A Columbia University sophomore has apologized after he was caught on video berating a group of students about the superiority of the white race.
Julian von Abele, a white student, said his comments were taken out of the context. They were intended as a sarcastic response to students who were accusing supporters of President Donald Trump of encouraging sexual violence, he said.
He apologized for “going over the top” in his rant, which included the comment that “white people are the best thing that ever happened to the world.” But he maintained that his reaction “was not one of hate.”
In the video, the bespectacled student says, “We built the modern world.” When someone off camera asks to whom he’s referring, and he responds, “Europeans.” A hand approaches his face. He pushes it away.
“We invented science and industry,” he says before being cut off, which spurs him only to yell his point at the students around him. “We invented science and industry and you want to tell us to stop because,” he says, switching to a mocking tone, “oh my god, we’re so bad.”
The video spread through the internet and drew rebukes and condemnation. Von Abele says that he has been harassed since the incident, and received credible threats to his safety.
“I explained that I am a Trump supporter and I do not in any way encourage violence, sexual or otherwise,” Von Abele said in a statement. “A large group of students gathered around me and told me that I had no right to share my views on women as I’m a white male with ‘white privilege.’”
“The rhetoric I used to prove a point sounded as if I feel that whites are better than other races, while really, I was theatrically and sarcastically demonstrating that whites are not allowed to embrace their cultural achievements,” Von Abele added.
What the video shows
The incident unfolded early Sunday in front of the university’s largest library and one of its dining halls.
Someone appears to try to calm the student down, calling him by name and saying, “I feel you,” but most of the students are outraged. One can be heard calling him a “f***ing degenerate.”
“We saved billions of people from starvation. We built modern civilization,” he continues, prompting boos as one person asks, “Are you joking me?”
The attention appears to embolden him. He amplifies his rhetoric and runs in a circle with his hands up, as in victory.
“White people are the best thing that ever happened to the world. We are so amazing. I love myself, and I love white people. F*** yeah, white people. F*** yeah, white men. We’re white men. We did everything.”
Someone tries to bait him into repeating his rant: “Say that one more time. Say that right here.”
Just before the 54-second video ends, the sophomore says, “I don’t hate other people. I just love white men.”
Several people reply, “Oh, God.”
When initially reached for comment, von Abele told CNN he would provide a statement but only if the network agreed, before seeing it, to run it in its entirely. CNN declined to do so.
Aside from his words being patently false – nonwhites are responsible for a wealth of vital inventions, among them gunpowder, mathematics, irrigation, shampoo and seismographs – student organizations representing black and Latino students have characterized the student as a white supremacist.
They also say the group he’s addressing in the video was composed mostly of students of color.
On Sunday, three deans wrote a letter to undergraduate students denouncing the “deeply disturbing racially charged incident” and “the painful language directed at students of color.” The university would make an “open reflection space” available to students Monday night, the deans said in their letter.
“We are alarmed at the rise of incidents of racism and hate speech in our world today,” the letter said. “It is more important than ever that we continually demonstrate our core values and restate our commitment to a diverse, inclusive community on campus.”
The next day, Suzanne Goldberg, executive vice president of university life, wrote another open letter, saying, “Comments of this sort cut against core values of our community, even when they are within someone’s rights to express.”
Witnesses who spoke to the student-run Columbia Spectator said the sophomore began accosting his fellow students outside the library about 4 a.m. ET Sunday, and he followed them to the dining hall, continuing his polemic.
According to the Black Students’ Organization, “he continued to harass several students. … This came after he grabbed a Black woman and asked Black women if they liked to date white men, according to several individuals.”
Senior Alfredo Dominguez, a university senator, emailed several top university officials, according to the Spectator, and demanded a “swift, disavowing response.”
“You can have arguments all you want about free speech and people being entitled to say what they want,” Dominguez told the newspaper. “But when that bubbles (into) assaulting black or brown people with that and then stalking them … you’re getting into levels of hate crime and your speech being directly related to violence.”
The Black Students’ Organization held an open board meeting Sunday to discuss what action it could take as a group and as a community.
“We want to make sure that we can come together with a common narrative/message and have a plan of what we want to come from this incident,” the organization said in a Facebook post.
The Student Organization of Latinxs said in a Facebook post that the behavior on display in the video is an “institutional problem that is perpetuated by its administrative, academic, and business practices.” It stands in solidarity with the black students, it said.
“We are outraged by these events and demand that this student is held accountable,” the statement said. “We acknowledge (these types) of incidents are triggering and make students of color feel unsafe. We encourage y’all to practice self-care and feel free to reach out to us.”
Student stands by his words
Von Abele insists that he did not “shove, grab, or physically or verbally assault anyone, nor did I denigrate anyone’s race,” he said in statement.
But he regrets engaging in an exchange that was “overzealous and was not the right venue to discuss the value of identity politics,” he said.
“I was offended for being held personally responsible for the historical actions of people with the same skin color as me, and I was tired of the divisive rhetoric that blames all the ills of society on white men,” he said.
“I am not afraid to challenge the use of the term ‘white privilege,’ and labeling that view as racism creates divisiveness and stifles free thought and expression.”
CNN’s Augusta Anthony contributed to this report.