A group of protesters shouting and holding signs with anti-Black Lives Matter, anti-LGBTQIA+ and religiously intolerant ideologies arrived on campus Wednesday. Students quickly formed a counterprotest.
According to one of the protesters, the group came down from Charlotte after protesting “fake conservatives at the [Republican National Convention].” The group openly used Christian beliefs in justifying its ideologies, with one sign reading "America you need to bless God!"
The protesters were separated from students by metal fences and did not cross it. The group went through Russell House in obtaining a “space reservation,” university spokesperson Jeff Stensland said in a text interview.
While many students present wore masks, the protesters did not. Stensland said the "city mask ordinance doesn’t apply to outdoor spaces."
First-year music education student Trey Hogan, also known as “trombone guy,” was playing his instrument at the beginning of the protest alongside other band students. Hogan said the protesters, and what they were saying, were “disturbing.”
“I get that it’s constitutional or whatever, but it's like, really? This is what you're gonna spend your day doing? Like, trying to get reactions out of college students? It’s just a shame to see people are still acting that way after so many years of just trying to not be how we used to be,” Hogan said.
Students were at the fence shouting and talking with the protesters. Graduate student Chase Wells, a member of the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, was one student who spoke to a protester. Wells distanced himself and the Chi Alpha organization from the protesters.
“So the Bible's very clear that to Jesus, when he died and was resurrected, he taught his disciples to show love to all people, and I was just asking him, 'How is yelling, just, slanderous things at people, how is that showing love?'” Wells said. “'Cause Jesus loves everyone, no matter what they're doing. He loves them, he died for them. He wants to know them. How is this showing that love?”
Wells said the only response he got from the protester he talked to was that the protesters were “the SWAT team for Jesus.”
Fourth-year media arts student Zion Smith and another group of students were playing music from a speaker and dancing while the protesters continued to shout.
"The guys were stepping out and preaching at us earlier," Smith said. "The first guy, he kept rushing into the crowd, so I stayed over there and made sure he didn't put his hands on anybody 'cause he'd been getting real close."
Smith said the protestors were calling Black people racial slurs.
“It’s sad to say, but it's expected. Every year that I've been here, there's been a major, racially-motivated event at least once a semester,” Smith said.
Student Body President Issy Rushton and other members of Student Government were also present at the protest. Rushton paced Davis Field with a megaphone, telling students to keep moving and that the protesters were “not worth it.”
“I completely understand the frustration from the students, and I am proud of them for standing up for what they believe in. Unfortunately, today [the protesters] do have a constitutional right to be on our campus. That’s something that I'm going to have a conversation with over the next weeks and months about with administration,” Rushton said.
While the majority of the first crowd dispersed, not everyone left and, eventually, a second crowd began to gather, moving up to the fence. Smith stayed until he had to go to work.
On Aug. 26, Caslen tweeted again concerning the protesters. Caslen said he “shared the frustration” of students when it comes to these groups coming onto the public USC campus.
“[I]f you respond, do so peacefully. Our commitment to each other & to the values we hold as Gamecocks will always win the day,” Caslen said in the tweet.
First-year biology student Darvae Williams said he agreed the protesters had a right to be there, but the message the protesters were spreading was contrary to what Christianity preached.
“It’s also a big part of Christianity, in itself, not to force it on people. They have to choose to come to it and decide that they want to be Christians," Williams said. "One of the biggest, fundamental things in Christianity is loving everyone. So, this right here is the total opposite. They're isolating people that they don't like and making it seem as though they’re bad. In the words of God, all seen as the same.”
The protesters left Davis Field around 4 p.m., followed by students and Trey Hogan, who played his trombone as he followed.