A group of students, faculty and staff on Thursday afternoon gathered around the Columns on Francis Quadrangle in anticipation of watching an Islamic State flag burn.
Some of the attendees stood on the path running parallel to the Columns while others stood off to the side under the shade of trees. More passionate students sat on the bases of the Columns and waved U.S. flags. Young Americans for Liberty organized the event to protest the militant organization’s killings using weapons supplied by the United States and to honor those killed by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“If we are too afraid to speak out against them, they will continue to take lives,” Ian Paris, an MU senior and president of Young Americans for Liberty, told the crowd Thursday afternoon.
Paris said the event was intended to “initiate a dialogue to effect change” and not “to ignite hatred for Islam.” Instead, he said, the event was meant to protest the use of American weapons “that you and I have paid for, to methodically kill innocent people.”
While most of the crowd appeared to support Paris’ cause, there were some concerns about student safety.
Two attendees stood separate from the crowd and held signs that read “student safety is #1” and “Ian’s Agenda: disregard the safety of the MU student body; fail to educate appropriately; exploit the University of Missouri.”
Brett Beutenmiller and his younger sister, Melissa, held the signs because they said the flag-burning was “drawing negative attention” to the university. While the siblings protested the flag-burning on campus, Brett Beutenmiller told multiple people who questioned his intentions that they did not support the Islamic State.
He said he would be OK with the flag-burning if it happened off-campus rather than in front of the iconic Columns.
The Beutenmillers weren’t the only ones who were worried about safety. Paris said he talked to many other students who had similar concerns.
“I spent up to the point of burning the flag talking to students,” Paris said. They could have potentially talked him out of it, he said.
Most of the other attendees came out to support the event despite any potential danger. Daniel Duncan said safety “might be a risk, but that’s a chance we have to take.”
William Morgan said he understood the Beutenmillers’ safety concerns, but that the group was exercising its right to free speech by burning the flag.
The flag, which was made by MU junior Lucy Mulvihill, was indeed tossed into a fire pit and set ablaze to cap the event. Some students chanted “USA” while the flag burned; others pulled out their cellphones to catch it on camera.
Ian Paris lights the handmade ISIS flag on fire. A crowd of about 150 chants “USA.” pic.twitter.com/Wl2vZlcpE7
— Kaley Annabel (@KaleyJohnson6) October 8, 2015