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UNT student to petition SPLC to designate Open Air Outreach a hate group

UNT student to petition SPLC to designate Open Air Outreach a hate group

UNT student to petition SPLC to designate Open Air Outreach a hate group
April 22
13:06 2018

Nearly 500 people have signed a petition to designate Open Air Outreach, a group that demonstrated on UNT’s campus in late March, a hate group.

Communications junior Seth Knievel started the petition and plans to send a report with the petition as supporting evidence to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors hate groups throughout the United States.

“It’s not my intention to quell speech or stop it from being heard,” Knievel said. “Instead I think recognizing speech is the goal of the petition.” 

The Open Air Outreach group came to Arlington in March for a National Street Preachers Conference. The group demonstrated in the Library Mall on March 29 and 30 as part of the conference itinerary

The small group of demonstrators held signs that said, “BLM are racist thugs,” “Every real Muslim is a Jihadist,” and “Got Aids Yet?” The street preachers sparked a large student protest, including spontaneous dancing, music and signs.

A student holds a sign reading “Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice!” in protest of demonstrators on campus. Mallory Cammarata

Once the petition plateaus, Knievel said he will send it to the SPLC. It is tracking 1,600 extremist groups and identifies 954 groups in the U.S. as hate groups.

SPLC defines a hate group as an organization with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”

Knievel said the group aligns with other organizations designated as hate groups by SPLC. He said the demonstrators recognized the white Christian male as an ingroup, which he says is similar to many fascist organizations.

“When you have rhetoric out there that separates people into groups, especially an ingroup and an outgroup, that becomes very dangerous,” Knievel said.

Knievel’s main goal for the petition is to recognize the demonstrators as a hate group. He said he does not think the label will inhibit any legal action.

“It will force [the demonstrators] to look at what they are doing and really think about it.”

Dustin Aguilar, college pastor of Christ Community Church, said the label will only encourage the demonstrators.

“I think labeling them a hate group would give fuel to their fire because they would feel that is Christian persecution,” Aguilar said. “I think what they are saying is wrong and ridiculous. The church should vocally disavowal those groups but I am not quite sure about calling them a hate speech [group].”

Computer science sophomore Andres Montoya said the demonstrators should be labeled a hate group since they are personally attacking specific groups.

“I think [the protest] is pointless because I’m here for an education,” Montoya said. “I don’t care what they think.”

Knievel’s Christian faith encouraged him to be vocal against the demonstrators, he said. After the protests, he wrote verses from the Bible, Quran, Torah and other quotes around the Library Mall with chalk.

“They are sharing what I consider to be a false gospel and they are hurting people,” Knievel said.

Brandon Bell, who leads the local student ministry group Christian Campus Community, said all Christians struggle to honor God while loving everyone, and the demonstrators are taking the wrong approach.

He said change comes from relationships not from yelling and pointing fingers.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Bell said. “It’s heartbreaking and absolutely not the approach that Jesus took to try to convict the world of truth.”

Aguilar told street preacher and conference leader Jesse Morrall the latter’s demonstration is not the gospel.

“We are here to share the gospel and call sinners to repentance,” Morrall said.

He took issue with a sign that listed a number of attributes that can lead to damnation.

“The sign implies that if you are not a Democrat you don’t have to worry about hellfire,” Aguilar said. “If you are not a Muslim you don’t have to worry about hellfire. It’s absolutely not the gospel. In fact, you are preaching a different gospel. It’s saying that all you have to do to be saved is not be these things on this sign. I take a huge issue with that.”

Biology junior Diana Hortelano said the demonstrators were expressing their views in the wrong way.

“I think that’s wrong,” Hortelano said. “If you want to be heard you need to do it with respect. They are just adding more problems to society.”

UNT officials created a safe space after the protest for students seeking counsel. Knievel said in the petition that the protest “affected the well being of our students on campus.” He said the petition directs the conversation to peaceful political action.

“I just felt like it was the best political action that students could take,” Knievel said. “[Petitioning] is very healthy and it is a very peaceful way to share how you’re feeling about a situation.”

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Devin Rardin

Devin Rardin

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