Tariq Khan, a Ph.D. candidate and graduate instructor in history at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, was arrested in 2017 at an anti-Trump rally for allegedly assaulting two Conservative students. This altercation revealed how universities ultimately enable extreme Conservative groups to harass faculty, staff and students.
Khan is a United States Air Force Veteran and father of three who has been constantly harassed and even faced death threats following last year’s incident. The actual argument that took place on Nov. 16, 2017, was relatively tame. Khan was speaking at an anti-Trump rally on campus when a student in the crowd named Joel Valdez yelled, “Don’t you have kids to look after?” Khan did have kids to look after, and in that moment took Valdez’s statements as a threat to his three children. Khan confronted Valdez, who proceeded to stick his cell phone in Khan’s face. Khan grabbed his phone and walked away before throwing it on the ground. He was later arrested for criminal damage to property.
The harassment didn’t stop there. Valdez’s friends filmed the altercation and edited the footage. The video was published on the website Campus Reform in a post that claimed Khan was “attacking conservative students.” The Campus Reform is a part of the Leadership Institute and claims, “As a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.” However, Campus Reform has a direct connection to Turning Point USA (TPUSA), which is a student organization that states its mission is to “educate students on the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government” through “non-partisan debate, dialogue and discourse.” Yet just last year this definitely partisan, extremely far-right student organization that has ties to alt-right and white nationalists faced allegations of racial bias and illegal campaign activity. It just so happens Valdez is a member of TPUSA.
The doctored video soon made its way through every right-leaning publication, such as Breitbart, Infowars and the Tea Party’s website. The university began receiving calls demanding that Khan be expelled. The calls escalated into full-on death threats. Khan’s criminal damage of property charge was dismissed and his academic department supported him as he continued his studies. Yet the school didn’t support him. The doctored video was used as evidence against him. Khan said, “I mean, it had a Campus Reform logo on it, and the deans were using that like it was neutral evidence.” Based on the edited video, the Office for Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) charged him with violating the student code against “bumping chests” with Valdez. Khan showed OSCR the death threats he had been receiving through social media and email, examples of TPUSA’s history of harassment and testimonies from other students targeted by the group. Yet, OSCR forced him to attend anger management classes that he had to pay for out of pocket, and placed him on conduct probation until his graduation date. Kahn said, “They kept telling me, “It’s [Valdez’s] free speech,’”
Following the OSCR’s punishment, Khan continued to be harassed. The harassment has also been targeted at his wife, who is not a University of Illinois student or faculty member. At an off-campus event completely unrelated to the university, Valdez and other TPUSA members harassed Khan’s wife until police had to escort them out. On a separate night, Khan’s wife found a man in their front yard wearing a mask and taking photos of their car’s license plate. Khan and his academic department have reported these incidents and the continues stream of death threats to the police. So far, no action has been taken. Khan said, “TPUSA members still stalk me and film me. I’ve reported it to the Title IX office, the police, and OSCR, but it continues. ... No one in authority is doing anything to stop it and I am not allowed to defend myself.”
The university’s Assistant Dean Rony Die ordered Valdez and other TPUSA members not to contact Khan after the incidents involving his wife. Valdez and other the TPUSA members proceeded to file a lawsuit against the school and Khan claiming that this order violated their rights. The lawsuit was dismissed. Khan has since filed a counterclaim against them. For now, he waits and attempts to finish his degree while fearing for his safety as well as the safety of his wife and children. Khan said:
I’m hoping to finish my dissertation in the new academic year, but all of this harassment, threats, and legal nonsense have wasted a lot of my time and mental and emotional energy, so I am far behind where I would have been had these TPUSA mercenaries not chosen to aggrandize themselves by attacking me. I’m a working-class military veteran with three children who makes less than a living wage, and these billionaire-funded rich white boys have decided to spend all this effort making a name for themselves by harming me and my family.
TPUSA has a long history of harassing faculty and students on college campuses across the nation, one that includes allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Khan’s experience is just one of many that reveals how far-right, student-led groups such as TPUSA, which are often funded by larger far-right groups, are forcing universities to allow harassment of students and faculty.