Assembly Protest Leads to Anonymous Threats, Harassment


Image used with permission from EHS Antifascists

EHS Antifascists posted a video message to the Young Conservatives Club on Nov. 13.

On Thursday Nov. 9, Edina High School held its annual Veterans Day Assembly. Controversy broke out when the EHS Young Conservatives Club tweeted a video of a group of 10 students sitting down during the song ‘Taps.’ The incident gained attention because unlike the national anthem, ‘Taps’ has historically been played to remember fallen soldiers. The Young Conservatives Club called the protesters “disrespectful,” and tensions rose as the post was shared and angry commenters responded to it.

An unnamed junior who participated in the demonstration says that the message they hoped to send was simple. “We don’t want to stand, so we shouldn’t be forced to,” she said.  Another unnamed protester added, “This was a way to firmly express our beliefs without intentionally jeopardizing our reputation and safety.” Many students thought the EHS Black Student Union organized the demonstration, but the participant clarified, “the Black Student Union was not involved in the demonstration.” She went on to explain that, “this was a collection of people’s individual choices not to stand.” Principal Andy Beaton clarified the student’s rights saying, “The bottom line with this particular instance is that students are not required to stand for the national anthem, or ‘Taps’ or the pledge,” he said.  

The day after the assembly, tweets were sent out by an anonymous Twitter account named “EHS Anti-Fascists.” These tweets consisted of screenshots from the YCC “GroupMe,” a platform for online group chats, discussing the protest. While some messages were simply criticising the intent of the protest, others displayed blatant racism. One member singled out a protester specifically saying, “he can barely speak English.” Another message said of the protesters, “at least we can relish in the fact that none of them are going to college and won’t amount to anything.” More messages called the protesters “crazy” and “stupid” and suggested the protesters should leave the United States saying, “let’s all do something nice and pitch in for a plane ticket.” One of the unnamed protesters described her reaction to seeing these comments. “I am completely disappointed and not surprised at the comments and messages Young Conservative Club keeps making. They are using their political platform for their racist views.” Another protester said, “I have known these kids since middle school, I didn’t know they had the capability to say these things. Reading the messages made me cry.” When contacted, the YCC declined to comment.

Zephyrus has been in contact with the EHS Anti-Fascists over Twitter but does not know their identities. When asked why they posted the screenshots, they explained,“The comments in the Young Conservatives Club group chat were completely unacceptable, and it became abundantly clear to us that the issue was never going to get solved internally.” They intentionally censored the names of the YCC members, saying the point was not to expose individuals but the group as a whole. They went on to say, “The students of EHS needed to know that the Young Conservatives Club was fostering racism, and leaking their comments to the public was the best way to achieve that.”

The administration’s jurisdiction over social media posts falls into somewhat of a grey area. Although the YCC is not currently a school-sanctioned club (it has been in the past), it uses the “EHS” name on social media platforms like Twitter and is clearly associated with the school. (The EHS Anti-Fascists are not a school-sanctioned club either, it should be noted.) Principal Beaton explained, “The Young Conservatives Club is allowed to post something and say, we totally disagree with students sitting during [the assembly], but when the statements become disrespectful, that’s when we have to step in.” Beaton clarified the views of the club leaders, whom he had talked to at length on Friday, saying, “they are apologetic and frustrated and disavowing some of [the messages], saying being a conservative doesn’t mean being a racist.” The YCC Twitter account has since been taken down.

Tensions grew over the weekend and the EHS Anti-Fascists sparked even more controversy. They posted a video to their Twitter account depicting a figure in a Guy Fawkes mask, a disguise often used by the prominent hacking group Anonymous. The video demanded the removal of every student who displayed racism in the Young Conservatives Club from their group, and an apology for “fostering racism in their official GroupMe.” They further threatened to send the screenshots, with the commenter’s names exposed, to the school administration if the YCC did not meet their criteria. The EHS Anti-Fascists’ video concluded by calling their demands “non-negotiable.”

The anonymous video was deemed threatening by many, even prompting some YCC members to leave school Monday, Nov. 13, fearing for their own safety. Yet, the anonymous group defended the video saying, “we knew before releasing the video that it was going to be blown out of proportion, but it needed to be made.” Despite the video being taken down the same afternoon, they consider it successful. “The Young Conservatives Club never made a unified response to our stipulation, and later that day they were contacted by EHS administration to dismantle their Twitter and GroupMe. We are grateful to the EHS administration for finally taking action, but think more still needs to be done.” One of the aforementioned Veterans Day assembly protesters did not agree with the video’s message saying, “we want the racists to be punished, but we don’t want them to be threatened by anyone.”

Principal Beaton called the video “inflammatory and unnecessary,” adding that “it got forwarded to the police department and its origins are being investigated.” The Star Tribune reports that the police found no “credible threat,” however Principal Beaton indicated that the investigation will continue. This incident comes after a tense fall at EHS, including a student protest regarding enforcement of the school’s dress code. Beaton’s responses to both incidents condemned social media for exacerbating rumors and fostering a mob mentality.

Moving forward, Beaton hopes that if people see harassment or racism on social media they will, “screenshot it, come and see us and we will handle it.” He also hopes to “continue the conversation about the appropriate use of social media.”