Congressman partly backtracks his praise of a campus conflict that included racist gestures

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Republican congressman on Monday backtracked on some of his praise for a campus conflict that included a man who made monkey noises and gestures at a Black student who was protesting the Israel-Hamas war.

Rep. Mike Collins of Georgia said he understands and respects feedback about one person during the protest at the University of Mississippi.

“If that person is found to have treated another human being improperly because of their race, they should be punished appropriately, and will hopefully seek forgiveness,” Collins wrote on the social media site X. “Frankly, I did not believe that to be the focal point of the video shared at the time, but I recognize that there certainly seems to be some potentially inappropriate behavior that none of us should seek to glorify.”

A national fraternity, meanwhile, said it has removed one of its members for “racist actions” at the University of Mississippi as a large group of students heckled a smaller group of pro-Palestinian protesters.

“The racist actions in the video were those of an individual and are antithetical to the values of Phi Delta Theta and the Mississippi Alpha chapter,” the national fraternity said in a statement Sunday. “The responsible individual was removed from membership on Friday, May 3.”

The Associated Press left a voicemail message with the fraternity's national office Monday, asking whether the student who was removed was the one shown making the monkey noises and gestures. There was no immediate response. The fraternity did not release his name.

Collins was first elected to Congress in 2022 and made several social media posts criticizing campus protests. On Friday, he posted to X: “Ole Miss taking care of business,” with a with a link to the video showing the racist jeers.

The national NAACP president and CEO, Derrick Johnson, criticized Collins.

“A Black Woman was victim to pandering, racist remarks and gestures, and hateful speech with the hope of breeding fear, isolation, and retreat,” Johnson wrote Saturday on X. “She marched forward anyway. I hope racists like Mike Collins took note of that as well.”

Collins said Monday that he admires students who stand up against “pro-Hamas, anti-American” protesters, including at schools such as the University of Georgia.

“I believe any school, like Ole Miss or UGA, that does not allow the occupiers to run roughshod over the 99 percent of students who are there to learn and enjoy college are taking care of business,” Collins said.

Nobody was arrested during the demonstration at the University of Mississippi, where hecklers vastly outnumbered war protesters. According to a count by AP, more than 2,400 arrests have occurred on 46 U.S. university or college campuses since April 17 during demonstrations against the war.

The student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, reported about 30 protesters on the Oxford campus billed themselves as UMiss for Palestine. Videos and photos from the event showed the protesters were in a grassy area near the main library, blocked off by barriers erected by campus security.

They chanted “Free, free Palestine,” and carried Palestinian flags and signs with slogans including, “Stop the Genocide” and “U.S. bombs take Palestine lives.”

Student journalist Stacey J. Spiehler shot video that showed campus police officers and the dean of students standing between anti-war protesters and hecklers. After the Black woman protesting the war had what appeared to be a heated exchange of words with several white hecklers, one of the men made the monkey gestures and noises at her.

About 76% of the university’s students were white and about 11% were Black in 2022-23, the most recent data available on the school’s website.

University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce said the school is committed to people expressing their views. He said some statements made on campus Thursday were “offensive and unacceptable.” In another statement Friday, Boyce said one “student conduct investigation” had been opened and university leaders were “working to determine whether more cases are warranted.”

“To be clear, people who say horrible things to people because of who they are will not find shelter or comfort on this campus,” he said.