Kansas State students are reacting online to Jaden McNeil, junior in political science and president of America First Students at K-State, following a series of posts on Twitter he made that were deemed racist and insensitive by members of the community.
On Thursday, McNeil tweeted, “Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!”
Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!
— Jaden McNeil (@McNeilJaden) June 25, 2020
Floyd died in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, sparking protests against police brutality and racism in all 50 states and around the world.
Multiple students reacted to McNeil’s recent tweet, including members of the K-State football team. Two players said they might not return to the program because of McNeil’s comment — freshman defensive back Tee Denson and sophomore wide receiver Joshua Youngblood.
— tee (@teedenson) June 26, 2020
“[I] refuse to play for a program that tolerates ignorance such as this,” Denson said, quote-tweeting McNeil.
Youngblood responded similarly, saying, “I’m not coming back until he kicked out @KState,” in a now-deleted tweet.
— Joshua Youngblood (@YB060) June 26, 2020
A petition for the university to remove McNeil’s student organization from campus has gained several thousand signatures, and a protest against America First Students is planned for August. These actions were taken by K-State students before McNeil’s Thursday tweet regarding Floyd.
At the time of publication, McNeil had not responded to the Collegian’s request for comment on the matter.
Provocative from the beginning
McNeil first caught the internet’s attention in August 2019, when he said in a now-unavailable tweet that K-State was “forcing” him to take a “diversity class.”
“I can’t decide which anti-white male class to take,” McNeil wrote, listing Queer Studies, Politics of Women of Color and African American Perspectives as class options.
“Not too fond of the idea of being lectured by some Satanic Professor about why it’s totally okay and normal for men to want to chop off their d*cks or why every problem facing our society is because of the ‘white man,'” McNeil added in the now archived tweet thread.
McNeil is the former president of Turning Point USA’s K-State chapter, and he founded America First Students, an independent student organization.
AFS does not currently show up in K-State’s directory of student organizations on OrgCentral, though it appears in the Center for Student Involvement’s 2020-2021 registration progress document. The group appears to be missing an advisor acknowledgement form, barring them from officially being recognized as a student organization.
New student organization forces campus leaders to consider freedom of expression, principles of community
Created at the start of the spring 2020 semester, AFS has not existed without contention.
In February, the Kansas City Star reported on the new organization and its links to white nationalism, citing a report from the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
In the report, IREHR lists Nick Fuentes, a YouTuber and podcaster, and Patrick Casey, who is associated with the American Identity Movement formerly named Identity Evropa, as the two mobilizers behind an attempt “to rebrand white nationalists under a new banner of ‘groypers.'”
Later on, IREHR detailed McNeil’s ties to white nationalism. In a Feb. 27 report, IREHR writers Chuck Tanner and Devin Burghart reported that “Jaden McNeil has been involved with, not two, but four different participants in the murderous white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“White nationalists provided even more guidance to McNeil in the formation of America First Students at Kansas State University than IREHR originally reported,” Tanner and Burghart continued. “McNeil was warned by conservative peers about aligning with a ‘Nazi’ like Nick Fuentes, but chose to ignore the warnings. … McNeil made crude homophobic comments, calling the LGBTQ+ community ‘degenerates’ and using an anti-LGBTQ+ slur during an interview. He has also expressed hostility towards diversity and immigrants.”
Students respond to AFS
In addition to Denson and Youngblood, other K-Staters have responded to McNeil’s social media. On June 5, the person behind the Twitter account “America Worst Students” (@StudentsWorst) created a Change.org petition that asks the university to remove the group. At the time of publication, the petition had more than 2,800 signatures.
“Jaden McNeil and his group America First Students have been allowed to spread their hateful rhetoric on campus, and online,” the petition reads, in part, “using McNeil’s virality among known white nationalist group the Groypers to attack several organizations and events on campus, including The Collegian, KSU Democrats, K-State College Republicans, The Annual K-State Drag Show, and others.”
The @StudentsWorst account holder is a K-State student who expressed to the Collegian that they wish to remain anonymous due to personal safety concerns.
The petition “Ban America First Students from Kansas State University” was created in the same day university President Richard Myers responded to the stories of on-campus racism shared through the #BlackAtKState hashtag.
— K-State (@KState) June 5, 2020
“If President Myers is serious about ending racism at K-State, or even just taking K-States Principles of Community (which America First consistently violates) than Jaden McNeil and America First have got to go,” the petition reads.
When the Multicultural Commission expanded upon the #BlackAtKState discussion with a video, its members called for abolishing a “white nationalist group on campus,” which Tori Swanson, senior in psychology and American ethnic studies, later identified as America First Students.
THE #BLACKATKSTATE VIDEO IS HEREEEEEE!!!! Thank you so much to all of the brave voices that were willing to speak up when many were not! We appreciate you! Read our organization’s response below! 🤎 pic.twitter.com/IiP3VqpENh
— just call me tori (@toriel_imani) June 17, 2020
“Kansas State cannot pride themselves on being a diverse campus while America First is running [rampant] all around campus,” Swanson said previously.
In addition, McNeil’s tweets prompted a pending protest. Originally slated for Friday, a “Protest Against America First Students” is planned for Aug. 12, according to the Facebook event page.
“Their leader and their ideals are basically centered in white nationalism,” Miranda Urban, organizer and senior in social work, said of America First Students.
Urban said she organized the future protest because she saw the #BlackAtKState video and the petition.
“K-State basically hasn’t really taken any action in general with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Urban said.
Because of a spike in local COVID-19 cases and the fact that many students are away from Manhattan this summer, Urban delayed the protest.
“I would hate for any rises or spikes to be blamed on any kind of protesting,” Urban said.
For the August protest — most likely held in Triangle Park, as originally planned — Urban said she wants “speakers sharing their stories,” and she is interested in finding more ways to amplify and advocate for Black voices on campus.
“It should not be the job of Black students to tell the student body to not be racist, but it is the job of the university to take every means necessary to make sure racism isn’t tolerated,” Urban said. “They just keep talking, but they’re not really showing any kind of action on that.”
A word from the administration
Vice president for student life and dean of students Thomas Lane responded to students’ online outrage concerning McNeil.
I’m aware of the Twitter posting by a K-State student. The lack of basic decency and care for how this post would impact others, especially our Black students, faculty, & staff already emotionally hurting from recent incidents of anti-Black violence is shameful and appalling.
— Thomas Lane (@ThomasALane) June 26, 2020
“I’m aware of the Twitter posting by a K-State student,” Lane’s tweet reads. “The lack of basic decency and care for how this post would impact others, especially our Black students, faculty, & staff already emotionally hurting from recent incidents of anti-Black violence is shameful and appalling.
“K-State condemns the post in the strongest of terms,” Lane continued. “It does not reflect who we are as confirmed by the outrage expressed by so many campus community members. Bigotry, prejudice & racism have no place here.”
Lane added that students impacted by the tweet can contact student resources such as Counseling Services and the Office of Student Life.
“We condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms,” President Myers said in a tweet. “We are launching an immediate review of the university’s options. Black Lives Matter at Kansas State University and we will continue to fight for social justice.”