A Reporter’s View: Don’t feed the trolls

By Kaylee Lindenmuth
News Editor

It’s Nov. 30, 2017. A heads-up is posted into the Keystone staff’s Facebook group notifying us about a planned protest on campus, and someone is needed to cover it. I was a first-semester freshman, serving as assistant news editor at the time, and I offered to grab my camera and head to the scene outside South Dining Hall to cover it.

I came across a massive crowd of students—at least 200—flanking a group of religious protesters on all sides with only a handful of uniformed KU Public Safety officers between them to prevent the tension from turning violent.

It was Matthew 24 Ministries, led by Pastor Aden Rusfeldt. He and his crew of four—his wife, Mary, and an unidentified man, woman and teenage boy—engaged students with vulgarity and condemnations. Women who disagreed with them were called whores, and others were told they should commit suicide among other things. Essentially, if you were to transcribe everything said by the group, it’d read like a list of what should never be said by one person to another, ever.

Despite this, students gathered to counter-protest, either seriously or comically. “Bring back Farmville,” “Carson Wentz 4 MVP” and “Krusty Krab is Unfair, Mr. Krabs is in There” were a few of the signs I can recall that were drawn by students. Others devised signs reading “Love is not a sin,” and “Spread Love, Not Hate.” They also chanted things like “Fly Eagles Fly” and Spongebob references.

Pastor Aden Rusfeldt at the 2017 protest, South Dining Hall

People even donned costumes for the occasion. I recall seeing a hot dog, a pot leaf and even a Jesus, who was carried down the hill to the police line.

On April 16, 2019, it felt like a repeat. One of our copy editors sent me a heads up about a protest on the north side of campus, so I took my camera and investigated. As I neared the crowd, I saw the protesters, recognized the faces and immediately knew what we were in for.

The crowd’s reaction was more of the same: comical signs, serious counter-protests and, once again, a student dressed as Jesus.

While it may seem like a wonderful idea at the moment, we, as students, need to step back and remember why these groups show up. They expect the reaction we and other college campuses have historically given them.

“It’s normal. It happens all the time,” Mary Rusfeldt said in our interview in 2017, regarding the reaction.

Pastor Aden Rusfeldt at the 2019 protest, Rohrbach Library (black shirt) – Photo courtesy of Kaylee Lindenmuth

This group stages protests at colleges and universities across Southeastern Pennsylvania, and they come to campus to get a rise out of students hoping that either the university removes them or a student takes a swing at which point they will file a lawsuit. This is why Aden Rusfeldt wears a body camera, and another crew member videotapes the crowd with a tripod-mounted camcorder.

KU and the Bias Response Task Force administers the Walk On By campaign encouraging students to refrain from engaging uninvited protesters and instead choosing to walk by.

Time and time again, campus officials echo the same message that these groups have a right to visit campus and spread their message since we are a public university. The groups, whether it be Matthew 24 or others, know this, and that’s why they take personal attacks at passersby. It lures the passerby into a confrontation, giving the group exactly what they want.

While we can’t forcibly remove Rusfeldt and his crew if they show up, and while they seem unphased by counter-protests, we do have one powerful tool at our disposal: we can starve them of attention. They’re nothing more than attention-seeking trolls, and we all know the number one rule of the modern, internet-centric age: don’t feed the trolls.

 

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