Biden will not call in the National Guard for campus protests

After weeks of pro-Palestinian protests and chaotic arrests on college campuses, President Joe Biden finally responded to calls for military action.

When Biden was asked Thursday about the protests, which have spread from coast to coast and resulted in an estimated more than 1,900 arrests, he gave a series of short answers.

“Have the protests forced you to reconsider policies regarding the region?” a reporter asked at his Thursday news conference.

“No,” the president said.

“Do you think the National Guard should intervene?”

“No,” the president repeated.

The question of whether or not to involve the National Guard has been raised by some Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who directly called on Biden to involve the military when he visited Columbia University last week. The calls have inevitably brought back poignant memories of the 1970 Kent State massacre, in which the Ohio National Guard killed four unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War on the campus of Kent State University.

On Thursday, Biden acknowledged students’ right to peaceful protest but said other tactics, such as occupying buildings and damaging school property, were a step too far.

“Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest, yes. It is against the law if violence occurs. Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It’s against the law. Vandalism. Burglary. Breaking windows. Campuses close. The forced cancellation of classes and graduation ceremonies. None of this is a peaceful protest,” he said.

In Columbia, student demonstrators on Tuesday took over a campus building that had also been occupied by anti-war student demonstrators in 1968. Occupation was a common protest tactic at the time, which the school has remembered and commemorated.

University administrators who responded to the student protests in recent weeks have often called in the police as a preventive measure. At UT Austin, President Jay Hartzell called in state troopers and Austin police, in addition to campus police, which culminated in several peaceful protesters being dragged from their spot on a lawn. The charges against the 57 protesters arrested on April 24 were all dropped by the Travis County Attorney’s Office, who said there was questionable evidence of probable cause for their arrests.

On other campuses, the police appear to have intervened too late to stem the flow of violence. When a crowd of pro-Israel counter-protesters attacked the encampment at UCLA on Tuesday night and threw fireworks into the protest area, they sparked a bloody clash between the groups that rocked an otherwise peaceful encampment. The Los Angeles Times reported that during the fighting, guards on standby simply watched and did not intervene. They closed camp the next morning.