Campus Protests: Adding up the Cost


In one recent blog I mentioned that the extremes on left and right, which command the attention of the media, have a lot in common. Both are off the deep end.

And I suggested that to people who are center or center-right, the violence on college campuses may look a lot like what happened on January 6 in the Capitol. We liberals obsess on Jan. 6, but miss the similar patterns and behaviors on the left.

The following article from The Free Press by Francesca Block, who has been covering the protests at Columbia, left me with one thought: This sounds a lot like January 6, 2020. She writes from the perspective of the Columbia janitor named Mario Torres at work in Hamilton Hall as it is occupied by pro-Palestinian protestors. Here’s Block:

“It’s the viral image (photo shows masked James Carlson and Mario Torres scuffling) that captured the clash between the anti-Israel protesters who stormed Columbia and the campus workers who tried to stop them. As the mob invaded Hamilton Hall in the early hours of April 30, a facilities worker was photographed pushing a demonstrator against a wall.

“Later, it emerged that the protester was a 40-year-old trust fund kid named James Carlson, who owns a townhouse in Brooklyn worth $2.3 million. The man who tried to hold him back was Mario Torres, 45, who has worked at Columbia—where the average janitor makes less than $19 an hour—for five years.

” . . . Mario Torres describes the experience of being on duty as protesters stormed the building in the early hours of the morning, breaking glass and barricading the entrances. ‘We don’t expect to go to work and get swarmed by an angry mob with rope and duct tape and masks and gloves,’ he said.

“’They came from both sides of the staircases. They came through the elevators and they were just rushing. It was just like, they had a plan.’ Mario said protesters with zip ties, duct tape, and masks ‘just multiplied and multiplied.’

“At one point, he remembers ‘looking up and I noticed the cameras are covered.’ It made him think: ‘This was definitely planned.’

“Torres was trying to ‘protect the building’ when he ended up in an altercation with Carlson: ‘He had a Columbia hoodie on, and I managed to rip that hoodie off of him and expose his face.’ (Carlson was later charged with five felonies, including burglary and reckless endangerment.) ‘I was freaking out. At that point, I’m thinking about my family. How was I gonna get out? Through the window?’

“Torres has not been to campus since the incident. He says he does not feel safe. ‘When it comes to the public safety, the workers’ safety, people don’t feel comfortable walking through a mob to punch in to get into campus. That’s crazy,’ he said.

“He added that he’s worried Columbia might take disciplinary action against him for speaking out. He worries about losing a job he loves. He worries about supporting his young family.”

And my point? Criminal behavior is criminal behavior whether it is in support of left or right-wing idiocy. And, who pays the price? The normal guys and gals, the little people, who end up on the front lines, whether at the U.S. Capitol or Columbia University.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinson
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. I’m really disappointed that college students aren’t simply calling for “peace.” The media is already eager to paint the picture as competing “sides,” setting aside what they have in common. I know we are uncomfortable with what’s happening at UW campus right now, but so far I think they’ve managed to avoid many of the pitfalls we’ve seen at other campuses. Let’s hope it holds.

  2. Bad analogy. The mob on Jan 6 intended to subvert a democratic election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power to the duly elected president. A much more serious crime.

  3. Really? Students non-violently protesting the slaughter of innocent Gazans are similar to white supremacists trying to reverse the results of an election?

  4. The protests are worthwhile and commendable. The destruction and killing in Gaza can only be described by the Israeli use of the word “chutzpah”. Ref: Malcolm Gladwell, “Chutzpah vs Chutzpah” on the Pushkin podcasts:

    Here in Portland, a bunch of people occupied the PSU library, and then trashed it. The one million books in the stacks were left alone, but equipment and furniture were broken, and the walls and floors were heavily spray painted. The damage will take 3 months to repair and the library is closed until the fall. No library for summer students. Who trashes a library? Jeez Louise.

  5. Wow, don’t think some of you all are clued into what campus protestors are saying, calling for, “a new intifada,” elimination of Israel as a nation — “from the river to the sea,” elimination of “colonist Jews.” Cheering on groups like Hamas. These are not “peace out, bro” protests.

    • Tony: As a longtime friend of Plymouth Congregational, I’m truly disappointed. You, like many older Americans, aren’t listening, reading, thinking (deeply). Many of us oldsters are stuck in Leon Uris-land. The “kids” aren’t perfect (the rhetoric is too raw, i agree), but they know a lot that we oldsters don’t know. They know, for example, that intifada means “uprising,” and that the first intifada, which began in 1987, was mostly strikes, boycotts, demonstrations and (yes) some rock throwing. If you talk to the protesters, you will learn that, for most of them, “from the river to the sea” just refers to Palestinians in disparate places — Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank and inside the Green Line — and the common objective of all of them to achieve freedom. If you read the history (not only, but especially Rashid Khalidi), you would know that colonialism was EXACTLY how the early Zionists — from Jabotinsky to Herzl — described the Zionist project. Yes, some protesters are Hamas-niks, but these are a small minority (who are fed up with us pragmatic liberals). Most of the protesters just want justice for Palestinians, something the UK in 1917 and then Israel in 1948 and then the US and Israel since then have denied them. It’s gone on for a century. Please spend some time talking to young people. It will renew your faith in our country!

      • Do the kids know what happened October 7, in any kind of detail? Do they know it wasn’t “strikes, boycotts, demonstrations and some rock throwing”, and there are still apparently surviving hostages? I know reading about the “fearless struggle” of our brothers over there makes me want to put on my keffiyeh in solidarity.

        I know, it’s complicated. I think if you went around and asked students around the campus, you’d get a better informed story than you’d get off campus from the general population, but these campers are a tiny minority like the kids who would cheer for Chairman Mao in my generation.

        • October 7’s brazen attacks were vile. Netanyahu’s scorched-earth military response is vile. We should be using these events for further discussion on deeper issues here like freeing the hostages, Israel’s Gaza/West Bank settlements and the PLA’s feebleness, as I’ve heard is occurring between Northwestern’s students and administration. Unfortunately, this swallowed up by opportunists, like antisemitism attaching its tentacles onto the protestors’ spotlight and fascists latching onto universities’ forceful eviction of the tents under “law and order”. Result: chaos.

          In my college years during the late ’80s and early ’90s, very little political demonstrations popped up; everyone was focused on getting a degree and then a job. That blandness may be preferable to this chaos at the moment, albeit at the cost of looking at world events with organic complacency.

        • I should however belatedly add, for the record – January 6? Give me a break.

          Things the Columbia protest and January 6 have in common: there was a mob, people were threatened, glass was broken.

          Things they do not have in common: only one was instigated by a sitting president. Only one was an attempt to overturn an election. Only one, if successful, would have radically damaged the nation’s constitutional basis for government. The nature of this event isn’t just apparent after the fact, it was in the hearts and minds of the people taking part in it at the time, and who knows how many more who weren’t on hand.

          January 6 wasn’t a protest. It isn’t excused by pointing at protests, even violent ones.

  6. I will add that I haven’t participated in the rallies and encampments precisely because I understand that many people, especially older folks raised on Leon Uris and similar Zionist narratives, are uncomfortable with the anti-apartheid, anti-colonial rhetoric of today’s young people. My pragmatism screams “No, that’s a bad strategy!” I have had many conversations with young pro-Palestinian protesters about the “river to the sea” chant. Strikes me as just too alienating. (But one should note that Likud used this same phrase in its original 1977 charter to describe Israel’s “sovereign territory.”) The student responses are way more thoughtful and knowledgeable than most of us realize. They are trying to draw our attention to injustice toward Palestinians in different places — from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.


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