University of Kentucky officials say they didn't mean to surprise a group of high school journalism students with the racist rantings of a U.S. Senate write-in candidate at a Constitution Day event on Wednesday.
Spokeswoman Kathy Johnson said that journalism professor and Constitution Day organizer Buck Ryan and some of his students asked all the certified U.S. Senate candidates to appear at the event.
When Robert Ransdell of Florence took the podium Wednesday, he let loose with a flurry of his white supremacist philosophy.
"The University of Kentucky was not aware of the content of his remarks prior to him speaking and does not condone or endorse any political platform or agenda," Johnson said in a statement.
Ransdell's political platform is widely available with a Google search, including the campaign slogan that he uses on campaign signs: "With Jews We Lose."
Ryan, the director of the Citizen Kentucky Project of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at UK, did not return numerous calls from the Herald-Leader for comment.
UK's response was not good enough for DuPont Manual High School journalism teachers James Miller and Liz Palmer, who brought their students to Lexington for the event, where they each received a teaching award.
"We believe the organizers at UK invited this person as a way to challenge the students to write a piece about his provocative views, but the perceived educational merit of the activity was not apparent to anyone," the husband-wife team wrote in a statement after the event. "The teachers were not informed by the university that they would be providing a platform for a white supremacist at the event and the high school students, ages 14-18, were presented with his racist language and ideas as part of the normal course of speakers and presenters."
Video taken by Manual AM Executive Producer Jennifer Mansfield
At the event, Ransdell spoke about the curse of diversity and the need for a white-supremacy movement. Palmer said she asked Ryan to cut him off, but he told her it would make a good story. Shortly after that, according to a video of the event, a Student Center staff member cut the power to Ransdell's microphone and he left the stage.
Miller then made an impromptu speech at the podium to explain the concept of "false balance," the idea that every idea deserves equal coverage.
"We don't give equal time to made-up, racist nonsense," he told the students. "I apologize that you were subjected to that at an official school event."
Several students later chimed in on Twitter, using the hashtag #uknazi.
"It takes things like the #uknazi to remind me that not everyone will judge me by the content of my character, but the color of my skin," tweeted DuPont Manual journalism student Breya Jones.
Ryan met with UK lawyers after the event. Johnson said general counsel Bill Thro told Ryan that he could refer reporters' questions to the university's public relations office, but that Ryan had not officially contacted her.
Al Cross, director of the UK Institute for Rural Journalism, attended the event, and he talked to students about the messiness of free speech. However, he said Thursday that the efficacy of the "teachable moment" was lessened by shock and dismay.
"They need to know what they're getting into," Cross said. "You have to be prepared — the element of surprise kind of gets in the way of a teachable moment."
Earlier in the week, the university's celebration of the U.S. Constitution included events with U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and Mayor Jim Gray and his challenger, Anthany Beatty.
On Thursday, the students did get a story.
The lead headline of the DuPont Manual's Redeye newspaper Wednesday afternoon was: "Racist remarks surprised students at UK's Constitution Day."
The Anti-Defamation League condemned Ransdell on Thursday, calling him a neo-Nazi and a former member of the white supremacist group National Alliance.
"Who would have thought in the year 2014 we would see lawn signs targeting Jews?" asked Anita Gray, the Ohio regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "His message is bringing anti-Semitism to the mainstream public, and good people need to stand up and speak out."
According to ADL's Center on Extremism, Ransdell has long been a player in white supremacist circles. He declared his candidacy on two white supremacist Internet forums, Stormfront and Vanguard News Network.
According to the ADL and numerous media reports, in 2012, Ransdell posted flyers at the University of Cincinnati offering a $1,000 reward to any person who could get Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to show the tattoo he received at Auschwitz and prove that he was a Holocaust survivor.