[Marxism] Grinnell student faces 5 years for online rant

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 29 09:12:08 MST 2005

March 29
Terrorism or Stupidity?

Grinnell College, a respected liberal arts college in rural Iowa, might not 
seem a prime target for a terrorist attack. But a Grinnell student is in 
jail — facing felony charges of threatening a terrorist act of violence at 
the college.

Those who know him say that the student isn’t a terrorist or even someone 
capable of a violent act. Experts on higher education liability say that’s 
beside the point. These days, a student who posts a violent comment in a 
chat room needs to assume that the comment will make its way to the police, 
and that the student could end up behind bars.

Paul Wainright, the student at Grinnell, apparently posted the message on 
Plans, an online discussion area frequented by students at the college. 
Prior to spring break, some students on the site were complaining about 
recent drug arrests on the campus. A message attributed to Wainwright urged 
students as follows (punctuation and capitalization per the posting):

“Please come back to school armed with whatever lethal weapon you have 
access too. If we can’t depend upon the administration to protect the 
bubble we were promised and that they are selling us for 34,000 goddamn 
dollars a year, then we will have to take matters in our own hands. That 
means violence and bloodshed. That means warfare. That means KILL THE 

Jody Matherly, chief of police for the town of Grinnell, Iowa, said that 
his department received several complaints from people about a “threatening 
communication” in which others were urged to join the author in acts of 
violence against the college and police officers. An investigation led to 
Wainright, who was on spring break at his home in Wisconsin, and was 
arrested there. Matherly did not release the posting, but Grinnell students 
provided it.

The charge Wainright faces carries a possible sentence of five years in prison.

Matherly said that he had advised the college to heighten security on the 

Mickey Munley, vice president for communications at Grinnell, emphasized 
that the site where the posting was made “is not a site that the college 
owns or operates or manages,” but he said that the posting “came to the 
attention of the college, and the police took the investigation from there.”

He stressed that police officials made the judgment on what to do. 
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he said, but even if some think that there was 
no real threat at Grinnell, people who have not acted on clues abut 
possible violence have been “a contributing factor to a lot of tragic 
circumstances in our country in the last few years, very horrific and sad 

One Grinnell student, who said that he knows Wainright but doesn’t consider 
himself a close friend, said that in online discussions, some students said 
they were upset by Wainright’s posting, but many others “knew it was in 
jest” and are now more angry about his arrest. “It would be hard to know 
from the outside looking in at the site what you are seeing, and I assume 
the person who flagged this was an administrator,” said the student.

The student let Inside Higher Ed look at the site with his password, and 
indeed the site is hard to make sense of as an outsider. Because Grinnell 
is a small college, it’s clear that many students make postings that assume 
a lot of knowledge on the part of readers, and the postings range from 
serious to silly — with many appearing to be the kind of thing a college 
student might write after a beer or three.

Another Grinnell student sent an e-mail message saying: “The post looks 
very bad when read out of context, but it was all written with tongue 
firmly — very firmly — in cheek, and no one who knew him at all well 
doubted that it was a joke. Unfortunately, someone with no sense of 
proportion or context (probably an administrator, although no one has 
claimed responsibility for the atrocity) contacted the police about it, and 
Paul was arrested. Apparently at no point during the process did anyone 
step back and consider, for instance, whether a student at left-liberal 
Grinnell would ever refer to ‘Ruby Ridge’ any way but ironically. From many 
Grinnell students’ perspectives the matter is not about our physical 
security, but about the threat posed to our civil liberties by overzealous 
and unreflective administrators and police.”

Chief Matherly, however, said it would be irresponsible for authorities to 
dismiss any violent statement as campus hijinks. “Any threat of terrorism 
is a serious threat of terrorism,” he said. “There are no pranks. There are 
no jokes. It’s one thing to stand out in a field when no one is around and 
talk about things, but once you put it into an arena when people fear for 
their lives and safety, that’s different.”

While some students are criticizing the college and the police for acting, 
a post on Plans (that could not be independently verified) from Wainright’s 
mother was understanding.

“Of course we who know and love Paul, know that what was posted was said 
tongue-in-cheek with no malicious intent,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, in 
the current climate such sleep-deprived rants will be taken seriously by 
some. It is totally appropriate for authorities to check it out. As a 
parent I would want to be assured that this was being looked into. If I 
were an administrator, I may be terrified that someone might actually carry 
out any violence toward me.”

Sheldon E. Steinbach, general counsel and vice president of the American 
Council on Education, said “Grinnell had no choice but to act” upon reading 
the post. “Once a post is out there in such a visible way, it requires the 
college to act.”

“In another day, someone would have called the kid, and the kid would have 
said, ‘I wrote that when I was drunk,’ and it would never have gone this 
far,” Steinbach said. “But college students need to remember that after 
9/11, they just need to exercise better judgment.”

Steinbach said it was beside the point that the student is viewed by many 
as nonviolent, especially since the posting urged others to join in 
violence. “What if a student had taken him seriously and an incident had 
occurred? The institution would have had a tragedy and been subject to 
ridicule and lawsuits.”

— Scott Jaschik



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