Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Mishandling of Lavesseur

It has been nearly a week since a panel discussion entitled “The Great Western Massachusetts Sedition Trial: 20 Years Later,” drew criticism for its invitation of convicted bomber Raymond Luc Levasseur. The University of Massachusetts remains under the microscope.

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian thinks it’s worth looking back on how the situation was handled by University and state leadership.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was clearly more concerned about improving his image among police officers than with upholding the values of public education when he called publicly for UMass to rescind its invitation to Levasseur. As the week unfolded in a dizzying back-and-forth over the forum, the event became a public relations gaffe that hurt the image of his administration and the University.

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library holds a Colloquium on Social Change each year. According to the Department of Special Collections website, the event builds upon “the activist legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois,” collecting “primary materials relating to individuals and groups devoted to the political, economic, spiritual and social transformation of American society.”

Levasseur, the former leader of the United Freedom Front, an organization responsible for multiple bombings across the United States in protest to American military action abroad – as well as the murder and attempted murder of police officers – was supposed to take part in this year’s forum. Levasseur is either a terrorist or a freedom fighter, depending on whom you ask. Yet it’s hard to argue that he isn’t a living, breathing primary document.

Levasseur was a defendent in the most expensive court case in Massachusetts history, when he and six of his cohorts were tried in a Springfield, Mass., courthouse for seditious conspiracy in 1989. Seven people were accused of trying to overthrow the U.S. government, 20 miles away from this campus, 20 years ago. It was clearly a historic event, and its 20th anniversary a prime opportunity to examine its significance.

This was not a celebration of revolution; it was a forum on an historic event. The legal history of the United States is populated by ne’er-do-wells, some of them much worse than Levasseur. The protections in our constitution, which were upheld on that day in Springfield, Mass., in 1989, exist not to protect the law-abiding. They exist to protect the Ray Levasseurs.

Yet the portrayal of this event in the mainstream media as an endorsement of radical violence resonated loudly when hundreds of members of fraternal police organizations descended on campus with signs that read “UMass Supports Terrorism Recruitment.”

Even more troubling was administrative reaction to UMass professors who invited Levasseur back to campus in spite of Gov. Patrick’s request. Chancellor Robert C. Holub called it controversy for its own sake. UMass system President Jack Wilson said the University never wanted him to speak, anyway.

If they really felt this way, they would have stepped in at the onset of controversy, not after being shamed into it.

Patrick’s handling was equally puzzling, because in the end all it took was a phone call to a parole officer to keep Levasseur at home in Maine. Faced with a governor overstepping his authority and demanding a University event be censored – and an administration too weak willed to fight back – how could UMass professors be expected to act any differently than they did? How could anyone expect to silence the organizers of a colloquium on social justice?

For the record, neither Patrick, Wilson or Holub bothered to go to the event, even though Mr. Levasseur stayed home. They likely would have been disappointed. It really wasn’t very controversial.

Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s Editorial Board.

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  • F

    FredApr 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I think that Ray Levasseurs should have been able to talk because, after all, he is one of the only people who can give a legitimate first person account of a truly historic event. If he were to speak at UMASS it should be fully expected that there would be protests and people shouting him down, and rightfully so. When controversial conservative speakers like Card, Feder and Horowitz came liberal groups protested them, but nobody stopped them from speaking. If Levasseurs were to speak at this campus, groups who disagree should be encouraged to speak out against him because that what makes a democracy a democracy. If people had such a problem with him being here then they should have come out and voiced their opinions instead of putting pressure on politicians and administrators who probably don’t care one way or the other.

  • E

    EdNov 20, 2009 at 8:41 am

    nobody who was invited to sit on that panel was ever charged with killing police officers.

    No, you invited their advocates.

    But a sedition trial is about social justice

    No Sean, this is not about social justice. This is about left wing politics. If you truly wanted to have a panel about social change through violence (a legitimate if sketchy topic) you bring in the lawyer for the OIT guy who murdered his wife outside the courthouse, the lawyer for the abortion clinic bomber, and then the folk you had.

    It is called “balance.”

    If LukeyBoy had been bombing from the far right and not the far left, if he had been blowing up abortion clinics and NAACP offices – again killing no one – exactly how many UM professors would be inviting him to speak at UMass?

    Enough said?


  • S

    students dadNov 19, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    the short story in my opinion. Social change through economic, political and other non violent means is acceptable in society and has great educational value when discussed, debated or even (like in some umass professors classes) indoctrinated. Social change brought about through means of wonton and willfull violence has not value in a civilized society and especially in the educational forum and especially when supported directly or indirectly with public funds or use of publicly funded facilities. You cannot separate the sedition trial from the brutal violence advocated, organized and directly supported by Ray Luc lavesseur and his wife. It is like saying charles manson didnt kill the labianca or sharon tate he just told the others to do it. so lets have him talk
    to students for educational purposes and pay him to do it and let him profit from his crimes.


    Through out the week of the the 12th of November news stories had reported on the UMASS Amherst fifth annual colloquium on social change. Specifically, the invitation to Ray Luc Lavasseur to speak on the topic of “Ray Luc Levasseur: Defendant in the Landmark Sedition Trial of Western Mass Returns after 20 Years,”. Later, the speech was canceled then re instituted by the Umass students group “group of faculty from the Social Thought and Political Economy Program”. There was much controversy on this invitation to Mr. Lavasseur for several reasons ranging from freedom of speech, convicts profiting from their crimes, insensitivity to victims of his crimes, actual educational value to a student of Umass Amherst and social change among others. Lavasseur was denied permission to travel out of state (Maine) by the Federal Parole Board and his wife was to take his place at the panel of speakers.

    This report will focus on the protest of this event by members of the state government, The Tea Party group and a large contingent of law enforcement personnel from around New England and New Jersey.

    On the evening of the 12th of November 2009 approximately 200+ off duty law enforcement personnel gathered together on the common in front of the Isenberg School of Management which was the venue for the speech. The protesters were confined to a specific area assigned by university police and given instructions on the standards of conduct expected and an invitation to be in the audience for the speech. The protesters gathered together in front of an American flag and began their protest with a pledge of allegiance. Observing the protesters I noticed a distinct difference in clothing and manner of their behavior than previous protesters of the past I have observed. These protesters where dressed in business attire for the most part and except for the the pledge of allegiance they did not yell, scream or chant. They held signs and spoke amongst each other for approximately 4 hours vigilantly making sure that there presence and their objection to this event was made known. 3 television news agencies were in attendance and reported on the protest.

    I had asked one of the protesters why they were there protesting. I was told that they object a anyone that organized, advocated and carried out extremely violent and criminal actions to bring about change in society and had been convicted of the same should not be allowed to educate the children on any issues as if they are put up on a pedestal to worship. Another person (an unidentified law enforcement officer) had said, “simply that Ray Luc Levasseur in cooperation with his wife and others were leaders of the United Freedom Front. Levasseur and members of the that domestic terrorism group had attacked and killed a New Jersey State Trooper, the attempted assassination of two Massachusetts State Troopers and over 20 bombing and several bank robberies . To have members of the academic community give legitimacy to terrorist acts was disgusting and insensitive to the family members of Lavasseur’s victims and served no legitimate educational purpose.” The protest group had dispersed when the speech was over and relocated to a local VFW on the invitation of the veterans of foreign wars club. During the protest no one was injured, arrested, violated the rules set down by the police, no trash cans were set on fire, no damage to public property was committed and the protesters got their message across with the local news television stations.

  • J

    JamesNov 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Allow me to parse this editorial for a moment:

    “Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was clearly more concerned about improving his image among police officers than with upholding the values of public education when he called publicly for UMass to rescind its invitation to Levasseur.”

    First, as the head of the Executive Branch which controls law enforcement, I’d say the Governor has a fairly vested interest in seeing that police are respected and heard on these issues. He has a role in representing them, however, you make it out to be some grand political strategy to improve his polls. He’s just doing his job.

    Upholding the values of public education can only be done by having this guy speak on campus? His attendance is and was never necessary to exploring the Springfield trial. Also, the guise that this event was solely to go into the history of the trial was pretty clearly a rouse once controversy began.

    Is there a right to freedom of speech in this country? Yes. Is that right greater on a college campus? Yes. Clearly it ought to be greater on campus than in say, an airport. But you make everything out to be about upholding the grand rights granted under the Constitution when sometimes, it’s just about inviting a guy who went to jail because he was pissed about Apartheid. A lot of people were and many affected greater social change – change that actually resulted in the end of Apartheid – than this guy who wanted to play revolutionary. The Governor, the administration, and police departments have rights as well, to say that something shouldn’t happen, that it should be protested, that invitations should be rescinded.

    What the Editorial Board, and some members of the far left on campus don’t realize is that in the world outside college, outside UMass, abstractions don’t matter. Would it be great if we could sit in a room and get to know the UFF, Bin Laden, McVeigh, the KKK and just, oh you know, talk about it and change their minds about all this killing and hatred? Wouldn’t that be grand? You bet, but unfortunately, this isn’t real life.

    So to the Ed Board, let me just say – stop whining. Sometimes people do bad things. And they’re punished. And then they’re scorned. And people look at them funny when they go grocery shopping. And someone somewhere makes a phone call to a parole officer. That’s just how it is sometimes. So can we move on now and talk about something with real world consequences and importance, like the SGA?

  • S

    S.P. SullivanNov 18, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Actually, Mike, bombing has very little to do with social justice, and nobody who was invited to sit on that panel was ever charged with killing police officers. But a sedition trial is about social justice. That’s what our editorial board tried to make clear: This event was never about bombings. It was about a sedition trial.

    From what event organizers told the media, numerous members of the prosecution and the widow of the state trooper killed by UFF members were invited to speak. I can understand why Mrs. Lamonaco would decline, but I agree it would have contributed to the discussion if members of the prosecution spoke their piece. Thanks for your comment.

  • M

    Mike SNov 18, 2009 at 11:36 am

    How the heck does bombing buildings and killing police officers equate with social justice? It’s the collegiate left’s fascination with lefty murderers and vandals that embarrasses people.

    So who did the professors get to represent the prosecution side of the Trial?

  • D

    Derek KhannaNov 18, 2009 at 3:41 am

    This is the Collegian at it’s best.

    I couldn’t agree more. He had a right to speak here, even if I morally disagree with his actions. I hope UMASS can adopt an apolitical policy towards free speech to allow for anyone to come to campus.