change the date or the speaker. An April 20 event headlining James Lindsay, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled an “extremist,” was canceled over a second student group’s dislike of the proposed venue, according to both the group and the university.
The group organizing the April 20 event, Young Americans for Freedom, expressed dissatisfaction over hosting it in a conference room within the Bryce Jordan Center and hoped to hold it elsewhere in the future. In a written statement, the university said such decisions are made “on a viewpoint- and content-neutral basis.”
Said Jack Kentner, chair of the student group, in an email to the CDT: “We are working diligently to have James Lindsay come speak next semester and feel that he would bring great insights to campus.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that seeks to fight hate and racial injustice, has said Lindsay is “a leading voice in the reactionary anti-student inclusion, anti-LGBTQ and conspiracy propaganda movement.” He has mocked George Floyd, referred to the Pride Flag as the “flag of a hostile enemy,” promoted the conspiracy theory that LGBTQ supporters are pedophiles, and once got into a Twitter fight with the Auschwitz Museum over comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.
Stein, a YouTube personality who hosts a show on conservative network BlazeTV, is no stranger to Happy Valley. He was part of the eventually canceled October 2022 event, which also featured Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes. Stein walked through the crowd of protesters with a smile and recorded their interactions, from one person spitting on him to him tearing up a protester’s sign. “I’ll be honest, probably the best content of the whole show,” Stein said at the time.
Penn State canceled last fall’s event about 45 minutes before it was set to begin due to the “threat of escalating violence” — and after supporters of the Proud Boys, one of whom gave a Nazi salute, pepper-sprayed a number of protesters and reporters. Student group Uncensored America, founded in 2020, organized both that and the April 24 events.
Uncensored America hinted at the event on social media as recently as April 10, when it retweeted a Penn State student news story about requesting security with the message, “Stand back and stand by!,” the title of last October’s event. Both the university and Uncensored America confirmed the cancellation of the upcoming event in separate statements.
According to Penn State, Uncensored America requested to move the date to April 28, the semester’s final day of classes — but the university could not approve that change since university police were already committed to support “Movin’ On,” one of the nation’s largest student-run music festivals. Uncensored America then suggested April 29, but university policy prohibits student programs from April 29 through the remainder of the semester.
“Uncensored America indicated none of the other dates proposed by the university would work and the group canceled the proposed event,” a statement from the university read. “Following this cancellation, Uncensored America then proposed a different speaker for April 24. With less than a week to prepare, staff and resources that had been allocated to other events were not available to support this event.”
Uncensored America added in an email to the CDT, “We will be back in the fall semester.”
As in previous instances, Penn State’s leaders have explained that while they’re opposed to the rhetoric featured in such events, they cannot legally cancel them on the basis of speech due to the First Amendment. Multiple experts have told the CDT the university is almost certainly correct in its assertion.
Still, both the local and university communities have overwhelmingly expressed opposition to the messages at such events. An unofficial student group, the Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity, originally planned separate protests set for an hour before each of April’s events. (In October, the group helped organize a protest that saw the attendance of several hundred students and community members.)
In October 2021, when Uncensored America invited controversial figure Milo Yiannopoulos to campus, a “Love is Louder” counter-event outdrew Yiannopoulos by more than a 7-to-1 margin.
Penn State informed the community late last month that speakers who “may generate controversy” would likely be visiting campus in the spring, alluding to both Stein and Lindsay. University president Neeli Bendapudi followed that up with a video message two weeks ago, where she said, “Our university personnel are working with law enforcement to create as safe an environment as possible.”
Commencement is scheduled for May 5-7. The fall semester will kick off Aug. 21.
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