Middlebury, Police to Investigate Violent Protest of Murray Lecture | Off Message

Middlebury, Police to Investigate Violent Protest of Murray Lecture


Professor Allison Stanger with Charles Murray on the live stream
  • Professor Allison Stanger with Charles Murray on the live stream
Updated March 7, 2017, with comments from Middlebury police.

Middlebury College has begun an independent investigation into what happened during — and after — an attempted lecture by controversial author Charles Murray, the school president said Monday.

The Middlebury Police Department will also begin an investigation into a confrontation that happened after the lecture, as Murray left the campus hall, Laurie Patton said in a statement. However, the department’s chief said that it has yet to receive a criminal complaint.

A school official previously said Professor Allison Stanger was injured while protecting Murray from a “mob” that descended on them as they tried to leave Thursday evening.

“This was an incredibly violent confrontation,” Bill Burger, the Middlebury College vice president for communications, told Seven Days on Friday.

School officials aborted an attempted lecture by Murray, who has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist, after protesters shouted him down from inside Wilson Hall. He later gave an abbreviated talk, live streamed online and mediated by Stanger, from a different room inside the McCullough Student Center.

The school initiated an independent investigation “to establish a baseline of information,” Patton wrote. An account submitted to the press Saturday, purportedly by an anonymous group of students, refutes much of the college’s account of the incident and portrays staff and public safety officers as the aggressors during the confrontation.

Patton said the school believes both students, along with protesters who came from off campus, were involved. The college will cooperate with the police investigation, she said.

“Our process must be fair and just. To be clear, I want to state that peaceful, non-disruptive protest is not only allowed at Middlebury, it is encouraged,” Patton wrote. “We all have the right to make our voices heard, both in support of and in opposition to people and ideas. Our concern is acts of disruption and violence, where available means of peaceful protest were declined.”

Murray is best known for his 1994 book The Bell Curve, which seeks to correlate social inequality to genetics. He had been invited by the American Enterprise Institute Club to speak Thursday. But many of the 400 people who packed the hall drowned him out, chanted and jeered until he left the stage about 20 minutes after trying to begin his talk.
Charles Murray and his controversial book - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Charles Murray and his controversial book
Murray later recounted his attempt to leave the hall with Stanger and Burger. Much of his account corroborates the version Burger gave Seven Days on Friday morning.

“If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure,” Murray wrote in his account published online Sunday. “What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.”

Neither Burger nor Stanger responded to requests for comment, nor did Alex Prolman, a Burlington man who helped students connect with the media ahead of the protest.

Middlebury Police Chief Thomas Hanley said Tuesday that he has yet to speak with Patton. There is currently no police investigation into the incident, he said, because there has been no complaint filed. A police investigator visited campus Monday to try and contact Stanger but she was not there and has not responded to calls, the chief told Seven Days.

“We have no details, we have no witnesses and right now, I don’t even have a complainant,” Hanley said. “Right now, we have no information.”

He added of Stanger: “If they’d like to make a complaint that she’s been assaulted, we’ll sit her down and get a statement from her.”

Several officers were on hand during the attempted lecture, Hanley said: two in plainclothes and five others near the building. After the disruption, which Hanley said at no time violated the law, students and even masked protesters “were cordial to the officers” and thanked them for being there.

“We knew at a meeting before this that students were going to do this,” Hanley said. “They made that quite clear.”

Officers left after the lecture but were summoned back to campus 40 minutes later, following the incident outside the hall. Initially, dispatchers sent the officers to the wrong location, so by the time they arrived at the correct spot, the car carrying Murray, Stanger and Burger was gone, and only a few people were “milling about,” Hanley said.

Hanley wants to have an “after action” debrief with the college and his department to “make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.” He’s spent 26 years as Middlebury chief and said he’s cultivated a great relationship with the college.

Stanger still has time to make a complaint but Hanley warned it becomes harder to find witnesses and the assailants the longer she waits.

“All I know is we don’t have a case and we’re proceeding with business as usual,” he said.

Patton, in her statement, said that “Murray’s appearance laid bare deep divisions in our community.”

“There is hard work ahead for all of us: learning to be accountable to one another, and learning to stand in community with one another,” she said. “We must affirm our shared values and goals and hold each other to them, and we must listen differently, helping others to be fully heard and seen.”