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‘Outside Agitators’ to Blame for College Unrest, Says NYC Officials

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NYPD officers ascend into an opened window at Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall in order to clear out occupying protesters.

New York City officials, including the officials with the New York Police Department and Mayor Eric Adams, are blaming the unrest seen on college campuses on “outside agitators” using the Israel-Hamas war to cause division.

The protests opposing Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip culminated in the April 30 occupation of Hamilton Hall, an academic building on the campus of Columbia University. Hours before the NYPD removed the occupying protesters, Adams gave a press conference foreshadowing the city’s response to the unrest.

“We were well aware based on a series of observations that what should have been a peaceful protest, that is a part of the constitutional rights of Americans, has clearly been co-opted,” said Adams. “We have sounded the alarm numerous times before about external actors who are attempting to hijack this protest.”

The mayor’s claim of outsiders fueling unrest received validity after police cleared Hamilton Hall of protesters. The police also cleared a protest encampment at City College of New York. Many of the 282 total arrested did not have ties to either institution.

“I know that there are those who are attempting to say, ‘Well, the majority of the people have been students,’” said Adams the following day. “You don’t have to be the majority to influence and co-opt an operation. That’s what this is about.”

Thirty percent of protesters arrested at Hamilton Hall had no ties to Columbia. At City College, 60 percent were not affiliated with the college. Combined, the percentage of outside protesters arrested is 47 percent.

“We’re going to protect our city from those who are attempting to do what is happening globally,” said Adams. “There is a movement to radicalize young people and I’m not going to wait until it’s done and all of a sudden acknowledge the existence of it.”

One of the “outside agitators” arrested at Hamilton Hall was 63-year-old Lisa Fithian, a protest consultant caught on video obtained by NYPD directing protesters to erect a barricade at Hamilton Hall by zip-tying heavy metal tables to the doors.

“She was right in the middle of it, instructing them how to better set up the barricades,” Columbia senior Rory Wilson told NBC News. Wilson attempted to prevent protesters from entering Hamilton Hall. “Given that the barricades were a pretty central part of the plan of how to take over Hamilton, I’d expect that she would have been pretty central in the logistics planning.”

Despite city officials insisting that removing the protesters was essential to restoring order, critics have decried the force used against primarily student protesters, regardless of the presence of outsiders.

“I am outraged by the level of police presence called upon nonviolent student protesters at Columbia and CCNY’s campuses,” Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a critic of Israel who visited the Columbia protest encampment in a show of support, said in a statement following the removal of protesters. “The militarization of college campuses, extensive police presence, and arrest of hundreds of students are in direct opposition to the role of education as a cornerstone of our democracy.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams on ABC’s “This Week” holds up an anti-Israel flyer he says was left by college protesters. (ABC News / This Week)

In a Sunday morning appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Adams shot back at Bowman’s statement. He defended the police response, an action requested by Columbia, holding up a pamphlet he said was found following the removal of protesters. It read, among other anti-Israel language, “DEATH TO ISRAEL! DEATH TO AMERICA!”

“This has left the point of advocating for a particular item,” said Adams. “And when you look at some of the information and some of the people who were there, we need to be clear that we cannot take this lightly.”

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Class of 2025 I write mainly about politics.