Multiple fights, a small fire, and eleven arrests occurred outside NYU last night, where about one hundred people gathered to protest—and counter-protest—the appearance of Vice co-founder and self-described "Western Chauvinist" provocateur Gavin McInnes.
McInnes, who recently founded the Proud Boys, an online organization whose motto is "West Is Best," was invited to speak at an event hosted by the NYU College Republicans. Word of his appearance spread earlier in the day through a "Disrupt Gavin McInnes at NYU” Facebook event, organized by the NYU Anti-Fascists.
"Come to Kimmel, Rosenthal Pavilion to let NYU know that we will not stand for bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny on our campus," the Facebook description read.
The first round of fighting broke out around 6:30, as McInnes and members of the Proud Boys arrived outside of Kimmel Hall. Some protesters charged the group, while many in the crowd shouted “Fuck you, Nazis.” McInnes was allegedly pepper sprayed at some point, and a man in a Make America Great Again hat was seen throwing a punch. A few minutes later, protesters burned a red MAGA hat—though it was unclear whether it belonged to the puncher.
— Luke Rudkowski (@Lukewearechange) February 3, 2017
McInnes was eventually escorted into the building, but many of the Proud Boys were unable to make it inside. About ten of them gathered around the corner to express their disappointment about not seeing the talk, and their general frustration with a leader who they felt abandoned them. One of the Proud Boys urged the others to join him in battling the “faggots wearing black that won’t let us in,” then, perhaps believing that I fit the bill, ended up taking a few swings at me (see the last few seconds of below video). He ended up shoving me into a tree, though some of his fellow Proud Boys did attempt to restrain him. The man was later arrested for punching a DNAinfo reporter.
A distraught "Proud Boy" outside the NYU protest pic.twitter.com/GOmu8RebbV
— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) February 3, 2017
An NYPD spokesperson said the eleven people arrested face various charges, including criminal mischief, resisting arrest, criminal possession of a controlled substance, disorderly conduct, and harassment.
Other interactions were less violent. At times during the night, McInnes supporters and protesters engaged in seemingly civil conversation outside of Kimmel Hall. One man, who asked only to be identified as Charles for fear of retribution, stood as a barricade between two opposing voices, nodding his head at their dialogue. Asked if he identified himself with either group, Charles said that “both sides have some good points,” and that he was “in no way taking sides.”
To be sure, the premise that there are two legitimate sides to this debate is itself a major point of contention. Anti-fascist activists—or antifa—believe that white supremacists should be denied a platform by any means necessary, and many of the black-clad demonstrators noted that it was critical to keep such dangerous ideologies out of the mainstream in the coming years.
While McInnes rejects the white supremacist descriptor, his comments made in recent articles for Taki's Magazine include suggesting Muslims are “more violent” due to inbreeding, referring to Asians as “slopes,” and defending the use of the N-word. He’s also written for VDARE.com, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a "White Nationalist" hate group. For many in the crowd, the ideology espoused by McInnes and his fan-club qualified as white supremacy, regardless of what the group preferred to call themselves.
“I’m not really into this Alt-Right talk,” said Najieb Isaac, an anti-police brutality activist with Why Accountability. “Wherever Nazis are, we will be.”
Mark Phelam, a Clinton Hill resident who remembers demonstrating against the Vietnam War, said that he was still making up his mind about the efficacy of these protests. “I think a lot of this channeling allows Donald Trump to do a lot more,” he said. “But by the same token, this phenomenon has to be smashed—you can’t allow a mainstream platform for straight up fascists and Nazis, and the idea that people are going to debate their ideas is outrageous. But it’s still tricky.”