On Monday afternoon, Ohio University first-year Anya Bartek was in class when she found out that Kaitlin Bennett — a right-wing personality known as Kent State Gun Girl for posing with an AR-10 rifle at graduation — was set to appear at her school to ask students questions about Presidents’ Day. Her boyfriend sent her a photo of a large crowd of protesters surrounding Bennett. “It was obviously a spectacle,” she tells Rolling Stone.
Bartek had heard of Bennett from her confrontational YouTube videos, which feature Bennett aggressively questioning students about such right-wing pet causes as whether it is appropriate for tampons to be featured in men’s bathrooms. She also knew of Bennett from the completely unsubstantiated yet pervasive rumor that she “had pooped herself at a frat party” at Kent State. In that vein, when Bartek joined the crowd of protesters, she saw students chanting “go home” and “shit your pants.” “That’s when people started throwing toilet paper,” she says.
The protests Bartek describes are visible in a series of now-viral videos of hundreds of Ohio University students protesting Bennett, who took to Twitter on late Monday afternoon to accuse the students of bullying and abusing her at the protests. “This is what happens when a Trump supporter goes to a college campus,” she tweeted accompanied by a clip showing protesters dousing her van with bottled water, accusing “leftists” at Ohio University of starting a “riot” when she and her entourage showed up to interview students. “I think @realDonaldTrump should strip funding from universities like this,” she said in the tweet.
After she posted the tweet, right-wing activists were incensed by Bennett’s treatment, viewing it as symptomatic of the campus left’s hostility toward any viewpoints that are not perceived as liberal. “It’s clear @OhioU does not protect young women from assault on their campus Campus cops on video standing by and watching while Kaitlin Bennett was surrounded and assaulted by a violent, cult-like mob,” far-right thought leader Jack Posobiec tweeted. But both Ohio University students in attendance at the protests and Ohio University police reject Bennett’s claims that the crowd was violent or abusive, or that the uproar from the crowd was totally unprovoked.
According to OU students who spoke with Rolling Stone, Bennett initially arrived to interview students for a Presidents’ Day video, prompting tensions to arise almost immediately. Samantha Sucre, a first-year, says that she initially confronted Bennett over a tweet in which she identified herself as a “proud woman of color” (Bennett is white; Sucre is a woman of color.) When Sucre confronted her with the tweet and said the comment was unacceptable, Bennett said, “‘If I can change my gender, I can change my race.”
All of the OU students interviewed by Rolling Stone said the protests were undoubtedly heated; as seen in the footage, protesters chanted “shit your pants,” threw toilet paper. They also chanted, “this is for Kaitlin you big fat white nasty racist-ass bitch” and “I’m coming outside, I’m going to beat the fuck out of you, bitch” — which, out of context, could be perceived as a threat, but are both references to a TikTok meme.
At one point, Bennett’s security guard hauled her into a truck, prompting students to throw water and iced coffee at it (not hot coffee at her directly, as Bennett claimed on Twitter, Bartek says). But with the exception of one student whom Bennett accidentally kicked in the head while being lifted into the truck, no one was injured nor did anyone have reason to doubt their safety, the students say. “I can see why she would be intimidated because of the yelling and throwing of the toilet paper and stuff, but it never got violent,” says Mallory Reed, an OU sophomore.
On Twitter, Bennett also claimed that OU campus police had failed to provide sufficient security for her and her entourage. In a statement, the OU campus police refuted this, saying that not only had Bennett arrived on campus unexpectedly, thus preventing them from staffing up for her arrival, but that the protests “did not rise to the level of a riot.” “There was strong language and allegations that some unknown person(s) in the crowd had splashed water, but there were no reported injuries or violence,” the statement read. The student activists agreed with this perception of events: “The police handled it well….their job was to protect everyone, not just her,” Reed says.
In the wake of the footage of Bennett’s campus visit going viral, many on the right have attempted to frame the OU campus as a primarily liberal one. Although the campus town of Athens has been viewed as a bastion of liberalism in a predominantly red state, this conception is not entirely true, says Bartek, who self-identifies as conservative. “If I had to guess there were conservatives in the crowd and they just disagree with how she disrespects people,” she says. “We at OU don’t stand for that disrespect.”
“I think she came to OU looking for some sort of reaction whether it be good or bad,” says Sucre. “And she definitely caused a scene.”