Levasseur sedition lecture cancelled by UMass officials is back on

By R.P. Hitt

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Update 11/10, 8:50 p.m.: Ray Luc Levasseur’s contested speech, originally cancelled after protests from the family of a  New Jersey State Trooper Levasseur’s group was convicted of murdering and from Governor Deval Patrick, is back on. Levasseur will speak Thursday at 7:15 p.m. in Room 137 of the Isenberg School of Management. For the full story, check massdailycollegian.com’s home page.

Amid protest from police organizations and state representatives, officials at the University of Massachusetts have cancelled a lecture by Ray Luc Levasseur, a former member of the United Freedom Front.

The lecture, which was to be held Thursday Nov. 12, was planned by the UMass Amherst Libraries with partial support from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the Dean of the Graduate school, for the fifth annual colloquium on social change.

Levasseur was tried on federal charges of seditious conspiracy in 1989. The trial was recorded as being the most expensive in the history of Massachusetts. He and his co-defendants, Richard Williams and Pat Levasseur, were found not guilty of trying to overthrow the United States government.

In 1986 Levasseur was convicted of bombing buildings throughout the northeastern United States and sent to prison for twenty years. These bombings were meant to protest the U.S. government’s supposed backing of the apartheid South African government and Central American death squads.

Levasseur was released on parole in 2004.

Robert Cox, head of the library’s special collections and the university’s archives announced the event would not be held in a release issued on Nov. 5.

“The cancellation was a decision made out of moral and political weakness,” Levasseur said. “The police are limiting the first amendment instead of the courts.”

Members of the United Freedom Front, of which Levasseur was the leader, were convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state police officer and the attempted murder of two Massachusetts state police officers. Levasseur himself was never charged for these crimes nor was he at the scene of these crimes.

Michele McPhee of The Boston Herald interviewed Donna Lamonoco about the cancellation of the lecture in an article published Nov. 6. Lamonoci is the widow of Phil Lamonoco, the New Jersey State Trooper who was killed by Levasseur’s colleague Thomas Manning in 1981.
“They were treating a terrorist as a hero. The governor was going to let him educate college students at a public school,” Lamonoco said. “a guy who represents an organization that killed my husband that tried to execute two troopers in Massachusetts.”

According to Levasseur, “of the two men who were convicted of the murder one died in prison from lack of medical attention, isn’t that punishment enough?”

Before its cancellation, a release for the event stated that Levasseur would have spoken about his life and the significance of the Springfield sedition trial. The organizers of the event sought to understand the reasons behind the actions of the United Freedom Front.

Several high level academics have voiced their protest on the cancellation of the lecture titled “Ray Luc Levasseur: Defendant in the Great Sedition Trial of Western Mass”.

In a letter to Chancellor, Robert C. Holub, Professor C. G. Caffentzis, a philosophy professor at the University of Southern Maine expressed his concern over the University’s decision to cancel the lecture.

“The lecture was to deal with the crime of sedition, an issue that is important to all students of US history…It was to feature Levasseur, one of the defendants in the country’s last major sedition trial that took place in Springfield in 1989,” Caffentzis said.

“I have no doubt that Levasseur’s lecture and the subsequent discussion would have been the source of knowledge about this the charge of sedition,” Caffentzis added. “We cannot deepen our knowledge of U.S. history without opening the public space in academe to figures who were involved in that very history.”

Police organizations planned on protesting the lecture had the event taken place. Ross Bergen, an undeclared freshman at UMass planned on attending these protests.

“I don’t think he should come to UMass,” said Bergen, “I think his speaking is a mockery to the innocent families his organization has affected. It is wrong that he was even invited to speak at the University.”

Other UMass students have voiced their support for the lecture on the grounds of freedom of speech.

“I definitely feel like he should have been able to speak. I understand why the police department would be concerned,” said Emily Vartabedian, a kinesiology major. “People need to take precautions but should not infringe on a person’s freedom of speech.”

Dan Chard, a graduate student of the UMass History Department, was one of the organizers of the now-cancelled lecture.

“[Levasseur] has never endorsed violence in any of his lectures,” Chard said. “He has spoken at Temple, Columbia, University of Southern Maine and other colleges with little to no opposition, some of them having large crowds”

“Cancelling the talk denied the UMass community an opportunity to learn,” Chard said. “[The lecture] was shutdown because of police pressure. The police are dictating what conversations are off limits to the University and to me that is scary.”

Levasseur said that he and his supporters hope to re-plan his lecture for a venue other than UMass. Levasseur also said that he will issue a release today concerning the rescheduling of his event but would not give further details.

Bobby Hitt can be reached at [email protected]