White House denounces takeover of campus building as protests escalate

By Thomson Reuters Apr 30, 2024 | 10:29 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House denounced non-peaceful efforts to protest the war in Gaza on Tuesday as students at Columbia University occupied a campus building, saying it was “the wrong approach.”

White House spokesman John Kirby said the White House was watching the escalating protests on U.S. campuses carefully, even as protests also spread in Europe and the region.

“The president believes that forcibly taking over a building on campus is absolutely the wrong approach. That is not an example of peaceful protests,” Kirby told reporters at a briefing.

While the president does have sweeping authority to federalize the National Guard, Kirby said such a move was not under consideration amid the latest developments at Columbia in New York City, where students entered the building, blocked doors and linked arms outside to form a barricade

New York City police arrived outside the school gates after the breach but said they would only enter if there were injuries, the Columbia Spectator newspaper reported.

“There’s no active effort to look at federalizing the National Guard at this time,” he said. Kirby added that he was not aware of any evidence of bad actors at the college protests sweeping the country.

Kirby underscored the government’s support for free speech rights and the right to protest, but said it was critical to ensure those protests remained peaceful and did not pose a threat to other students.

President Joe Biden “condemns the use of the term ‘intifada,’ (uprising) as he has the other tragic and dangerous hate speech displayed in recent days,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates added in a statement.

“Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful – it is wrong. And hate speech and hate symbols have no place in America,” Bates said in a statement.

(Reporting by Andreal Shalal and Susan Heavey; Editing by Caitlin Webber and Doina Chiacu)