You know her, whether it's by "Kent State girl," "Gun Girl," "Poop Girl," or Kaitlin Bennett. You might have seen her graduation picture from Kent State University, with an AR-10 rifle strapped on her back and a cap that read, along with a picture of her firearm, "Come and take it." You may have seen countless viral videos that feature the intentional demonization of liberal advocates.
She rose to prominence in the summer of 2018 through social media after promoting radical conservatism, especially in the form of gun protection, and belittlement of people with liberal views, including that of David Hogg, Parkland shooting survivor and gun control activist. Her graduation photo went viral in the midst of the gun control debate dictating our political environment. She was protesting the inability to carry concealed weapons on her Ohio campus.
But this wasn't the beginning of her controversial activism. During the year of 2017, she acted as president of Turning Point USA, an organization known for its bizarre defense of conservative views. She led the protest of safe spaces by, very maturely, wearing diapers, which eventually turned into the disbandment of the chapter and resignation of her presidency.
After gaining attention, Bennett infamously utilized her platform to take down other liberal ideals, including feminism and the uneducated stance of reverse racism's existence. Despite feminism being the exact movement that grants her the ability to be so vocal and to own a gun in the first place, she constantly condemns the movement for being exclusive to people who believe differently than them (even though these "different ideas" are in and of themselves misogynistic).
Recently, she sparked controversy within my own educational community at Rutgers University, a college that was previously praised by President Barack Obama for being "what might just be America's most diverse student body."
When word first reached my phone of her presence in Voorhees Mall, a busy gathering place on the College Avenue campus, my first instinct was to be angry. It was a reasonable feeling, as Bennett represents nearly every oppressive ideal that still plagues our society. My second reaction was to find out more.
Quickly closing my computer and slipping on shoes, I caught the next bus to where she was. And sure enough, as soon as I stepped off, there she was, with her Info Wars microphone and a crowd of approximately twenty lingering behind her. Upon closer proximity, people were muttering of how she had come to interview students on the topic of loans. It was her attempt to display her self-titled journalistic presence, though it fully embodies the promotion of skewed displays of information and, for lack of a better term, "fake news."
Her stance was that if a student were to sign on to a loan through the government, they should be expected to pay, even if, in that moment, they are incapable to produce the funds. But that wasn't a part of the radical ideas that she was known for, and people seemed to discuss this with what seemed like disappointment, as if the opportunity to engage in discourse with an iconic nemesis to so many had been lost. It didn't stop some others, though, who were trolling her content and screaming obscenities (especially in relations to the rumor of her defecating at a KSU party).
I, along with a friend of mine, approached her when she moved to another street, and the crowd had relatively dispersed. I hadn't necessarily thought about how and what I intended to approach her with, but I was greeting her politely before I knew it.
I began to ask her about her anti-feminist stance, as it one of her most infamous beliefs. She justified that she believes in equality, but is against the stereotype of modern-day feminism. I try to reason with her that, without feminism, she wouldn't be able to own guns or voice her opinions, but she claims that men are the ones who voted for women's rights. She also relayed her negative experiences with feminism, including a feminist club on her college campus attempting to have action taken against her (although, with the knowledge of some of her previous political behaviors on campus, it is no secret as to why.) It seemed as though she had a narrow view of feminism — that, since they treated her wrong, it is a movement that should be completely abolished. She claims that she is discriminated against by being a pro-life woman, while neglecting the fact that being pro-life is an anti-feminist idea in the first place.
She tells me that, when she goes to college campuses, she finds that women can be blinded by their feminism, particularly in the case of going against Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination — that people have a tendency to ignore the facts. I presented to her the facts that only 3% of rape accusations are proved false, how that is the same statistics for crimes like car theft, and the emotional trauma studied after rape cases and the psychological effects that things like rape case trials can have. She agreed, but still argued the ideology of "innocent until proven guilty."
At one point, as passengers of a car passing by yelled a string of obscenities with the general message of leaving the campus, she snorted with a smirk on her face. I tried to reason with her, to explain why they are mad, and that what she stands for threatens their livelihoods. At this, she gave a small laugh. She responded by saying how she hates David Hogg, but she would never be disrespectful to his face (although having the same disrespect online is acceptable?)
Throughout all of this polite conversation, the camera that the man behind her held had not been rolling. It wasn't until our conversation was cut off by a growing crowd and reasonable anger that he propped up his camera and began to shoot.
"Did you feel bad for any of those kids killed in school shootings?" someone yelled to the cheers of others.
At this, Bennett turned from me and to the crowd, claiming that, had those kids or others around them been armed, they would have still been alive — an argument completely blind and desensitized to every other aspect that leads up to these horrible occurrences.
By that point, people began to yell for their own opinions, and, with one final interview, Kaitlin Bennett had walked away.
Some chose to follow, but my friend and I, along with some others, decided to remain. We broke out into our own conversation, a sort of dissection of what we had just witnessed.
"She was kind of liberal, honestly," my friend and I admitted to them. "Maybe not necessarily liberal, but didn't put on the front that she normally does."
Another girl, one who had been leading the empowered shouts against Bennett, reminded us that it doesn't matter.
And it's true. My experience with her was, unfortunately, filled with regret. I thought of all of the things I should have said to her, but didn't. I thought of all of the things she's said, that I felt as though I had let slip by attempting to be cordial with her. The other girl was right — we shouldn't allow people like her to have a platform for their borderline hate speech. Political debating is no longer political when it is contradicting the mere livelihoods of others.
Eventually, at a later time, Bennett wandered onto the newly cultivated Paul Robeson memorial — a celebration of a cultural and political activist whose iconic views contradicted Bennett's. Many were insulted, on rightful grounds, that she carried herself and her political propaganda onto such a significant space. People tried to explain this to her, but she shut down at the confrontation of being told that she is wrong and began to spew incoherent arguments about segregation, missing the point of the conversation entirely.
"What we're seeing right now is literally the Democrats and the liberals are pushing to silence free speech — they don't want me here," Bennett said in her video coverage of the event. "They're trying to segregate themselves back into black only spaces, white only spaces. It's incredible."
"What she doesn't understand is we're going to leave, we're going to let her have her little tantrum here, we're going to leave," Bennett said to her camera in an angry heat in regards to the black woman protesting her presence on a significant memorial. "We're going to upload this footage... and so the liberals and Democrats and leftists on college campuses do not want free speech and call the cops on you for free speech. This, what she's done today, will seriously make more waves on social media and for conservatives than what she's done right now. She's done us a favor. She's exposing herself, she's exposing Democrats and liberals on college campuses — we should be thanking her for coming out here and doing this."
I didn't know how to write this. I didn't know if I should. Not only are there things that I regret, but it started a conversation that was necessary but hard to have. It forced us to confront the idea that there's a difference between political views and oppressive views and to define what that means to us. While some people argued that she had her right to free speech, others argued that free speech was no longer free speech when it was hateful and infringing on the rights of other people. It made us acknowledge that maybe our friends have different views than us and that maybe the complete moral difference was grounds for separation.
Conversing with Kaitlin Bennett was nothing more than you would think it would be. It was an exchange that exemplified the contradictions and hateful ideology that defines far right-wing politics.
But it opened a conversation up as the difference between hate speech and free speech, and how we, as a community, can work towards the prohibition of the former.
We can no longer tolerate this kind of discourse.
We should no longer tolerate it even from our own friends.
I am proud of my university for standing up to Bennett and making it known that her bigotry had no place here. I admire every person that confronted her with their own, strong opinions and stories that conflicted with Kaitlin's ideals. I'm immensely inspired to refrain from being apologetic about my beliefs — the Rutgers community taught me that.