EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Conservative students call police after 'Build the Wall' banner torn down
- Conservative students at the University of Florida had their "Build the Wall" banner torn down multiple times in two days.
- The group's president told Campus Reform that “UF has failed in its responsibility to be a marketplace of ideas, and instead is becoming a bastion of anti-free speech activism.”
Members of a Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter at the University of Florida (UF) called police after having their “Build the Wall" banner torn down.
Members of the UF YAF chapter say they initially obtained a permit to display the banner on Monday, but that the large sign was torn down within a few hours. Determined to defend their right to free speech, YAF organizers met again Monday evening to build a new banner, which two females tore down on Tuesday and then ran away with as YAF members Philip Smith, Victor Santos, and Dylan Finucan chased after them.
In video captured by the YAF members and shared with Campus Reform, the YAF members can repeatedly be heard asking why the female students tore their banner down, while the female students attempt to hide their faces.
“Why would you tear down our property?” one of the YAF members asked.
The female with blue hair can also be seen lunging at Santos after he attempts to record her. Smith can be heard asking the female not to touch Santos. After Smith asked the females why they “don’t think our ideas should be listened to,” one of the females, dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt, responds by saying, “your ideas are violent.”
The YAF members continued to question and follow the students for several minutes. The students justified the vandalism by stating they were threatened. “Who cares about your f---ing speech?” one girl asked. When Smith stated that the banner was not life-threatening, the hooded student responded, “you are dangerous!”
The confrontation then became more tense with the hooded individual approaching Smith directly while yelling “get the f--k out of my face.”
The students can be seen justifying their actions by stating they have a “freedom to protest” YAF’s freedom of speech. They are also repeatedly heard asking the YAF students to “stop harassing” them because they did not “consent to being videographed.” Finucan responded that YAF did not consent to having their poster torn down.
While following the individuals who tore down the sign, the YAF members are eventually approached by someone asking the YAF members and the individuals to explain the situation. The hooded student responded by saying that the “banner perpetuates violence.” As the YAF students explained they had a permit for the banner, the unidentified individual who questioned them said, “we don’t want anyone to chase anybody.”
Shortly afterward, the women attempt to flee the YAF members by boarding a campus bus. Santos, who is seen wearing pink, attempted to follow the students onto the bus when the incident became physical, as the blue-haired student and Santos jostled for position on the bus. Despite trying to block Santos from the bus, the woman continued to yell for Santos to stop touching her.
“Get your hands off of me!” she yelled.
“You put your hands on him, did you not?” Finucan asked.
“No I didn’t, I was blocking the bus.”
“And that’s legal, huh?”
By the time the women decided to exit the bus, while screaming “get the f--k away from me,” UF police had arrived along with Richard Bryant, Associate Director in the UF Admissions Office. Finucan can be heard attempting to explain the situation to Bryant.
“No...I want to make sure everyone’s safe,” Bryant said, before approaching the officer. “I just walked by...there seems to be some sort of confrontation...I wanted to make sure it didn’t escalate. I’ve seen them being chased in front of traffic. It’s not safe. So, whatever happened, I just want them to stop.”
When the officer remarked that he thought someone had been chased onto a bus, Bryant interjected that “they did chase them onto a bus.” During cross-talk between the officer, the female students, and the YAF members, Finucan remarked that the YAF members also had a right to get on the bus. As the hooded individual told the police officer she needed them to stop following her, Bryant looked in the direction of Finucan and Santos and replied, “just stop.” Campus Reform reached out to Bryant for comment but did not receive one in time for publication.
Both women denied having done anything when the officers questioned whether the women had damaged property or torn down the banners.
Several hours later, after the banner was ultimately restored to its original location, another group of students tore down the banner, as can be seen in another video shared with Campus Reform. When Smith asked why their posters were being torn down, one student responded “f--k fascism, that’s why.”
“Okay, well can you not [cut down the banner]. Excuse me!” Smith responded. “This is theft, you know...can you please give me my property back?”
Smith and other YAF members informed the group of students that the police had been called. Undeterred, the students continued with the torn down banner and refused to return it to the YAF members.
“You’re infringing on my free speech by tearing down my poster,” Smith protested.
“This is my free speech,” the student with the banner replied.
The video concludes with police en route.
Campus Reform asked one officer about the incident, who said he could not legally provide information until a police report had been filed. Campus Reform also reached out to Smith, Finucan, Santos, and UF YAF President Sarah Long.
"I can’t believe that students think they’re fighting fascism by vandalizing and stealing private property,” Smith told Campus Reform. “They may not like it, but they’re the ones acting like fascists. A banner shouldn’t require around the clock police protection.”
Finucan and Santos agreed.
“It’s sad that on a university campus, a place hailed for openness, diversity, and inquiry of thought, that UF YAF had to call the police twice for vandalization and theft of our property, Finucan said. “I don’t understand those who say that our speech is violent when they decide to vandalize and steal property because they disagree with the message.”
“As a legal immigrant of mixed race, it’s pretty baffling that these two white girls took down our banner because it was ‘racist and violent,’ while they were the ones that got charged for being violent and intolerant,” Santos added. “One girl lunged at me to try to grab my phone, meaning they wanted anonymity. It’s like they don’t even understand what civil disobedience is.”
While Santos referenced charges in the statement, Campus Reform could not confirm whether charges are, in fact, pending, although Long said the group planned to press charges. Long added that “UF has failed in its responsibility to be a marketplace of ideas, and instead is becoming a bastion of anti-free speech activism.”
“Not only has the university censored YAF to the point where a First Amendment lawsuit was our only remedy, but students now are so threatened by the concept of intellectual diversity that they are willing to destroy, not only YAF’s property but any property that might get in the way of their destruction,” Long said, referring to a UF gymnastics banner that was also torn down by the students.
Campus Reform reached out to the UF Police Department for copies of the police reports and any records related to filed charges. Debbie Fleming, a program assistant at UFPD according to her LinkedIn profile, said UFPD filed a complaint regarding one of the incidents to the Florida Office of the State Attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Because the incident is now being investigated by the state attorney’s office, Fleming said, UFPD could not share or comment on the police reports.
It is unclear to which incident the UFPD complaint to the state attorney’s office refers. Campus Reform asked for names and details of those named in the police report, but Fleming said UFPD could not comment. UFPD would also not identify who the complaint was filed against or comment on the potential filing of criminal charges.
Campus Reform contacted the Florida Office of the State Attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit in an attempt to obtain the police reports or any additional information. Darry Lloyd, the Deputy Chief Investigator and Public Information Officer at the state attorney’s office, said he was unaware of the incidents referred to but would provide more information as his office processed the police reports.
Finucan told Campus Reform that he, too, attempted to obtain the police reports, as he claims he is mentioned in all three and that he gave sworn statements and evidence to the police. UFPD said they could not share this information as it was now part of the investigation in the state attorney’s office.
Campus Reform also reached out to the University of Florida for comment.
“The University of Florida supports the First Amendment right to freedom of expression,” UF spokesman Steve Orlando said. “UF encourages the free exchange of ideas and embraces its role as a place where people from all walks of life come to debate, agree or disagree and express themselves without fear of censorship or reprisal.”
Orlando further directed Campus Reform to UF’s free speech webpage.
Disclosure: The writer of this article is a general body member of UF YAF but did not take part in the planning, organizing, or execution of this event.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @eduneret