Last year, the Left seized on Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann as a symbol of everything wrong with America. Media outlets like CNN and The Washington Post breathlessly reported the “smirk” heard ’round the world, the moment when the MAGA-hat-wearing Covington boy smiled at a Native American man near the March for Life. Both CNN and the Post settled defamation lawsuits, forking over cash to Sandmann for falsely smearing his character. Perhaps the young man thought his travails would be over after that. Not so.
A staffer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tracked down Sandmann’s college plans, and vocally attacked Transylvania University for accepting him.
“Does anyone else think it’s a bit of a stain on Transylvania University for accepting Nick Sandman?” Samuel Crankshaw, a communications associate with ACLU of Kentucky, posted on Facebook, tagging Transylvania University in his post.
“I’m sure it’s a ‘both sides’ defense, but it’s pretty counter to their mission and another instance of there not actually being equal sides to an issue,” Crankshaw added. “I think TU should accept anyone willing to have an open mind and engage in debate, regardless of their views. That’s how we all learn. That’s Transy’s mission.”
“But this kid clearly is a provocateur in training with no intention of learning,” the ACLU staffer alleged. “He exists only to troll, intimidate and play [the] victim.”
Crankshaw claimed that Sandmann has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and defended 17-year-old Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, whom Crankshaw accused of having “murdered two people for exercising political speech” (Rittenhouse fired in apparent self-defense, though he should not have been there in the first place).
The ACLU staffer said Sandmann is “no different from the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos, but he is more dangerous.”
Crankshaw, a University of Transylvania graduate, said the college’s decision to accept Sandmann “seems like a slap in the face. I hope some time in a real classroom changes him, but his twitter and public persona suggest otherwise.”
His post attacking Sandmann gained a great deal of attention, with more than 2,000 comments (many of them negative) and 92 shares.
Crankshaw later added a note to his post, emphasizing that “these are my personal views that I am expressing on my personal Facebook page on my personal time. They do not necessarily reflect the views of my current or past employers. I have a First Amendment right to express my views just as Nick Sandmann has a First Amendment right to express his. I will continue to express my views on my personal time.”
Dr. Avery Tompkins, an assistant professor and diversity scholar at Transylvania Unversity, responded to Crankshaw’s Facebook post by promising to monitor the “provocateur” Sandmann.
“While I certainly don’t support or agree with his views, and find his public behavior and rhetoric atrocious and uninformed, we can’t not admit academically qualified students due to their political and personal views,” Tompkins admitted. She warned that “[i]f he were to cause problems by being disruptive, trolling, or engaging in unethical behavior of any kind, I would immediately document it (just like I would for any student doing the same thing), and he would just be putting himself in a position for me to file a conduct report.”
Tompkins claimed Sandmann is connected to organizations pushing “anti-intellectualist views.” The professor did not condemn Crankshaw’s ugly decision to target an incoming freshman and claim that he has “no intention of learning.” Instead, the professor wrote, “I get where you are coming from.”
As constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley wrote, “This is a freshman being publicly shredded by a professor at his school. Tompkins then expresses the same uncertainty why this student would pick a university dedicated to higher education and ‘the antithesis of what he belies and promotes.'”
After Turley published his story, drawing attention to the professor’s comments, Tompkins issued an apology.
“I want to apologize for my mistake in singling out a student and any misunderstandings that arose from that,” the professor wrote. “One of my favorite things about working at a liberal arts institution is that the University community has diverse perspectives. All students, faculty, and staff are able to engage in civil discourse with those whose views may be different from their own, and to learn about those views in an academic setting.”
Transylvania University would not comment on Sandmann or Tompkins, but the university insisted that its “campus is a place where the wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and opinions of the community — students, staff, faculty and alumni — meet. Transylvania, like nearly every campus, is composed of those holding the full range of viewpoints. … In this place of divergence, we strive to foster dialogue and listen to each other with generosity and a presumption of goodwill in the pursuit of understanding.”
While the institution refused to comment on Sandmann or Tompkins, it did promise that “a review of the situation will be conducted expeditiously by the appropriate university officials.”
Sandmann himself asked his followers not to attack his school or anyone related to it.
“I don’t want to see anyone attacking anyone related to my school no matter how right you think you are,” he tweeted. “Be respectful and find something else to talk about.”
Sandmann did address Crankshaw’s comments, however. “People like [Samuel Crankshaw] are what make college campuses a toxic place to be,” the freshman tweeted. “I have more than enough qualifications to be at Transy and am proud to say I feel I’m treated fairly.”
“Half of your post is filled with trashing my attorneys because you don’t have anything on me,” the freshman wrote, addressing Crankshaw. “When you try to address me, all you can do is label me a provocateur because of things you think I’ll do. Let me define myself. Let me define my politics. Let me live.”
It is appalling that Crankshaw, a Transylvania University alumn and ACLU staffer, would hound Sandmann as he enters college.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.