These Are the 'Extensive Online Threats' the University of Texas Sent to Cops About Palestine Protests

These three Instagram posts were sent to police as examples of the "extensive online threats" of groups organizing pro-Palestinian protests where more than 100 students were arrested.
These Are the 'Extensive Online Threats' the University of Texas Sent to Cops About Palestine Protests
This is one of the "extensive online threats" that the University of Texas sent to law enforcement, according to public records. Image: Palestine Solidarity Committee

At pro-Palestinian protests at the University of Texas-Austin on April 24 and April 29, police arrested a total of 136 protesters. Both days of protest were widely covered by the press, and videos of police pepper spraying and using flashbang grenades to clear the encampments and assembled students went viral.

In a statement published April 29, the university said that “the university received extensive online threats from a group organizing today’s protest. These threats have been reported to local, state, and federal law-enforcement.” Using a public records request, Adam Steinbaugh of the free speech organization FIRE obtained copies of these “extensive online threats,” which he shared with 404 Media.

One of the “threats” was a press release and Instagram carousel about student protests from the national branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization founded in 1993 that has been associated with protests around the country. The posts flagged by the University of Texas-Austin are not about organizing at UT-Austin, and do not mention any planned actions there. More broadly, the posts lay out the organization’s stances and strategies for university protests across the country, including “coordinated pressure campaigns against university administrators.” The group’s Instagram posts state the movement “will disrupt university operations, usurp its existing structures, and undermine its elite reputation until our demands are met” across universities in the U.S. A description of the posts written by UT-Austin sent to law enforcement says that the posts “define SJP’s Popular University for Gaza national movement.” 

A second Instagram carousel sent to law enforcement is by the Palestine Solidarity Committee of Austin, which was organizing an “EMERGENCY ACTION” and the April 24 protests. “Join us Wednesday April 24th in walking out of class and RECLAIMING OUR SPACE as we demand DIVESTMENT NOW,” the post reads, adding that students would march to “occupy the South Lawn … we will be occupying the space throughout the entire day, so be sure to bring blankets, food and water, face masks, and lots of energy. As a reminder please be sure to respect our space and listen to organizers in order to help keep us all safe.”

A third Instagram carousel UT-Austin sent to police was by a group called the Weelaunee Defense Society of Austin. This Instagram post was posted on April 27, but was written as “A Statement to Our Past Selves from the Liberated Zone @ UT Austin, May 1, 2024.” The university told law enforcement that the Instagram carousel “references aspirational actions against the University in the days ahead.” The post itself imagines a world in which protesters “have taken over the radio station and begun broadcasting messages of resistance from the camp and the Palestinian resistance.” 

The full posts are embedded below:

The Instagram posts by Students for Justice in Palestine and by Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) were also referenced by UT-Austin on a FAQ page set up by the university on May 3. The university wrote that Students for Justice in Palestine “is explicitly seeking to disrupt university operations nationwide and create campus encampments,” and that the university “sent a letter informing PSC that the event could not proceed as planned because of its stated intent to disrupt and therefore break Institutional Rules.” It also claimed that it tried to set up a meeting with the organization before the protests. 

Steinbaugh also obtained arrest reports and narratives from police from the April 24 protests. Each arrested protester was charged with Criminal Trespass, and each arrest report states “subject was given notice to disperse but failed to do so.” Here is the full police narrative:

“On 4/24/2024 protestors occupied Speedway Pedestrian Mall and South Mall. After multiple dispersal orders, multiple arrests were made by those ignoring the order.

The group had ignored and defied two orders of dispersal, and I advised our UTPD team to begin arrests of the group. DPS mobile field force team and bike unit moved over to 21st and Speedway as arrests began to assist with a crowd that quickly began to grow and encircle the officers. UTPD Patrol units arrived to assist with transporting the arrestees a long with the Austin Police Department with their paddy wagon. 

After the arrestees began leaving the area, a group of protestors began to make their way from Speedway onto Inner Campus Drive heading towards the South Mall where they began to congregate and chant. Dispersal orders were given through a PA system, social media and the siren system. The UTPD mobile field force teams transitioned to arrest teams and with the assistance of DPS mobile field force team, DPS bikes and Austin Police Department began to make arrests.”

In the aftermath of these protests, UT-Austin president Jay Hartzell referenced one of these Instagram posts in an op-ed he published in the Houston Chronicle headlined “It wasn't a protest. It was criminal trespassing.”

“We have watched with concern as disruptive and illegal encampments have sprung up on other university campuses, and we took seriously the pre-protest threats—voiced by organizers and others with no affiliation with UT—to ‘occupy’ our own,” he wrote. Beneath this, the post from the Palestinian Solidarity Committee of Austin was embedded in the op-ed. “If we allowed encampments in this instance, it would be nearly impossible to stop encampments from other groups in the future without facing challenges of chilling speech or viewpoint discrimination.”