Controversial libertarian author and political scientist Charles Murray experienced something out of the ordinary during his planned lecture in Vermont’s Middlebury College on Thursday. Faced with hundreds of protesters who immediately interrupted his lecture, the American Enterprise Institute fellow was forced to vacate the lecture hall and instead deliver his speech online in a private, secured room. The protests continued well after the speech, with several people practically assaulting Murray as he attempted to leave the campus.
Murray’s ill-fated Middlebury College lecture was controversial from the start. Invited by one of the college’s student groups, the American Enterprise Institution Club, the author was set to discuss his 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, according to a report by the Washington Times. Considering the author’s reputation of being deemed a white nationalist, however, numerous students protested the author’s appearance, alleging that Murray’s beliefs normalize white supremacy.
The libertarian author first sparked outrage due to his 1994 work, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, which alleged that a correlation exists between the intelligence level and the race of individuals. The Southern Poverty Law Center has accused the author of using “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.”
—  (@dronejava2) March 4, 2017
It was not just current Middlebury students who protested the appearance of the controversial author on Thursday. Prior to his lecture, more than 450 alumni from Middlebury signed a letter saying that the school’s decision to host the political scientist’s lecture on campus was “unacceptable and unethical.” Following is an excerpt from the alumni’s protest letter.
“His invitation to campus, then, is not an educational opportunity, but a threat. It is a message to every woman, every person of color, every first-generation student, every poor and working-class person, every disabled person and every queer person that not only their acceptance to and presence at Middlebury, but also their safety, their agency, their humanity and even their very right to exist are all up for ‘debate.'”
Despite these initiatives, however, Middlebury decided to push through with Murray’s lecture nonetheless. The protests against Murray were immediately evident as soon as the author’s lecture began. Once the author’s speech started, dozens of protesting students turned their backs on him, chanting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away.” The protests against the author’s lecture eventually escalated to the point where Murray was unable to continue his talk anymore. Following the students’ fiery reaction, Middlebury officials opted to move Murray to a private room so he could simply stream his lecture instead.
— PEN America (@PENamerican) March 3, 2017
Even after the lecture, however, things continued to escalate. According to Middlebury spokesman Bill Burger, he, Professor Allison Stranger, and Murray were confronted by numerous students as they walked to the school’s parking lot. The three of them were shoved and pushed, with a protester even pulling Professor Stranger’s hair.
Burger, Stranger, and Murray were confronted even when they were already inside a car. As they were trying to leave, a group of protesters climbed on the hood of the vehicle and banged on the windows. In a later statement to TIME, Murray stated that what he experienced in Middlebury was no less than physical assault.
“We were confronted by a mob that man-handled us that — had it not been for the security guards — at the very least, I would have been on the ground. I’ve never encountered anything close to this, both in the open-ended protest — not letting me speak at all — and the ferocity.”
Despite the lecture’s violent results, Burger stated that the school still believes that they made the right decision in inviting the author to the campus.
“We’re confident we did the right thing,” he said. “We were determined that this event go forward. We felt it upheld a core principle of this institution and of higher education, which is one of free expression and free speech.”