Four students accused of disrupting Ann Coulter’s Oxford Union speech on Monday have had their memberships suspended by a Disciplinary Committee.
The total of five protesters stood up and began chanting “no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” They left the chamber as security officials entered, shouting as they went.
Alex Kumar, Atticus Stonestrom, and James Alster were all banned for a term, while Margo Munro Kerr’s membership was suspended for six weeks. Alster’s ban was in addition to a £30 fine.
Another student also faced disciplinary action, but chose to rescind their membership instead of appearing at the hearing.
Two complaints were filed by Union president-elect, Gui Cavalcanti. The first, made against all five of the protesters, was over the alleged breaking of Rule 71(a)(i)(30), which reads as “conduct intended to disrupt debates or other meetings of the society”.
The second concerned only Kumar and related to Rule 71(a)(i)(13), concerning the failure to hand over one’s Union membership card on request.
Testimony was provided from Cavalcanti himself, the treasurer-elect Daniel Wilkinson, and house manager Bridget Gaughan. Evidence was also provided from various tweets and Facebook posts, including video evidence of the protesters chanting and leaving the chamber.
The disciplinary committee was chaired by Union president Laali Vadlamani.
Cherwell understands that the defendants largely accepted the account of the complainant. He contested that within the first minute of Coulter’s speech, Alster stood up in the middle of the chamber’s corridor and started shouting at her.
After about ten seconds, the other four protesters joined him, and started chanting “no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA”.
Cavalcanti’s testimony stated it was Kumar who started the chanting, but Cherwell understands Stonestrom confessed to this.
The chanting continued until security guards entered the chamber and began to approach them, which prompted the protesters to gather their belongings and march out, chanting as they went.
Once outside, the security officials and the house manager requested their membership cards. Two of the defendants gave their cards over immediately.
The other three questioned what rule allowed them to request their cards, to which Cavalcanti referred to Rule 71(a)(i)(13). Stonestrom then reportedly replied that this response was “a pretty good answer”, before he and Alster also handed over their cards.
Kumar, however, refused, eventually claiming he was not a Union member and therefore did not have a membership card. This was despite a member of the security team claiming he had remembered Kumar showing it to him earlier.
After five minutes of heated discussion, Kumar was asked to leave on the basis that Cavalcanti knew his identity and that he would not be allowed in the Union again. At the front gate of St Michael’s Street, however, he seemed to changed his mind, handing over his card.
Cherwell understands that the defendants denied, as Bridget Gaughan’s testimony claimed, that Kumar was “aggressive” in his tone, but generally accepted this version of events.
The protesters’ main line of defence was that their protest wasn’t a premeditated act, and that they had intended to challenge Coulter’s views with pre-prepared questions after her speech.
However, they allege that a statement Coulter had made regarding “Mexican rapists” compelled them to speak out.
Alex Kumar told Cherwell: “I make no apology for what I did inside the chamber.
“We must not give an inch to fascism, or to those who preach race hate, denounce rape victims, or advocate genocide.
“I did what I did, and I could do no other.”
Munro Kerr told Cherwell: “The zeal with which the Union insist on protecting Ann Coulter’s right to make hate speech on their significant platform while punishing dissent by Union members is completely ridiculous.”
The protester who resigned before the hearing, and did not wish to be named, told Cherwell: “Less than a minute into her speech, Ann Coulter remarked that she supported Trump on his views on ‘Mexican rapists’.
“I would have been ashamed of myself if I did not speak up; hate speech is not worthy of the respect of silence. I renounced my membership because I do not want to be affiliated with an organisation that empowers or platforms hate speech.”
In the statement they provided to the committee, they claimed that audience members laughed when Coulter said she supported Trump due to his views on “Mexican rapists”.
The statement continued: “When I told Ann Coulter she should be ashamed of herself, I also meant to direct it to the audience. You are all complicit by treating the suffering of people as a joke.”
They added: “I would like to highlight rule 71A of the Oxford Union: ‘The following shall constitute misconduct: (1) Violent conduct, harassment, discrimination or other behaviour on the Society’s premises liable to distress, offend or intimidate other members, the possession or sale of illegal substances.’
“Could someone at the Union please explain to me how Ann Coulter and her comments do not constitute discrimination or other behavior liable to distress, offend, or intimidate? Why are speakers held to a different standard than members?”
A Union spokesperson told Cherwell: “Following a meeting of the Junior Disciplinary Committee held today, all remaining defendants accepted that they were guilty of all charges, and made statements and representations in mitigation.
“All proceedings were observed by the Returning Officer and a Senior Officer at all times – two neutral parties – as prescribed by the Rules, to even more robustly ensure that the hearing was fully fair and proceeded exactly according to the regulations of the Society.
“Full details of the result of the Junior Disciplinary Committee are available on the Society’s noticeboard, and may be seen by any member at any time. In summary, two members were suspended for eight weeks of Full Term, one member was suspended for six weeks of Full Term, and one was suspended for eight weeks of Full Term and fined £30. All four members have the right to appeal, as detailed in Rule 71.
“All members can read the full Rules of the Society online, and I would encourage them to do so.”
The last protest to have provoked similar punishments involved the Union’s hosting of Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for Donald Trump.
The defendants included Tom Barringer, the current VP for Charities and Community at Oxford SU, who was banned from the Union for one term.