“Drones kill kids!”
“The CIA is a terrorist organization!”
These phrases were uttered by members and sympathizers of the University of Pennsylvania’s, Students for a Democratic Society organization on Friday, April 1st at the Penn Museum where CIA Director, John Brennan, was speaking as a guest to Penn’s Fels Institute of Government.
As Penn student, Ben Fogel, put it, “It ended up like a Trump rally.”
The protests started after only the second question. In addition to the “Drones kill kids” chants, members of the audience also started shouting, “Black Lives Matter!”
When an Irish man, born in Philly, requested that the protesters sit down and let Brennan address their concerns, a protester yelled, “Go back to your own country!”
Brennan’s security detail tried to quell the protesters, but Marjorie Margolies, the moderator of the event and a Senior Fellow at the Fels Institute, asked the protesters to allow Brennan to respond to their remarks.
Brennan countered by talking about the CIA’s recent success in killing the number two top ISIS leader in an air strike, and how drones can be effective weapons.
However, the protesters started again. This time, a group stood up with a Palestinian flag and chanted, “No justice, no peace, no US in Middle East!”
As the chaos erupted once more, another man got up and shouted, “The CIA are the real torturers!” When security got involved, the man wouldn’t back down. He got in the security guards’ faces, and looked as if he wanted them to punch him.
The Dean of the Law school got up, and tried to control the crowd as a small scuffle unfolded between the man and one or two security officers.
With the event getting violent, security started to usher everyone out after Brennan had only spoken for approximately 20 minutes.
The violence didn’t end there though. According to one person, the African American woman who accompanied the man that had gotten into the altercation with security started walking out of the room when an old woman stopped her to tell her how disrespectful her and her partner had been. The old woman pointed her cane at her. The African American woman grabbed the cane and threw the old woman over a row of seats after saying, “How dare you do that! I’m not a slave. You’re not my slave master. You can’t tell me what to do!”
As the audience was ushered out, Students for a Democratic Society stood outside and handed out flyers that explained their reasons for protesting.*
Although many of the protesters were not students, Penn’s SDS organized the protest, and encouraged community members on their Facebook event, entitled PROTEST John Brennan, to attend and disrupt the conversation.
Brennan was upset. Marjorie Margolies was shaken, and a majority of the audience members were disappointed the event had ended so early knowing that Penn would not have such a high-profile speaker for another five to ten years.
Penn sophomore, Nathaniel Rome, expressed his feelings on the affair saying, “The cornerstone of our university – and our society – is free expression, mutual respect, and diversity of opinion. I was disappointed to see some in our community attempt to silence the voice of Director Brennan, a man who has dedicated his career to the service of this country.”
*As we get more information on the events that transpired, The Statesman will make changes to best represent what happened at the John Brennan event. We are only concerned with what actually happened, and, as this was a very chaotic event, we have gotten conflicting accounts from different sources. We have updated to say that SDS was handing out flyers explaining their reasons for protesting, and that the encounter between the old woman and one of the protesters was based on one person’s account. We will continue to make changes as more information comes out.