(The Hill) – Penn State University canceled a speaking engagement Monday night by a founder of the far-right group Proud Boys due to threats of violence after protests on campus grew intensely ahead of the event.
“Due to the threat of escalating violence associated with tonight’s event, Penn State University Police determined that it was necessary to cancel the speaking event in the interest of campus safety,” the university announced.
The event, sponsored by student organization Uncensored America, which advocates for hosting “cancelled speakers,” would have featured Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and right-wing BlazeTV host Alex Stein.
Protests had erupted on the campus by several hundred people just before the event start time with Stein at one point appearing at the protest, according to the Centre Daily Times.
Penn State said in its cancellation announcement that demonstrations against the event “regrettably turned violent.”
“We have encouraged peaceful protest, and, while the protest is an acceptable means of expression, it becomes unacceptable when it obstructs the basic exchange of ideas,” officials said.
“Such obstruction is a form of censorship, no matter who initiates it or for what reasons.”
The university reiterated that it disagreed with the views expressed by Uncensored America, but that they should still be allowed to be shared.
“The University has been clear that the views and speech of the two speakers at tonight’s student-organization-hosted event are abhorrent and do not align with the values of Penn State,” it wrote.
“The University expects that people engaging in expressive activity will demonstrate civility, concern for the safety of persons and property, respect for University activities and for those who may disagree with their message, and will comply with University rules.”
Penn State officials released a statement earlier this month titled “University critical of upcoming speakers for repugnant and denigrating rhetoric,” addressing the controversial event and explaining why the university would allow it to be held.
“As a public university, we are unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values and our personal sensibilities,” wrote Interim Vice President Frank Guadagnino, Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims and Vice Provost for Educational Equity Marcus Whitehurst.
“While the past statements and actions of these speakers are alarming and can elicit strong reactions from our community, we must continue to uphold the right to free speech — even speech we find abhorrent — because Penn State fully supports the fundamental right of free speech.”
The officials added that university leadership disagrees with the views of McInnes and Stein, calling them “provocateurs who use odious behavior and conflict to gain attention and avoid serious conversations on topics of importance.”
“The climate in our nation has been polarized for quite some time,” wrote the university on Monday.
“On campuses across the country, violence is proliferating and individuals are being intimidated and even harmed. This must stop.”