In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Kaitlin Bennett

Right-wing US social media activist sparks protests at university campus

A conservative activist has been chased off the Ohio University campus by protesting students.

Kaitlin Bennett, 24, appeared uninvited at the university to film a video for her website Liberty Hangout, where she posts clips of herself questioning students on issues such as gun rights and gendered bathroom policies on campus.

Who is Kaitlin Bennett?

Bennett rose to notoriety in 2018 after posing for her college graduation photos with a semi-automatic rifle strapped to her back.

The “Kent State gun girl” regularly visits university campuses, political rallies and community events such as Pride to interview people for her website – focusing on gun-rights, abortion, homosexuality and transgender people.

She also contributes video content to the far-right conspiracy theory website Infowars, run by US presenter Alex Jones. He advocates numerous theories about topics from the US government’s role in 9/11 to “false-flag” mass-shootings.

Bennett’s videos have become famous on social media for backfiring, with many college students being interviewed seemingly bewildered by her attempts to bait them into making derogatory comments against transgender people.

Bennett has 319k followers on Twitter and 162k on Instagram. Like many right-wing activists, Bennett is open about profiting from controversy, recently tweeting a summary of what is effectively her business model.

What happened at Ohio University?

Bennett turned up at the university campus to film a new video for her website.

Word quickly spread that she was there, and the gun-rights activist was surrounded by crowds of students who shouted insults and interrupted her filming.

Sarah Donaldson, digital editor of student paper The New Political, filmed students across five floors of the university’s student centre shouting as Bennett came through with a security team.

Donaldson later showed Bennett filming a video by her car, surrounded by a heckling crowd.

“This is what happens when a Trump supporter goes to a college campus,” Bennett said on Twitter, posting a video of protesters throwing water at her car. “Leftists at @ohiou started a riot when [fellow right-wing media personality Joel Patrick] and I showed up, and @oupolice let it happen.”

What has the reaction been?

Since the incident, Bennett has called on Donald Trump to “strip funding from universities like this that harbour terrorists” and later said she would return to campus with an “army of gun owners” for an “open carry walk”.

Ohio University police said there were no injuries or violent outbreaks reported during the protest, and students were simply exercising the same First Amendment freedom of speech rights as Bennett.

“Contrary to allegations circulating on social media, the incident did not rise to the level of a riot,” police said in a statement.

In a statement to CNN, Ohio University said it is committed to allowing the “free and peaceful exchange” of ideas.

“The University urges its community to respect the rights guaranteed to all under the state and federal constitutions,” a university statement said.

Student Liam McSteen told the Athens News: “I kind of feel like she just came here to get this reaction. I think it’s just kind of attention-seeking behaviour. I don’t know if she thinks she’s going to change anyone’s mind out here.”

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