Weeks after campus protests against racism and over-policing at Binghamton University attracted national attention, President Donald Trump commented on the demonstrations at Turning Point USA’s (TPUSA) fifth-annual Student Action Summit in West Palm Beach, Florida.
During his speech, Trump mocked protesters and suggested that the protesters used clubs and bats while demonstrating, stating, they “swing clubs, they swing bats, they swing everything.” Campus demonstrators did not use weapons during any of the protests.
“Take the mask off, take the jackets off and you’ll see their arms are about this big,” Trump said, gesturing with his hands.
Student protests began in November at BU following a pro-gun tabling event held by BU’s chapters of TPUSA and College Republicans on the Spine. Hours before the protest, a shooter opened fire at a high school in Santa Clarita, California. In a statement released by BU College Republicans on Nov. 17, they said they were also promoting an upcoming event sponsored by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) featuring economist Arthur Laffer. Members of TPUSA and College Republicans did not reserve space on the Spine for the tabling event, as required by Student Association (SA) and University policies. After officers with Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD) began separating the groups, some of the protesters turned their message toward UPD, asking, “Who are you protecting?”
Protesters later demonstrated at the YAF event with Laffer on Nov. 18. At the sit-in protest, participants with red armbands read aloud stories of police brutality. They were met by approximately 10 UPD officers, who were dispatched to the event “to maintain order,” according to a statement from Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs. Two protesters, a student and a community member, were arrested.
During his speech on Saturday, Trump said Lacey Kestecher, president of BU’s TPUSA chapter and a freshman majoring in business administration, was “brave” during the protests and invited her to the podium to speak.
“What a lot of these protesters, these leftists — tyrants ultimately — what they didn’t know about me is I do jiujitsu,” Kestecher said. “So even though they’re protesting me, they don’t really know that. I’m just standing there, completely calm, while they’re going off unhinged ultimately.”
Kestecher called protesters “radical leftists” and said the demonstrations were emblematic of an issue of freedom of speech on college campuses.
“We need to fight back together, we need to come together,” she said. “We are America, we’re conservatives, we need to join as one and fight back against this nation of liberals.”
Following Trump’s address, the New York Federation of College Republicans released a statement referring to the protesters as “Antifa thugs.” According to Ryan Yarosh, BU’s senior director of media and public relations, Antifa “was not present and is not active on campus.”
“Regardless of one’s political views, we are guided by our own principles and not by the outside political rhetoric that has been fueling situations like this across our country,” Yarosh wrote in an email.
BU’s Black Student Union and College Progressives, two of several organizing groups behind the protests, could not be reached for comment and BU’s Latin American Student Union declined to comment.