This latest incident came just days after a pro-life event at the University of Texas was disrupted by a “smoke-device.”
Tensions over free speech began to rise at Texas State on April 8, when the student government voted to ban Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a conservative student group. The student government resolution stated that the group had a “consistent history of creating hostile work and learning environments through a myriad of intimidation tactics aimed against students and faculty.”
After the vote, TPUSA chapter president, Stormi Rodriguez, posted a video highlighting, “what it looks like to be threatening and intimidating students.”
The ban led to an outcry from prominent Texas Republicans including Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and Congressman Chip Roy. The university ultimately ruled that the Student Government Association had no authority to ban TPUSA from campus.
On April 23, Chris Ritchie, associated with a fringe organization called the Texas Nomads SAR (Sons of the American Revolution), posted on Twitter that his group would be going to Texas State on May 1 for a “flag march” and to have a conversation with students.
Upon seeing an aggressive tweet from Ritchie, TPUSA said, “We do not believe in political violence of any form and fully condemn those who engage in it.”
University police placed extra officers on campus, and the administration asked students to avoid confronting the outside organization.
According to reports from Texas State University and the campus police department, Ritchie and his group never showed up on Wednesday.
Students had already gathered on the quad, angry that the school was allowing an alleged white nationalist organization on campus when the incident occurred leading to the arrests.
Laurie Clouse, the Texas State University police chief, gave the following account of the conflicts.
“The incident that led to the arrests began when one student took a hat off another student’s head and fled. Police officers quickly interceded and directed the student to drop the stolen property. The student refused multiple directives and was then detained with the intention of being given a ticket for theft. The student was later arrested after providing a false identity to the police,” Clouse stated.
Video of one of the students arrested can be seen below:
The four students who were arrested have been identified as:
- Tyvonte Davis-Williams, charged with disorderly conduct-language.
- Alejandra Navarrete, charged with failure to identify and providing false information.
- Nazarene Freeman, charged with interference with public duties and failure to identify.
- Claudia Gasponi, charged with resisting arrest and interference with public duties.
The Texan received an e-mail response from Jayme Blaschke with Texas State’s office of media relations who stated, “The entire campus of Texas State University is a free speech area, and Texas State respects and defends the First Amendment.”
Texas State University President Denise Trauth released a video statement responding to the incident. Chief Clouse also provided a lengthier follow-up statement providing a detailed account of what occurred on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the Texas House passed legislation (HB 2100) authored by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) that would ensure the common outdoor areas of campuses are deemed traditional public forums.
HB 2100 would also waive a university’s sovereign immunity if an individual’s right to free speech is infringed so long as that speech does not inhibit the operations of the school. This provision could potentially open universities up to penalty for failing to defend or actively infringing upon an individual’s First Amendment rights.
That bill has been received by the Senate.
Texas universities have become just the latest battleground in an ongoing clash between those seeking to curb or ban speech they deem inappropriate or hateful, and supporters of free speech.
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