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Penn State president reacts to 'Stand Back & Stand By' protests, police on pepper spray and arrests

Gavin McInnes AP photo
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
FILE - In this April 27, 2017 file photo, Gavin McInnes, center, founder of the far-right group Proud Boys, is surrounded by supporters after speaking at a rally in Berkeley, Calif. The Canadian government designated the Proud Boys group as a terrorist entity on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, noting they played a pivotal role in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. McInnes has described the group as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists” and denies affiliations with far-right extremist groups that overtly espouse racist and anti-Semitic views.

Penn State University Police say no law enforcement used pepper spray at Monday night's protest against the "Stand Back & Stand By" event, which they canceled at the last minute due to the threat of violence.

“Despite the University’s goal of upholding free speech, given the agitated demonstrators, at least one known physical altercation, a crowd surge toward the building, and chemical spray of the crowd and officers, taken altogether, it was a safety risk to continue to move forward and we did recommend the event be canceled,” said Charlie Noffsinger, associate vice president for University Police and Public Safety, in a press release Tuesday.

The release also said one person was arrested for disorderly conduct and defiant trespass.

The announcement that Penn State's Uncensored America club would bring Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and right-wing comedian Alex Stein was met with community outrage.

About an hour before the event was supposed to start, Penn State's alert system said the crowd outside was an "unlawful disturbance" and protesters could be subject to arrest.

Around ten minutes later, a follow-up alert was sent stating that the event was canceled.

Penn State published a press release saying the school finds the speakers' views abhorrent and supports protests, but when they obstruct the exchange of ideas, they become censorship.

"On campuses across the country, violence is proliferation and individuals are being intimidated and even harmed," the release said. "This must stop."

Early Tuesday morning, Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi also released a statement on the cancellation of the event.

In the statement she recalled events of the night prior, saying Stein entered the peaceful protest and raised the tension.

She put blame 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 said. "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."

Penn State has continually stated they are unable to block far-right speakers when they're invited to campus by registered student organizations due to the first amendment.

Katie Knol is a WPSU radio news intern for fall 2022.