Was an FIU group’s chat free speech or hate speech? School says no investigation

After a leaked group chat with ties to the conservative college organization Turning Point USA showed messages joking about Syrian refugees raping white Swedish women at gunpoint, liking cartoon pornography featuring drawings of under-aged girls and reminding members to not be racist and anti-Semitic surfaced last week, Florida International University says the chats do not warrant an investigation.

FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana explained that the chats did not violate the Student Code of Conduct.

“We have determined that the text messages constitute speech protected by the First Amendment,” Santana wrote in an email, “regardless whether the people involved are FIU students or not.”

Messages from the group chat titled “TPUSA FIU Fun” and hosted on the messaging application WhatsApp were published and first reported by the Miami New Times last week. Turning Point USA is a national organization that promotes capitalist values.

“Just avoid saying the n word and don’t reference Richard spencer too much and don’t Jew hate just cause all of the time,” one message read.

“Hey did you know that the Japanese got the trains running the same day Hiroshima was bombed? Talk about efficiency,” another read.

Another message included fantasizing about dressing up as a scantily clad Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officer to “aggressively grapple Latinas and deport them.”

FIU political science professor Ronald Cox wrote a letter calling on the administration to revoke the student organizational status of FIU Turning Point USA. The letter collected 75 signatures from FIU faculty.

“This is an appalling set of practices that go well beyond any reasonable interpretation of ‘free speech,’ “ the letter read. “In fact, this organization, demonstrated by the behavior of the FIU chapter, is antithetical to academic norms of free speech, intellectual discourse and tolerance of opposing views.”

Turning Point USA regional director Driena Sixto, a 2016 FIU graduate who now oversees high school and college chapters in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, wrote an email to administration responding to Cox’s letter. She pointed out that Cox was the chair of Miami’s Democratic Socialists of America organization who helped create the Young Democratic Socialists of American organization on FIU’s campus.

She attached to the email clips of Miami DSA’s live-streamed meetings, including one where YDSA chair Andy Vila gives a presentation on how to fight fascism.

“Now that I know how the right-wingers will act, how can I smash them? Metaphorically speaking of course, but if you want to be violent, that’s OK,” says in the clip.

Sixto told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that although she was a member of the group chat, she would often mute the conversation after messaging reminders for the chapter, “because I can’t micromanage every chapter.”

“I didn’t know any of it was going on in the chat,” she said, adding that all chats have been disbanded and the group’s leadership will communicate via email, “from now on to avoid a similar situation from happening since other people abused the privilege of being able to interact with other people like that freely and without too much monitoring, unfortunately.”

Asked about the offending messages, she said, “It’s free speech but it’s not Turning Point’s values that are representative.”

Sixto said she did not know who wrote the offensive messages or what happened to those members. She guessed that about 25 people were in the group chat although she questioned how active they were in the chapter.

“We definitely didn’t have over 25 people in meetings and tabling,” she said.

Sixto said the FIU Turning Point USA group is holding a chapter meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday. She said the group’s status was on hold because the chapter didn’t update its executive board contacts.

FIU has had several brushes with students involved in unsavory group chats. Last year, leaked group chats from FIU’s College Republicans show members cracking jokes about getting students deported and Charlottesville, where one protester died. FIU suspended the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon over a group chat filled with rape jokes, anti-Semitic memes and non-consensual nude photos.

Contact Colleen Wright at 305-376-3003 and @Colleen_Wright.