Claims That Student Protestors Are Chanting ‘Death to America’ Are B.S.

by | May 4, 2024

The FBI is being pressed by members of Congress to investigate the student protests, both for possible foreign financing and for students chanting “Death to America” — a phrase Fox News says is becoming a “key slogan” of the protests. 

There’s just one problem: students never said it. 

I’ve searched, scoured photographs, and waded through social media. There’s no evidence that any of the student demonstrators taking to dozens of college campuses in recent weeks to protest Israel’s war in Gaza said “Death to America.”

The rumor began with a single incident in which an anonymously authored pamphlet found at a University of Michigan encampment contained a passage saying, “Freedom for Palestine means Death to America.” 

That phrase was taken up by Fox News and a number of other news sites. 

“The slogan ‘Death to America’ is seemingly gaining steam among anti-Israel agitators, who have swept across the nation,” Fox News reported.

The claims of a Death to America theme have germinated in right-wing media outlets and even been echoed by more mainstream figures from smug commentator Bill Maher to the Atlantic Magazine, which warned that “every random protester who shouts ‘Death to America’…brings him [Donald Trump] closer to a return to the Oval Office.” Harvard President Emeritus Larry Summers has even called for “close investigations” of the funding sources of the recent protests on college campuses.

Though absent on campus, the one place the Death to America slogan is gaining steam is in Washington, where the hoax has been taken at face value.

Last month, five Republican congresspeople representing Michigan — which has a large Muslim population — sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for an investigation into “Death to America” chants. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also referenced the phrase in remarks on the Senate floor regarding higher education and judicial nominations. 

“Chants of ‘We are Hamas’ and ‘Death to America’ by students on college campuses are national security threats,” Senator Marsha Blackburn said on X (formerly Twitter). “Put any student who promotes terrorism on behalf of Hamas on the terrorist watchlist.”

As a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, which oversees the FBI, there’s little doubt that Blackburn’s statement reached FBI headquarters — and such ignorance and might even prod them to action. 

There’s already evidence that the Bureau is closely monitoring purported Israel-Hamas related threats.

FBI Director Christopher Wray in March revealed that the Bureau’s counterterrorism division was “urgently” investigating thousands of reported threats related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Wray also said that “we expect that October 7 and the conflict that’s followed will feed a pipeline of radicalization and mobilization for years to come.” 

The White House also recently acknowledged the FBI’s involvement — not just in relation the conflict generally but colleges in particular. On Wednesday, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said that “the DOJ and FBI is going to continue to offer support to universities and colleges in respect to federal laws,” adding: “So, that is something that the DOJ and FBI is doing.”

Since 9/11 in particular, the FBI has maintained close contact with college campuses across the country under a little-known program called the Campus Liaison Initiative. The program designates an FBI agent (or member of a joint terrorism task force) from each of the Bureau’s 56 field offices to coordinate with campus public safety officers in addition to other school personnel at campuses across the country.

The White House, through its many campaigns against anti-semitism, extremism, racism, hate, disinformation, and foreign malign influence has constructed a patch quilt of offenses that to it demands action. It has already stated publicly that the Department of Justice and the FBI are in contact with college and university administrators, and those two agencies, along with the Department of Homeland Security, are already primed to investigate terrorism threats, specifically Hamas and Palestinian extremism on American soil. Investigations hover in the background, as much looking for federal offenses as responding to them. 

None of this is because there is any intelligence validating a controlling foreign hand or financing of the student protests. It is, in fact, the news media frenzy that is the most dangerous. Fox and other conservative outlets repeat the false allegation that the students are chanting “Death to America,” commentators and even members of Congress pick up the claim without checking, social media becomes saturated and the new reality emerges. 

I can imagine right now a meeting on Pennsylvania Avenue in which an official is asking some spy agency to “look into” the allegations. That leads to surveillance and infiltration and pretty soon you have the full force of the national security state involved — all because the news media got it wrong.

– Edited by William M. Arkin

Reprinted with permission from Ken Klippenstein’s Substack.

Subscribe and support here.