Gun rights activist forced off Ohio University campus by protesters
First posted April 3, 2020 11:00am EDT
Last updated May 11, 2020 8:36pm EDT
All Associated Themes:
- Protest Politics
- Social Media
- Violence / Threats
On Feb. 17, 2020, celebrity gun rights activist and “Kent State Gun Girl” Kaitlin Bennett went to Ohio University (OU) in Athens to film student interviews for her YouTube channel. She was quickly surrounded by a large crowd of people protesting her Second Amendment activism, prompting police to escort her off campus.
Kaitlin Bennett is a 2018 graduate of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. She went viral in May 2018 after tweeting one of her graduation photos, in which she posed with an AR-10 rifle; the tweet was posted in protest of Kent State’s ban on students carrying weapons. As a student, Bennett was known for organizing gun rights rallies on campus, The Washington Post reports. She visited OU in February 2020 to film for her libertarian YouTube channel, Liberty Hangout, which Bennett created after serving as a contributor for InfoWars, a far-right website.
At about 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 17, Bennett, her bodyguard, and several members of Liberty Hangout arrived on OU’s campus, according to the school’s student newspaper, The Post. The group is currently touring colleges and cities nationwide to advocate for conservative voices on campus. The visit to OU was not explicitly tied to gun rights activism; Bennett was on camera asking students trivia questions about President’s Day. However, several hundred students gathered to protest Bennett’s reputation as a conservative provocateur.
The Athens News reports that OU bans concealed carry of guns on campus, a policy Bennett has protested in the past. Statewide, Ohio allows for open carry of firearms except in vehicles or businesses that sell alcohol.
Interactions between Bennett’s posse and her protesters quickly escalated. In videos that have since gone viral, OU students are seen shouting, making lewd gestures, and, at one point, throwing drinks at Bennett’s truck. The dissenting crowd eventually forced the Liberty Hangout group out of the student center, where they were filming, before Bennett and the others decided to leave campus.
Despite Bennett’s claims on Twitter of being attacked by a mob, the OU Police Department (OUPD) said in a statement that the incident did not rise to the level of a riot. “Ohio University’s police officers were present throughout the incident to protect everyone’s rights and safety,” the statement reads. “Other than keeping streets and other public rights of way clear, no police officers asked anyone to leave at any point in time.” As reported in The Washington Post, OUPD and a spokesperson for the university emphasized that both groups were allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Bennett and other conservative voices on Twitter have characterized the OU crowd as being critical towards nonliberal perspectives. OU student Anya Bartek, who identifies as conservative, told Rolling Stone, “If I had to guess there were conservatives in the crowd and they just disagree with how she disrespects people.” She added, “We at OU don’t stand for that disrespect.” Another student told Rolling Stone that many students believed Bennett came to campus “looking for some sort of reaction whether it be good or bad,” intending to cause a scene rather than advocate for her political beliefs.
The Liberty Hangout group did not give police prior notice that they would be visiting campus; while they were not required to do so, announcing their visit could have allowed for a larger police presence, according to The Athens News.
Bennett vows to return to OU with “army of gun owners,” calls for action from President Trump
Hours after she left campus, Bennett tweeted that she would return with an “army of gun owners for an open-carry walk through campus.” She also took to Twitter to call for President Donald Trump to “strip funding from universities like this that harbor terrorists.”
Fox News interviewed Bennett in the days following the incident at OU, during which she criticized OUPD officers for denying help to someone with a minority opinion. “Any conservative student who goes to that school should fear for their safety,” Bennett told Fox.