Republicans Booed at Columbia as Cops Crack Down on Protests Nationwide

House Speaker Mike Johnson told student protesters at Columbia University on Wednesday to “enjoy” their free speech before declaring that he would urge President Joe Biden to deploy the National Guard to universities and colleges across the country — where students are being arrested en masse in an increasingly violent crackdown against pro-Palestinan protests.

Johnson and a group of Republican representatives were not welcomed warmly during their visit to what has become an epicenter of pro-Palestine activism on college campuses, which came as protests raged at higher-learning institutions nationwide. Videos circulated online of police in riot gear cracking down on demonstrators throughout the day.

The wave of collegiate protests began last week after Columbia University administrators used the New York Police Department to clear a Gaza Solidarity Encampment established by students demanding the university divest from Israel in light of Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza, which has led to the death of more than 34,000 Palestinians. Major human rights groups have accused Israel of violating human rights, and in January the International Court of Justice ruled that there is “plausible” evidence to suggest Israel may have committed acts of genocide.

The use of the NYPD to break up the encampment — which was quickly reestablished — marked the first time since 1968’s Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that Columbia had allowed police to suppress an on-campus protest. The decision drew widespread backlash against the university’s president, Nemat Shafik, and spurred the creation of similar encampments at educational institutions across the country.

Despite there being no confirmed instances of violence committed by student protesters, university administrators at Yale, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin, New York University, and the University of Minnesota have faced arrest and suspension for their participation in encampments and protests. Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel activists have characterized the protests as inherently antisemitic, and while there have been some verified instances of antisemitic language attributed to third parties unaffiliated with the universities, the protests include many Jewish students and faculty.

On Wednesday, protesters filmed members of the USC Department of Public Safety and Los Angeles Police Department violently detaining demonstrators. Protesters also attempted to block a vehicle containing detained vehicles from leaving the campus.

Meanwhile, at the University of Texas at Austin, dozens of UT Austin police and Texas Department of Public Safety officers were dispatched to the protests in riot gear, bikes, and horses. Students chanted “you don’t scare us” and “off our campus” as law enforcement began arresting participants.

“Arrests being made right now & will continue until the crowd disperses,” Texas’ Republican Governor Greg Abbott wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “These protesters belong in jail. Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas. Period. Students joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled.”

Earlier this week dozens of students were arrested at Yale, and more than 120 students and faculty were arrested at New York University.

On Wednesday, Johnson (R-La.) visited Columbia University along with a group of Republican lawmakers. After a meeting with Jewish students, Johnson delivered a press conference during which he and his companions were mercilessly booed and heckled by the gathered crowd.

“You cannot censor and silence viewpoints you disagree with,” said Johnson, adding moments later that he would be calling President Biden and demanding he “take action” to quell the protests, including sending in the National Guard — a demand made by several GOP senators.

New York Representatives Mike Lawler and Anthony D’Esposito also delivered remarks amidst a chorus of heckling.

“If you are a protester on his campus and you are proud that you have been endorsed by Hamas, you’re part of the problem,” D’Esposito said. “I am proud to join with [Speaker Johnson] today in calling for the immediate resignation of the president of Columbia. She has failed her duty, she is not keeping students safe, and we see on this campus the hate-filled speech that is carrying through this country.”

Lawler said that “every single one of you students that support Hamas are an absolute abomination.”

“Sadly here in America, we have students endorsing the butchering and brutality of a terrorist organization,” he added, calling for President Shafik’s immediate resignation.

“Go back to class, and stop the nonsense,” Johnson said in his closing remarks, prompting one protester to shout “get the fuck out of here,” at him as he retreated.

“What are you gonna do? Arrest us? Arrest us!” another student yelled.

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