Clark was shaken last month with the announcement of Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer’s plans to demonstrate on campus to encourage students to vote against i-1639 and to prove they can demonstrate peacefully, which caused students to speak out against the organization being allowed on campus.
On Oct. 15, Joey Gibson announced on Facebook that he would be holding a protest demonstration at Clark on Oct. 22, urging students to vote against ballot initiative I-1639 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Chime Tower outside Cannell Library. Gibson, a Washington resident, is the leader of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group known for holding protests in Portland that often turn violent. Patriot Prayer has been cited in multiple Southern Poverty Law Center “hatewatch” reports.
Gibson’s announcement came just days after holding a flash march in Portland that resulted in multiple violent attacks on Portland residents. Many students and staff voiced concern online that while the college is a conceal carry campus, Clark security officers do not carry firearms.
The featured photo on Patriot Prayer’s Facebook page for the Clark event displayed a white man carrying a knife in his back pocket and holding a large firearm.
Clark’s official Facebook page is managed by Communications and Marketing Director Hannah Erickson, who responded on Oct. 16, acknowledging the intentions of the group. The post also affirmed Clark’s status as a limited free speech forum.
For outside organizations to hold First Amendment activities, they can but are not required to first submit an informational form to the college. Neither Gibson or Patriot Prayer contacted Clark or submitted an application for a First Amendment activity. On Oct. 17, President Bob Knight sent a college-wide email.
“We understand the concern many in the college community have about this event taking place at Clark College — especially members of systemically non-dominant groups,” Knight said in the email. “Hate has no place at Clark College and the safety of all faculty, staff, students, and visitors remains our paramount priority.”
Following a Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 17, the college decided to close on Monday Oct. 22, when Patriot Prayer planned to demonstrate on campus. Knight sent a college-wide email to clarify what this meant.
“All classes are cancelled and all employees should not report to work unless requested by a supervisor to support critical functions,” Knight said. “We recommend that all members of the college community, with the exception of those serving critical functions, stay away from the college that day …including those at Washington State University Vancouver and Columbia Tech Center.”
Knight said that Clark is an institution of learning and work that must maintain a nonviolent environment.
Knight addressed Patriot Prayer’s lack of completed application forms for having a First Amendment activity at the main campus, stating “…the group has not taken the steps we normally expect organizations to complete in advance.”
Knight said that while closing the college on Oct. 22 is not a permanent solution to protecting the college from an increasingly violent political climate, “we feel that suspending operations is our most prudent course of action.”
Gibson posted a video on Facebook in response, titled as a message to Clark students. In this video he said professors and staff brainwash students and that students should break away from what older people tell them to do or think.
“Everyone lies,” Gibson said.
Gibson and Patriot Prayer came to Clark at their scheduled time despite the college closing the campus. Increased campus security and Vancouver police were present on campus. A small audience attended Gibson’s 40 minute speech until the group left campus and moved their protest to the I-5 overpass, near the Vancouver Community Library.
Gibson and Patriot Prayer returned to Clark’s main campus on Wednesday, Oct. 24 for an encore speech. Clark officials decided not to close the college again. The day of the second protest, people on campus saw chalk graffiti with phrases such as “Black Lives Matter” and other promotions of peace covering the ground where Gibson spoke near the chime tower.
Gibson’s crowd for the second protest was slightly larger and adorned in American flags. His speech lasted for over an hour, while an increased number of security and police officers looked on from all angles. No violence broke out at either event.
In an email sent the evening before the second protest, Knight explicitly excused all students from attending classes on Wednesday and announced that students would not receive academic penalties from absences on the day of the event.