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New York City mayor: ‘Outside agitators’ behind Columbia protests

"I want to send a clear message out that there are people who are harmful and are trying to radicalize our children and we cannot ignore ... these outside influences," said Eric Adams.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams helps launch the “We Heart NYC” campaign in Times Square on March 20, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams helps launch the “We Heart NYC” campaign in Times Square on March 20, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, revealed that “outside agitators,” including one whose husband was convicted for terrorism, played a key role in the anti-Israel and antisemitic protests at Columbia University.

Asked by MSNBC anchor Willie Geist at what point city officials realized that outside actors were involved, Adams said it was “when we started seeing footage and we were able to identify … some of the organization’s individuals … once we were able to actually confirm [who they were] with our intelligence division.”

They affirmed that the husband of one had been “arrested for and convicted for terrorism on a federal level.”

“Once we were able to identify some of the other people, I knew that there was no way I was going to allow those children to be exploited the way they were being exploited,” he said.

“Many people thought that this was just a natural evolution of a protest. It was not. These were professionals that were here,” he added.

“I want to send a clear message out that there are people who are harmful and are trying to radicalize our children and we cannot ignore … these outside influences,” the mayor stressed.

“I don’t know if they’re international. I think we need to look into that as well,” he added.

Adams said he had urged the school administrators to view the issue from the perspective of student safety and the protection of school facilities, and that after the break-in and vandalism of Hamilton Hall, “I think that the leadership at the school realized that our concern was actually materializing and we had to really move in for the safety of those children and do it in the right way.”

‘Doing their part to secure their campus’

Tarik Sheppard, deputy commissioner of public information for the New York City Police Department, said that once they realized outside agitators “would step in” the NYPD started preparing for “worst-case scenarios.”

Upon entering Hamilton Hall, the police found heavy industrial chains locked with bike locks on every door. “[T]his is not what students bring to school, okay. This is what professionals bring to campuses and universities,” he said.

“In order for our emergency services group to enter into the building, they had to first cut through these chains, but also get rid of debris and barricaded doors that were created with refrigerators, vending machines, chairs, you name it,” said Sheppard.

“They pushed it up against those doors to try and stop us from coming in, but our guys would not be stopped. They did a fantastic job of entering into that location and taking people into custody without incident last night. They took about 40 to 50 people into custody inside of the lobby of Hamilton Hall last night,” he added.

MSBNC host Mika Brzezinski noted that the investigation into who the outside agitators are is a big question and requires a larger investigation.

“Absolutely, we’ll be a good partner in that way, but we have to make sure that Columbia’s doing their part to secure their campus. When needed, the NYPD will be there like we are for this entire city 365 days a year,” said Sheppard.

Weeks of pro-Hamas demonstrations at Columbia, in which Jewish students were harassed and a tent encampment illegally set up in the middle of campus, became increasingly brazen, culminating in the takeover of Hamilton Hall.

University president Minouche Shafik, who had requested last month that police help to remove a first encampment, only to allow a second to be established, finally sent a letter on Tuesday to the New York City Police Department requesting their help in restoring order.

Shafik released a statement on Wednesday morning explaining the reasons she called in police, referring to the “drastic escalation” of the protests that “pushed the university to the brink, creating a disruptive environment for everyone and raising safety risks to an intolerable level.”

While the school has a “long and proud” history of on-campus activism, Shafik said those occupying Hamilton Hall committed “acts of destruction, not political speech.”

Columbia has requested the NYPD to remain on campus until at least May 17.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump praised the NYPD’s raid on the pro-Hamas agitators at Columbia University, saying on Wednesday that it “was a beautiful thing to watch” law enforcement officers arrest the protesters, who he referred to as “raging lunatics and Hamas sympathizers.”

“I say remove the encampments immediately, vanquish the radicals and take back our campuses for all of the normal students who want a safe place from which to learn,” Trump said.

Pro-Israel progressive Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), also weighed in, tweeting on Wednesday that “no one has a First Amendment right to erect illegal encampments, blockade entrances, vandalize property, break windows and doors, block students from accessing campus, hold people hostage, and harass and intimidate “Zionists” (i.e. most Jews). These are not activities protected by the First Amendment. These are crimes punishable by law.”

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