College Republicans suspend visit by controversial Youtuber Carl Benjamin
British Youtuber Carl Benjamin, also known as Sargon of Akkad, was originally scheduled to speak on campus next week on invitation by the Rice University College Republicans, but the event was suspended following recent campus discussions on sexual assault, according to RUCR Chairwoman Juliette Turner.
“We saw what was happening on campus regarding sexual assault awareness [and] the scandal with the administration,” Turner, a Duncan College senior, said. “Someone brought to my attention the statements that [Benjamin] had made [and] we realized that this was not the best time to bring Sargon to campus. We wanted to be sensitive to the environment on campus right now and to sexual assault victims.”
With 969,000 subscribers as of print, Benjamin is best known for his involvement in the Gamergate conspiracy theory and for his comments on rape. Benjamin, who also ran for European Parliament, regularly posts controversial videos and commentary on political correctness, feminism and Islam.
RUCR originally announced Benjamin’s visit on Facebook on Oct. 3, where they stated that he would come to campus for a talk on “freedom of speech and tech censorship.” Benjamin referenced this topic in a statement regarding the event cancellation.
“As I understand it, the administration is afraid of ‘bad press’ because they failed to handle a sexual assault case in an appropriate matter,” Benjamin wrote in a statement through his manager, Callum Darragh. “I’m not really sure where I fit into the picture as my talk would have been about censorship and deplatforming, but they seem to think this would be noteworthy enough to bring national attention to their establishment, the scrutiny of which they are apparently unable to withstand.”
Director of Risk Management Renee Block said that risk management was not involved in the planning or cancellation of the event.
Following the RUCR announcement, the Rice University Young Democrats organized an event in response called “Free Speech vs. Hate Speech,” a discussion co-hosted with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Rice ACLU, according to Rice Young Democrats president Maddy Scannell.
“This event is not a call for disinvitation. In fact, we are happy to find a well for Carl Benjamin to use his free speech to scream into as loudly as he wants,” Scannell, a Martel College junior, said. “Any organization inviting a speaker to campus should make sure the speaker will add to the conversation, rather than troll members of our community for personal entertainment.”
A Google Form collecting student opinion on whether or not Benjamin should be disinvited was also sent out by Lovett College junior Lavina Kalwani, who did not respond to request for comment.
Mallory Newbern, who commented on the initial RUCR announcement, said that she does not believe Benjamin would bring a diverse perspective to campus.
“As a [Students Transforming Rice Into a Violence-free Environment] liaison, I would say that the past month has been extremely triggering to a large magnitude of survivors,” Newbern, a Martel College sophomore, said. “In creating this event, the Rice Republicans have demonstrated a failure to care about the inevitable impact that Benjamin’s presence will have on these students.”
According to Turner, the original idea for Benjamin’s visit came from RUCR Chairperson candidate Anthony Saliba. Saliba, a Duncan College junior, said that Benjamin’s experiences with online censorship — he had previously been banned from Twitter and Patreon — made him a candidate for speaking on campus.
“Mr. Benjamin is a self-described classical liberal. He believes that all citizens should be equal under the law,” Saliba said. “In this regard, RUCR has no concerns about his ideology. As for his remarks to Ms. [Jess] Philips, the [member of Parliament] in question, RUCR of course does not condone such remarks, but we respect Mr. Benjamin’s right to freedom of speech.”
In their Facebook post suspending the event, RUCR wrote that they do not condone any offensive statements made by Benjamin.
“We believe that there is value in Mr. Benjamin’s ideas regarding the concept of freedom of speech,” they wrote. “However, considering the important conversation taking place on campus about sexual assault and Mr. Benjamin’s uncouth remarks in the past, we have concluded that it is an inappropriate time to have him speak to the Rice community.”
Benjamin said in his statement that he doesn’t see how the anonymous opinion writer’s case relates to his planned visit.
“I don’t know the full extent of the details nor how I am meant to be connected to this,” Benjamin wrote. “I see no reason to assume that it is anything other than cowardice and complicity with cancel culture on the part of the administration, which presumably has more serious charges for which to answer.”
Turner said there are currently no plans in place to bring Benjamin to campus in the future, but that he will host an alternative event off campus at an undisclosed venue.
“As RUCR we are not sending the event to our Listservs, or our Facebook page or anything of that nature and we’re going to delete the post about the event on Facebook,” Turner said.
[Update 10/08/2019 11:57 p.m.] This article has been edited to reflect that Benjamin was not disinvited — the event was suspended indefinitely.
More from The Rice Thresher
Historians share perspectives on monuments and racism, following recent discussions about William Marsh Rice
"The model [for discussions] has long been [that] it's a small group, usually of men, but a small group has met behind closed doors and made these decisions. And I think what all of us in all of our different work have said over and over and over again is that this has to be a public conversation. All stakeholders need to be involved in these decision-making processes,“ Anne Twitty, panelist at Monday’s webinar, said.
Last month, a group of Black students published a list of demands for the administration to “address the systemic oppression and inequity that is embedded within Rice’s history by acknowledging and amplifying voices, experiences and communities that have historically been unheard.” One of the six demands is to remove Founder’s Memorial, the statue of William Marsh Rice found in the Academic Quad, on the basis of Rice’s enslavement of 15 people and involvement in the cotton trade. This demand received particular attention with “Down With Willy,” a student-led social media campaign to demand the administration remove the statue.
“Statues are not meant to teach events. They are constructed to honor the memory of those depicted. Like all slave owners, William Marsh Rice is not worth reverence,” write Taylor Crain (Lovett ‘21), Lauren Palladino (Duncan ‘21), Emily Weaver (Jones ‘22) and Divine Webber (Duncan ‘22).