Controversial YouTuber set to speak at Kent causes backlash from students

A group of University of Kent students have launched a campaign to deplatform YouTube personality Carl Benjamin from giving an address on campus this month because of his ‘horrible’ views on race, religion, and other subjects. An online petition was created to remove Benjamin, known online as Sargon of Akkad, as a keynote speaker for a UKC Liberty Union event had drawn more widespread support from feminist members, students and Kent Union representatives. The petition reads: ‘Carl Benjamin is known for his controversial views and appalling statements including use of the n-word and telling a female MP [Jess Phillips] ‘I would not even rape you,’ along with many incidents of racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic speech, which are clearly not compatible with Kent Union’s ‘values of inclusivity and support’. ‘He has also been identified as a key figure in radicalisation on YouTube by a recent Data and society report, and has links to multiple white supremacists including former Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon. ‘In light of the recent appearance of Nazis and white supremacist imagery on campus, it is alarming to see Benjamin given a platform [at Kent] to spread his hateful rhetoric further.’ The document goes on to read: ‘We do not believe Benjamin should be welcomed into our campus by a Union-affiliated group and we would hope Kent Union shares this view and will exercise their authority over Union societies to cancel this event.’

Lily Dedman, a Kent Union Student Trustee, who signed the petition, told InQuire: ‘I have no issue with promoting free speech and people having opposing opinions to myself, however I feel that Carl Benjamin has expressed opinions which are dangerous and damaging, especially in my line of volunteering with survivors of sexual assault. I also feel that the subject matter could have been covered by a less controversial figure and would have made more sense coming from an academic.’

The document has since been removed and is no longer available to access on Change It. One member from Liberty responded to this revelation with a Facebook post on the group’s page highlighting how signatories of the petition had also attempted to bar students from attending the event by buying out the free tickets on offer. The post included a screenshot of the admin page showing who was involved, including some from the Feminist Society, Liberty alleges. The post was later removed after complaints for being ‘unprofessional’ and for revealing ticket-buyers who were ‘implicated in the issue’. The society, created in September of this year, apologised for their actions the next day, saying: ‘Whereas it was in response to a group of individuals that attempted to undermine our event, we agree that it was an unprofessional way to react. Our apologies are extended especially to those of you that had purchased tickets genuinely. 'Unfortunately, however, due to tickets being bought in large quantities by this group of individuals, which we believe a clear attempt to no-platform Mr. Benjamin, we have sadly been forced to charge for entry.‘ They go on to say: ‘We do, however, still invite all to come. The UKC Liberty Union values the freedom to speak and to argue, and encourages those who disagree with the viewpoints of any of our invited speakers, be they from the left or the right, to attend our events and express their arguments in open debate. ‘Engaging with a speaker is a much better way to show your discontent than bulk-buying tickets to prevent those genuinely interested from attending. ‘The Liberty Union is a forum for debate, discussion, and engagement with difficult topics. We urge anyone that attends our events to engage critically and make use of their fundamental right to express their opinion. Challenge people, debate them, show them they are wrong, but do not deny them the basic right of freedom of speech. ‘We might not agree with every speaker we invite, or identify with their politics, or condone everything they might have said or done in the past. As a society however, our commitment lies in a complete and utter respect for freedom of speech and the right for anyone to express their opinion publicly. We will be fielding speakers this year and events from both the left and the right, from both progressive and conservative backgrounds. ‘We believe that no-platforming speakers has the perverse effect of radicalising and amplifying their opinions, and allowing them to go unchallenged.' Kent Union Vice-President (Activities), Sasha Langeveldt, told InQuire: 'Students are within their rights to protest and campaign so long as what they are doing is not violent and breaking the law.' When asked whether the event will still go ahead of schedule, Langeveldt replied: 'The external speakers application is still in its possessing stage and its status will be confirmed once the process is complete. Permission needs to be sought by both Kent Union and the University which can take up to two weeks. 'Kent Union acknowledges and respects that everyone has the right to free speech within the law. It is important that Kent Union as a democratic organisation respects each other’s views, even when they differ from their own. However, freedom of speech is limited by the law when necessary.'

CORRECTION: The latest edition of InQuire which was released on Friday 16th November included an old version of this article titled ‘Feminists bid to ban “hateful” YouTuber from speaking at Kent’. That article states that the creator’s of an online petition attempting to remove Carl Benjamin from speaking at a UKC Liberty Union event were the UKC Feminist Society. In fact, the Feminist Society was not responsible for the creation of this petition. InQuire would like to apologise to the Feminist Society and our readers for the misinformation.

Coming soon: An interview with the Feminist Society discussing their views on this issue.