Nick Ribaudo, a Penn State student, was attending a protest at the university earlier this week when he heard sudden screams. He and about 300 other students protested against their college hosting Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent group Proud Boys, and Alex Stein, another far-right figure, on campus.

Ribauda was standing on a post, trying to get a vantage point to watch the action, when a group came screeching towards him. One of their friends, a university student, had just been pepper sprayed.

“They said one of the ‘Proud Boys’ did it,” Ribaudo said, “and I’ve seen the footage to prove it.”

Terrified and with trembling legs, Ribaud handed the group his water bottle. They washed the burning red eyes of their friends right in front of the building where they would have classes the next day.

“It’s a miracle that more people weren’t hurt,” Ribaud recalled.

A protester throws water in the face of another protester at Penn State University in Pennsylvania State College on Monday. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

Students in Pennsylvania are dealing with the aftermath of violence and chaos surrounding the planned demonstrations, and criticism continues to grow about the university’s role in allowing the event to take place in the first place.

New Zealand and Canada have designated the far-right group Proud Boys as a terrorist organization, and some of its members have been charged for their actions during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

McInnes and Stein were known as hate speech provocateurs, and the university eventually canceled the event. But not before chaos ensued and the speakers were in the lecture hall, ready to go.

University President Neely Bendapudi said in a statement: “It is unclear which individuals at the scene then became physically confrontational and used pepper spray against others in the crowd … Steyn and McInnes will be celebrating victory for being overruled, when in reality, they contributed to the very violence that threatened their ability to speak.’

For many of the student protesters, this narrative downplays the university’s role in allowing the event to take place, and it angers them. Ribaudo among them.

“I would like to continue the conversation about this,” Ribaudo said. “It’s dizzying, it’s surprising, and it’s clear that the university has done a very poor job.”

The scenes of violence were dramatic. Police campus and Pennsylvania the military searched the perimeter, ready for when the situation inevitably escalated. And apparently you could see proud boys lingering around the site, dressed in black and yellow.

Alex Stein grabs a protester's sign outside Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, on October 24, 2022.
Alex Stein grabs a protester’s sign outside Pennsylvania State University on Monday. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

Ribauda recalled that Stein left the building before the scheduled start of the talk and grabbed a protester’s sign. He then called the students “snowflakes” and filmed them for his social media. One of the captions for his videos on Twitter read, “Mentally insane college students in America!”

“Stein deliberately incited people to pass himself off as a martyr,” Ribaud said. “He fired up the crowd and I guess it worked.”

As the protest crowd grew, it was announced that Penn had canceled the event. This happened after the pepper spray and after McInnes and Steyn were escorted from the premises.

Students continued to march down Pollock Road, chanting “Whose campus? Our campus!” and “We’re not afraid of proud boys.”