Many Georgetown University students and organizations across the political spectrum have condemned any student involvement in the Jan. 6 coup attempt on the United States Capitol and are asking the university to fully investigate any incidence of student participation following a series of GroupMe messages posted by a student who was on Capitol grounds Jan. 6.
The student, Jaron Pensinger (SFS ’21), attended President Donald Trump’s speech on the White House Ellipse that preceded the insurrection and then made his way to the Capitol with a large group of attendees. During the ensuing riot, Trump supporters, many openly championing white supremacy and defending objections to the 2020 presidential election, breached the Capitol, vandalized the building and threatened several high-ranking members of the nation’s government, including Vice President Mike Pence. As of Jan. 11, five individuals had died as a result of the attack, including a Capitol Police officer who succumbed to injuries inflicted by the mob.
While on the grounds of the Capitol, Pensinger said he did not enter any buildings, bypass any security perimeter or interact with law enforcement. A Jan. 6 screenshot of Pensinger’s location from Snapchat’s map feature obtained by The Hoya placed him between the Capitol Reflecting Pool and the building itself. The screenshot does not have a time stamp. Pensinger said he left Washington, D.C., at 4:00 p.m., prior to the 6:00 p.m. curfew imposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and returned to his home outside of the District.
In a private GroupMe, Pensinger sent messages the morning of Jan. 7 detailing his experience at the Capitol.
“Take this unsolicited message as you will. Today was a peaceful occupation of the capitol and our people were provoked with tear gas and flash bangs!” Pensinger wrote in the GroupMe. “I took in a breath of tear gas and I was completely unarmed how is that even right.”
Almost immediately after Pensinger sent messages in the GroupMe, another member of the chat, Dominic DeRamo (COL ’23), removed him from the group and denounced his statements on Instagram. Pensinger’s messages were frustrating, disheartening and dehumanizing, DeRamo said.
“I thought that there was no way that a Georgetown student could do something like this. After the person continued with their rhetoric, I decided to remove them from the chat, because I felt that it was incredibly unfair for everyone else in the chat to have to experience that,” DeRamo said in an interview with The Hoya.
DeRamo said Pensinger has since threatened to sue him for defamation.
Other students joined DeRamo’s condemnation of Pensinger’s messages and his proximity to the riots on Twitter. Many have since taken down their posts, however. A petition was also created asking that Pensinger be brought before Georgetown’s Honor Council. The petition has since been removed by its creator.
In an interview with The Hoya, Pensinger said he attended the rally where Trump spoke primarily because of his opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns.
“I’m not a white supremacist,” Pensinger said. “One of the biggest reasons why I was there was because of the COVID crisis. There have been many doctors who have come out and said that these lockdowns are unjustified.”
COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are effective and recommended measures for decreasing the spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The insurrection, where most participants were unmasked, was potentially a virus superspreader event, according to The Washington Post. Pensinger did not comment on whether he or those around him were masked.
The Georgetown University Student Association Senate published a statement Jan. 10 urging university leadership to investigate any university community member whose involvement in the attack violated criminal law or university policy.
The university must take appropriate actions to safeguard the community, according to a separate statement from GUSA Press Secretary Jacob Bernard (SFS ’23).
“While GUSA will never condemn individual Georgetown students, the behaviour of those who supported or participated in the riots is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of justice and inclusivity that animates our administration,” Bernard wrote in a statement to The Hoya.
Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny (LAW ’87) and other university administrators have been notified of messages supporting the insurrection in GroupMe, according to Bernard.
GUSA released a separate statement condemning the violence at the Capitol. The statement, signed by GUSA Vice President Bryce Badger (MSB ’21) and GUSA Provost Advisory Representative Nile Blass (COL ’22), called out the racism and antisemitism displayed by the insurrectionists and listed resources for students to donate to or access.
The university will follow up on allegations of misconduct and investigate any potential violations of the Code of Student Conduct, including those that may have occurred during the coup attempt, according to a university spokesperson.
“Any student found to be participating in criminal activities or violations of our Code of Student Conduct would be subject to disciplinary actions, which could include suspension or dismissal from the university,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “When we receive reports of bias or violations of the law or our Code of Student Conduct, we respond to them and follow up through appropriate actions.”
According to the Code of Student Conduct, students can face university disciplinary action for property destruction, disorderly conduct that disturbs others, public incivility or violation of local laws.
“When alleged violations of University regulations or local laws take place off campus and come to the University’s attention, the University reserves the right to take appropriate action when, in the judgment of University officials, the alleged conduct has a negative impact on the University community, the pursuit of its mission, or the broader community in which we live,” the Code of Student Conduct reads.
As of Jan. 8, Pensinger said the university had not contacted him.
“I see there to be no reason for me to be expelled, Pensinger said. “I did nothing violent. I was entirely peaceful.”
Both Democrats and Republicans on campus have condemned the insurrection and any student involved in trespassing or vandalization of federal property.
Any student who participated in the Capitol breach Wednesday and partook in criminal activity has undermined Georgetown’s values and should be dismissed, according to the Georgetown University College Democrats Executive Board.
“Those who find themselves sharing a platform with the hateful have a duty to themselves, peers, and any principles they represent to either remove those hateful voices from their platform or remove themselves from the platform,” the board wrote in an email to The Hoya. “To stand with white supremacists is to stand by white supremacy. To stand with insurrectionists is to stand by insurrection.”
The university must fully examine any community member’s potential involvement in attacking the Capitol, a Georgetown University College Republicans spokesperson said.
“While we support the right of all Hoyas to peacefully protest, the University has an obligation to investigate any individual involved in this attack on our nation’s seat of government,” the GUCR spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
This article has been updated to clarify the name of a GroupMe chat.