Penn State

Penn State denounces controversial speakers brought in by Turning Point chapter

The Penn State chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative organization dedicated to organizing university students and promoting “freedom,” is bringing two speakers to campus that university leaders are publicly denouncing.

Conservative YouTube personalities Hunter Avallone and Carl Benjamin — who goes by Sargon of Akkad online — have been banned from Twitter for “their derogatory and hateful comments about various groups,” according to a Penn State news release. They will speak on the topic of “Big Tech Censorship” Wednesday at 7 p.m. in 112 Kern Building. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

The event description on Facebook says that since both speakers have been banned from Twitter, “they will offer a content creator’s perspective on what social media suppression means for them and their audience.”

Sean Semanko, president of Penn State Turning Point, said the organization wanted to bring the two personalities because they are “immensely popular” with over 1 million subscribers each on YouTube and have been “censored” by large technology companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and crowdfunding site Patreon.

Benjamin, a member of the UK Independence Party who ran unsuccessfully for Parliament, has been described as anti-feminist, and has criticized Islam and identity politics. During the Gamergate controversy, he promoted a conspiracy theory that feminists were going undercover in video game research groups to tailor game development using a feminist agenda.

In 2016, he came under fire for tweeting that he “wouldn’t even rape” British MP Jess Phillips, then subsequently made a YouTube video indicating that he might “cave” and go through with it. UK police investigated Benjamin for harassment.

Avallone, 22, is a former Christian and conservative blogger who released a notorious video called “The Truth About Transgenders,” in which he opposed gender confirmation surgery. He also released number of videos in which he mocks and ridicules LGBT activists, transgender bathroom controversies, leftists and third-wave feminism.

In a statement, Penn State said “prior hateful, grotesque and disturbing views” from Avallone and Benjamin “are in direct conflict with the University’s values, and we profoundly disagree with the views that have been espoused by both individuals.”

Calling some of their language “repulsive,” the university said it “stands with our community members who oppose this hate-filled and derisive rhetoric, and we remain committed to our belief in civil discourse, inclusivity and diversity.”

Semanko said regardless of how people feel about Avallone and Benjamin’s comments, technology companies should not engage in the practice of banning users from their platforms for speech others find offensive. Once banned, they are unable to respond to questions and comments or “false claims,” he said.

In an era where college campuses are “way too sensitive” and trigger warnings are common, he said, Turning Point wants to promote open dialogues around free speech.

“I think we should talk about everything, everything should be up for grabs. ... We shouldn’t be silencing viewpoints,” he said.

While Turning Point is for “100% free speech,” Semanko said they draw the line at “violent threats, libel (and) slander.”

Penn State said that while it disagrees with the decision to bring the speakers and their ideas, it must “protect and encourage free speech.”

Semanko said he anticipates protesters but hopes they will “engage civilly” with the speakers.

Last April, protesters disrupted Turning Point’s “Campus Clash” event, in which Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk, Donald Trump, Jr. and Fox News personality Kimberley Guilfoyle spoke to an audience at Penn State about the Mueller report, liberal campus culture, the 2020 election and free speech. There was a heavy police and Secret Service presence.

Security is required at all “controversial” speaker events, said Semanko, so there will be Penn State police present. To promote safety and security, Penn State is requiring tickets for all students and non-students — which are free — with valid ID for the event and backpacks, food and drink and other items are prohibited. VIP and Super VIP tickets costing $15 and $25 respectively, are only available to students and guarantee front section seating and other perks.

“By using derogatory and divisive language, controversial speakers know they will gain attention from those who disagree with them, which serves to further broaden the platform for their inflammatory messages,” said Penn State in the statement. “It is our hope that our students and community members who disagree with these speakers will disregard these tactics and find ways to thoughtfully respond — without confrontation.”

Penn State also offers resources to protect student, faculty and staff well-being through the Gender Equity, Sexual and Gender Diversity and Multicultural Resource centers, the Employee Assistance Program, Counseling and Psychological Services and the 24/7 Penn State Crisis Line at 1-877-229-6400.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.