Penn State Cancels Event Featuring Proud Boys Founder

A planned comedy event featuring Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes was canceled after student protests turned violent.
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  • Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes was set to appear on Penn State's campus as part of a "provocative comedy night."
  • The event was canceled hours before it was set to start after a protest turned violent.
  • University officials had previously said in a statement that they can't block McInnes' appearance due to constitutionally protected freedom of speech.

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) on Monday canceled an event featuring Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, citing a "threat of escalating violence."

McInnes was scheduled to appear Monday evening as part of a "provocative comedy night" hosted by the student group Uncensored America. However, the event was canceled less than an hour before the scheduled start time after protests turned violent, Penn State police said.

Alex Stein, a controversial commentator who was also scheduled to be among the speakers at the event, entered the peaceful protest, raising tension, Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi explained in a statement. Somebody then used pepper spray.

"It is unclear which individuals onsite then resorted to physical confrontation and to using pepper spray against others in the crowd, including against police officers," Bendapudi said.

The Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity, which organized protests against the event, wrote in an Instagram post that "some brave people were pepper sprayed by hate group members enabled by the PSU admin to terrorize our campus."

Bendapudi blamed the cancellation on both sides.

"Tonight, Stein and McInnes will celebrate a victory for being canceled, when in actuality, they contributed to the very violence that compromised their ability to speak," Bendapudi wrote. "Tonight, counter-protestors also will celebrate a victory that they forced the University to cancel this event, when in actuality they have furthered the visibility of the very cause they oppose."

Prior to the event's cancellation, a petition calling for university officials to stop McInnes' appearance had collected more than 3,200 signatures.

"'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 petition by the Student Committee for Defense and Solidarity reads.

University officials previously condemned McInnes' appearance at the event in a statement, but they said their hands are tied when it comes to stopping the event due to First Amendment rights and constitutionally protected free speech.

"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," the statement by university leaders reads.

"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. To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would erode the basic freedom each of us shares to think and express ourselves as we wish."