A student senator at Washington University in St. Louis was caught on camera as he allegedly defaced a memorial of 2,977 flags commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the 20 year anniversary, throwing them in the trash.
The College Republicans put together the thoughtful memorial on the school’s Mudd Field. Sophomore Nathaniel Hope reportedly saw student senator Fadel Alkilani removing the flags on Saturday morning and started filming a video that has since gone viral, according to the school newspaper Student Life.
In the video posted by the Young American’s Foundation, Alkilani can be seen carrying see-through garbage bags stuffed with American flags off of the field.
On Saturday, Alkilani released a statement defending his actions without apology.
WOW: A student senator at @WUSTL was caught on video throwing away 2,977 American flags from conservative students’ 9/11: Never Forget Project memorial.
— YAF (@yaf) September 11, 2021
College Republicans president junior Nick Rodriguez condemned Alkilani’s actions and called for his immediate resignation from leadership positions on campus, writing in a statement to the student newspaper that Alkilani “made a mockery of one of the most somber days in American history.”
“At minimum, I believe he should be removed from both SU [student union] and his [resident adviser] position, as what does it say to be a top American institution, and have yourself represented by a student leader who has no respect for property, campus traditions or the remembrance of thousands of lost lives,” Rodriguez wrote. “Today is about remembering the tragedy, 20 years ago to the day, not to make a political statement. Any reason he can conjure to remove the flags I find ludicrous.”
Julie Flory, the university’s vice chancellor for marketing and communications submitted a statement to the student paper, condemning Alkilani’s actions.
“We were disappointed to learn about the disruption to the 9/11 display on Mudd Field. We condemn the interference with the expression of support by the College Republicans for the victims of the national tragedy that took place 20 years ago today,” Flory penned.
Alkilani, vice president of finance for the student union and student senator, also released a statement on Saturday night regarding what he dubbed, “the flag relocation incident”.
The student senator claimed that he is the victim of a “massive harassment campaign” and that “there is a large amount of misinformation circulating,” about the incident.
“I had no intention of removing the flags from the Mudd Field area, and my full protest did not have the chance to be actualized. My planned protest was to place the bags of flags on Mudd field, along with various statistics (including those below) explaining the human cost of 9/11 in the past 20 years. On the sides of the bags, some writing may be visible, but the full statement was not outlined at the time of the video,” Alkilani explained.
“I did not deface, destroy, damage, nor steal any flags, nor did I interfere with any registered event time. I assert that I did not violate any University Code of Conduct policy, though the conduct process is undergoing. Additionally, I was verbally and physically harassed by numerous WashU students and WUPD officers, whom I plan to report through official channels,” Alkilani said.
Alkilani contends that Islamophobic hate crimes are higher than ever before since 9/11, but does not cite any specific statistic.
“The United States invaded countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, and over 900,000 people have been killed because of the wars the United States has propagated. 37 million people have been displaced, with some reports stating that number reaches up to 59 million. Any memorial of 9/11 that does not contend with these facts is not only incomplete, but it also amplifies pro-imperialist sentiment and actively disrespects those who have died because of American Invasion,” Alkilani told the student newspaper.
The college student concluded his statement by encouraging others to “deeply reflect during this somber time”.
Students allege that Alkilani attempted to destroy the memorial on Friday night but was stopped by campus police.
The student senator allegedly bragged about destroying the tribute on Twitter according to YAF, but made his Twitter account private shortly thereafter.
The student senator in question brags about his vandalism: https://t.co/Rjo8tXW6PM
— YAF (@yaf) September 11, 2021
Other students on campus expressed their outrage to Student Life.
Junior Reagan Steirn said she was “livid” that someone in a leadership role would act so disrespectfully when there are many University community members with direct ties to the events of 9/11.
“It can’t be a one-sided conversation. You have to consider the big picture of 9/11 and the impact that that event has had on so many different things since then,” another student argued.
Washington University declined to confirm whether or not Alkilani would face discipline according to Fox News, who reached out to Alkilani, campus police, and Washington University for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
Shapiro Chair of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and criminal defense attorney Jonathan Turley wrote Sunday that “the incident raises an ongoing debate over whether such destruction or obstruction of speech is itself protected speech.”
Turley went on to cite instances of academics who believe that free speech includes the right to silence others.
The attorney noted New York University Professor Jeremy Waldron, a leading voice for speech codes, insists that shutting down speakers through heckling is a form of free speech.
Turley however, does not agree calling it the “antithesis of free speech” and the failure of academic institutions to protect free speech “the antithesis of higher education”.
A student senator at Washington University in St. Louis has triggered a free speech debate after removing American flags from a 9/11 memorial display and throwing them into the trash…https://t.co/xZgpjHLt3N
— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) September 12, 2021
The well-known attorney goes on to detail alternative ways that Alkilani could have expressed his protest without violating others right to free speech, including “putting up a counter display advancing his own view of 9/11” or “demonstrating against the demonstration”.
“When students destroy displays or enter speaking venues to prevent people from hearing opposing views, they are not engaging in free speech. They are engaging in acts of censorship, intimidation, and obstruction. I have long recommended that such students be disciplined, including expulsion for those who refuse to comply with prior warnings,” Turley said.
Turley condemned the lack of action by schools to enforce repercussions which he claims reinforces the actions of students like Alkilani who “believe that they have license to silence others”.
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