On September 29, 2018, Kaitlin Bennett’s gun walk through the Kent State campus was halted by counter protesters comprised of members of Antifa, Black Lives Matter Cleveland, Young Democratic Socialists of America, and other Kent State students.
In preparation for the walk, over five hundred police officers were stationed on campus and sent to escort the gun walk, comprised of open carrying citizens, militia groups, members of Liberty Hangout, and students with pro-campus carry signs and holsters filled with drinking straws. Many of the police officers were dressed in riot gear.
The gun walk was soon met by violent counter protesters. Members of Antifa, Black Lives Matter, Young Democratic Socialists of America, and other counter protesters quickly swarmed the Esplanade, entering skirmishes with both the police and members of the gun walk.
An altercation just occurred in a shoving match between protestors and police. At least one person was arrested pic.twitter.com/LpkhtSB9uX
— Henry Palattella (@HellaPalattella) September 29, 2018
“We believe students who have a concealed carry permit . . . should be allowed to step onto their campus, into their classrooms, and into their dorms with their weapon,” Bennett said in a speech to the open carry crowd before beginning the gun walk. “We really have to portray ourselves in the best light possible.”
Present at the event was Ryan Fournier, chairman of Students for Trump and president of X Strategies. “We support you and everything you are doing,” he stated in a short speech. “Your rights do not end where their feelings begin.”
The police officers escorted the open carry demonstrators from the Lot C parking lot onto the Esplanade, where they were swarmed by over three hundred counter protesters. Members of the counter protesters began shouting and chanting, calling the demonstrators Nazis and fascists. One of the counter protesters even went so far as to call one of the demonstrators “a faggot.”
Throughout the rally, the counter protester shouted phrases such as, “Whose street? – Our street!”, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!”, and “Go home!”
Earlier today: Counter Protestors at Kaitlin Bennett’s Gun Walk at Kent State University. Many in the crowd chanting “go home.” pic.twitter.com/41Sb3De696
— David Burgett (@dburgettTV2) September 29, 2018
The police escort came to a halt as counter protesters swarmed around the Esplanade and formed a wall next to Bowman hall, preventing the gun walk from moving forward. Soon after, counter protesters began fighting with the police and throwing fake grenades into the open carry walk.
During the event, masked Antifa protesters pushed against the police, often screaming at them to move and physically assaulting them. Among these violent protesters were members of Kent’s chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America, such as Ethan Comeriato and Alex Thornhill.
Unidentified member of Young Democratic Socialists America assaulting police officers.
Also during the event, campus carry advocate Skylar Steward’s American flag was stolen by a counter protester. He attempted to get it back but was shoved away by the crowd of masked counter protesters, one of which tried to take his pistol. According to Cleveland.com, Steward was reaching for his gun as he fought his way into a crowd of counter protesters, but he later explained his actions in an interview with multiple media outlets.
“At that point in time, I moved into the crowd to go get my flag, and one of law enforcement broke into the crowd and got me,” Steward said to the media. “I felt someone hit my weapon, and I put my hand on it to secure it.”
Among the crowd of counter protesters violently shoving Steward was Alex Thornhill, president of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at Kent State.
McKenzie (or Mac) Levie, well-known for dressing in crusader armor to battle Antifa in Cleveland, was present in full armor at the event. Unprovoked, he struck a masked Antifa member in the head with his shield before being pushed away by a police officer. When asked about his presence, Bennett told The Kent Conservative that he was not invited and was not a member of the gun walk.
Ryan Fournier described the event to New2Share, “So far, it looks like the crowd has been broken up a bit from the second amendment supporters and Antifa. They’re dispersed all around the area. Riot police, state troopers, [and] Kent State policemen are trying to push them back, and they’re countering that.”
He described his experiences interacting with the counter protesters. To New2Share, he stated, “I’ve tried to debate about four or five of them — nothing. I’ve been called a racist, a fascist, and a Nazi.”
reminder for the media and those uninvolved in today’s events: the counter protesters today were not there because of guns. it was about not allowing nazis, fascists, and white supremacists to speak without opposition.
— Kent State YDSA (@kentstate_ydsa) September 30, 2018
Many counter protesters were unwilling to speak to the press, but two of them spoke to New2Share. When asked about their message, the first stated, “We just don’t think fascists should be welcome if they’re using hate speech. We’re not okay with that.”
“There are a lot of Proud Boys here, Proud Boys being a white nationalist organization,” answered the second. “We’re against that.”
In the weeks prior to the gun walk, fliers were posted across Kent State labeled “community warnings,” concerning a guest she had invited, Joey Gibson. The fliers labeled Gibson a white supremacist and member of the alt-right. Gibson was not in attendance at the gun walk, and Kaitlin denied the presence of any Proud Boys to The Kent Conservative.
Bennett’s event was changed from a rally to a walk after weeks of struggling with the administration — being denied access to the space she originally intended for the event to take place, expected not to bring firearms, and potentially being charged over ten thousand dollars in security fees.