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Colleges investigate community members for attending pro-Trump protest

Shrouded in secrecy

College community members are subjects of internal and even federal probes for their presence at “Stop the Steal” protests on Jan. 6.

It’s largely unclear if the identified participants committed acts of violence at the U.S. Capitol or simply showed up to peacefully protest the Senate’s confirmation of Electoral College votes.

Yet their alleged attendance – and in one case, online rhetoric – was enough to spawn investigations by their colleges and, in another case, the feds.

The FBI is investigating a University of South Carolina student for allegedly entering the Capitol building, a university media representative told The College Fix in an email last week.

A former Pennsylvania state lawmaker, Rick Saccone, resigned from his adjunct faculty position at Saint Vincent College near Pittsburgh as a result of the Catholic institution’s investigation, college officials told TribLive.

They said the investigation was prompted by Saccone’s Facebook video – since removed but preserved by a political opponent – from the protest. It celebrates the rioters who “broke down the gates” on Capitol grounds, with Saccone adding: “We’re trying to run out all the evil people in there” such as “RINOs” (Republicans in name only).

Another university affiliate is no longer employed by the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center after an hourslong investigation into “one or more employees” who “may have been involved in the violence” at the Capitol.

MORE: College Republicans suspended because they practice ‘Nazism’

The Boston Business Journal claimed she was fired, but the university-affiliated hospital’s own statements don’t go that far.

Neither the publication nor the clinical partner of the UMass Medical School specifies if she was accused of simply attending the White House rally or march to the Capitol, which stretched from early morning through early afternoon, or actively participating in the riots that followed.

The much bigger coup for critics of President Trump was the successful end to a yearslong campaign to convince Lehigh University to rescind his honorary degree, issued in 1988.

Harvard students have not convinced the Ivy League school, however, to rescind the degrees of political figures associated with the Trump administration, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Dan Crenshaw and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

No explanation for why she’s ‘no longer part of the organization’

The University of South Carolina student-turned-federal-suspect was “possibly spotted” at the Capitol, according to WIS News 10.

A USC spokesperson told the local news station Jan. 13 that it was “coordinating” the investigation with the FBI, based on “social media and other reports” that the unidentified student “may have been present” during the “assault.” (The Fix could not find social media mentioning this student.)

A spokesperson told WLTX that the USC Division of Law Enforcement and Safety and its Office of Student were investigating the student’s potential presence.

USC declined to provide updates on its internal investigation to The Fix, including whether it has learned that the student actually did breach the Capitol.

“The FBI is the lead agency on whether any charges will be filed,” spokesperson Jeffery Stensland wrote. “If they are, we would take appropriate action, but have not been made aware of any charges at this time.”

MORE: Lehigh community tries (again) to rescind Trump’s honorary degree

He didn’t answer Fix queries Wednesday and Thursday whether USC referred its investigation to the FBI or if the feds intervened in the university’s investigation.

FBI spokesperson Don Wood declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation to Greenville News.

UMass Memorial didn’t explicitly say what its investigation of the employee found – even whether she was present at any of the Jan. 6 events.

Its second Jan. 8 tweet about the matter – less than seven hours after the first – said a “caregiver … may have been involved in this week’s violent events,” and was “no longer part of the organization.”

When asked why UMass Memorial apparently terminated an employee for attending rallies that turned into riots but not necessarily herself rioting, the hospital told The Fix: “A lot of the reporting on this has been woefully inaccurate.”

Spokesperson Tony Berry said its social media pages “include all of the comments we have issued on this topic,” but did not answer Fix requests to provide specific examples of reporting that was false or misleading.

Video cheers breach of Capitol but doesn’t show him entering

Saccone, the former Pennsylvania lawmaker, has lost perhaps the most at this point because of his presence and enthusiasm outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, which he documented on Facebook Live.

What’s not clear: whether Saccone resigned from his adjunct faculty position at Saint Vincent College just because of online blowback, or because the school opened an investigation, as officials claim.

According to his LinkedIn page, Saccone taught courses on international affairs and global terrorism. He did not respond to a Fix query via LinkedIn that sought a phone interview.

Self-identified alumni created an online petition – since deleted – that called on the college to get rid of Saccone, a 21-year veteran of Saint Vincent.

He is among the “traitors” who attacked the Capitol, “proudly tweet[ing] his presence and participation in this insurrectionist act against the US,” the petition said. Signatories promised to withhold donations to the college until it fires Saccone. It had more than 900 signatures as of Jan. 7, according to TribLive.

Saccone told the media outlet that he “decided to resign for the betterment of the school” and to protect its reputation. The former state lawmaker unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb for his congressional seat in 2018.

The catalyst for the controversy came from Saccone posting a Facebook video including language that anticipated he would enter the Capitol alongside the crowd.

MORE: Activists try to remove College Republicans for attending ‘Stop the Steal’ rally

“They’re macing them up there,” he said, referring to rioters who breached the gates. “We’re gonna run [federal lawmakers] out of their offices.”

Saccone has since deleted his video evidence, according to Lindsay Drew, a former Democratic candidate for the state house.

The video shows him and other supporters of President Trump encouraging the infiltration of the Capitol, but not actually entering the chambers of Congress..

“We are storming the capitol. Our vanguard has broken through the barricades,” he wrote in a Facebook status on the video. “We will save this nation. Are u with me?”

The former lawmaker defended his attendance at the “peaceful protest” in a Facebook post preserved by Drew, the former Democratic candidate.

He said his group was involved in “peaceful, first amendment assembly,” and the language of “storm[ing] the castle” was just a “metaphor.” A former Air Force officer, Saccone noted the young female veteran who was shot to death by Capitol Police: “The punishment for trespass is not death.”

Saccone told TribLive that he and his wife exited the Capitol grounds as soon as they saw that tear gas was being sprayed in the area.

College officials told the media outlet they “immediately commenced an investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding” Saccone’s video. But they didn’t specify whether their investigation had concluded when Saccone resigned.

MORE: School bus drivers sue superintendent over Capitol-related suspensions

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About the Author
Alexander Pease -- University of Massachusetts, Boston