Students and faculty at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, have accused student libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) of being white supremacists and potential terrorists after holding a free speech event in April.
According to Reason, after the formation of a YAL chapter on the Linfield College campus in April, the group held a series of "speak freely" events. Keifer Smith, vice president of the chapter, brought an inflatable "free speech ball" where any student or faculty member could write whatever they wanted on it.
"The majority of the things written on there were uplifting things, not political, not inflammatory at all," Smith told Reason.
Reportedly, the ball had comments such as "you're awesome" and "have a nice day," but at one point someone drew the cartoon frog "Pepe" on the ball. Pepe, made popular during the 2016 elections, has been used as a symbol on social media for many who consider themselves alt-right.
Pepe's appearance quickly caused backlash, and YAL was immediately "deemed an alt-right group" and "white supremacists" by students and faculty, according to Smith.
In response to controversy generated by Pepe's appearance during the event, the Linfield Advisory Committee on Diversity invited the Linfield YAL chapter to a free speech forum. Smith said that the event was supposed to be a one-hour exchange on the general idea of expression.
Instead, according to Smith, it devolved into a four-hour denunciation of him and the rest of the YAL chapter for their alleged "intolerance."
The college also canceled an upcoming "speak freely" event at which University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson was scheduled to speak. The college administration told YAL that its paperwork had been "turned in a day late," and also cited a tweet by Peterson promoting a private event for Linfield students and faculty, which the college considered "harassment."
Some students and faculty also took to the college's student paper, The Linfield Review, to denounce YAL and the idea of free speech.
"The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community," wrote English professor Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt.
"The agenda of groups like alt-right and campus clubs that are either supported by the alt-right or providing a platform for the alt-right is clear," she said later. "They want to challenge college campuses for their numerous diversity and inclusion initiatives that provide a legitimate space for ideas and knowledge base that have been historically marginalized and excluded."
Reason reports that Dutt-Ballerstadt accused Smith and YAL of being funded by "alt-right dark money."
Linfield's dean of faculty Dawn Nowacki also wrote in the Linfield Review, admitting that there was no evidence of YAL being racist or misogynistic, but believed they could potentially become terrorists.
"Overt white supremacism, misogyny and hatred of LGBQTI people have not been strongly expressed in the events organized by the Young Americans for Liberty. In fact, these efforts are a lot more subtle," Nowacki wrote. "Just as becoming a terrorist is a gradual, step by step process, people do not become part of the alt-right overnight. These events represent a kind of soft recruitment into more extremist ideas."
Linfield's YAL chapter moved forward with the Peterson speech regardless, choosing instead to hold it off campus. Peterson featured his speech on his YouTube channel.
"I was recently invited to speak at Linfield College, McMinnville, Oregon, by the Young Americans for Liberty," Peterson wrote in the description of the YouTube video. "The talk had been booked for months, I had my plane tickets and reservations, the hall was ready.... But then the Linfield administration saw fit to disinvite me. So I gave my honorarium to the student group and they rented another venue."
Before the speech starts within the video, Peterson offers his response to being disinvited by the college despite being booked months in advance.
“I think you are treating me and the student group that invited me in a manner that is absolutely reprehensible, as well as cowardly, and underhanded,” Peterson said in his video.
Peterson lambasted the school for its willingness to inconvenience him at his expense — as he had already set aside time and purchased a plane ticket for the event — and using "a plethora of specious reasons," including the college's anti-harassment policy to cancel the speech. Peterson said he had harassed or intimidated no one, and added that his tweet saying he would be "violating some safe spaces soon" at Linfield College, was obviously satirical.
"Obviously you were looking for any excuse, no matter how trivial, to cancel the event," Peterson said.