The beginning of a Thursday virtual town hall was interrupted by unidentified people who played lewd videos while spamming messages that included a racial slur.
The event, organized by Duke Students for Biden, brought in keynote speaker Mondaire Jones, who recently won the Democratic primary in New York’s 17th district and is likely to become one of the first openly gay Black congressmen.
Toward the end of introductory remarks by Kichelle Webster, a legislative assistant for Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), a group of people started spamming messages in the chat in support of President Donald Trump. One wrote a racial slur, “n*****,” repeatedly in a message.
They also turned their video screens on to display lewd and pornographic videos, a reporter for The Chronicle observed.
The interruption was an example of a Zoombombing, during which hijackers interrupt a video conference by spamming inappropriate images and text.
The incident began about 10 minutes into the event and went on for around two minutes, before the moderators—sophomores Jack Kochansky and Danie Marshall—kicked the disruptive people out of the event.
Marshall, Kochansky and senior Rahul Krishnaswamy, three of the four co-chairs of Duke Students for Biden, said that they personally did not see the displayed videos on screen or the full details of the Zoombombing because they were focused on other parts of the event.
Kochansky said that he believes the Zoombombing went on for less than two minutes, but he and Marshall responded immediately after the messages were sent in the chat to remove the people involved.
Krishnaswamy said that since the event was open to the public, it was impossible to trace who the Zoombombers were.
Marshall and Kochansky apologized to participants after the incident and disabled the chat, though the messages remained in the chat history. They took live questions from audience members rather than using the chat to seek questions.
The three co-chairs emphasized that despite the bump in the road, the event turned out a success, and they left feeling inspired and hopeful.
“If what we were doing wasn’t important and if the message we were trying to spread wasn’t working, those Zoombombers would never have come in the first place,” Krishnaswamy said. “Going forward, what we need to do is make sure this never happens again but also keep doing our stuff—keep pushing forward, keep focusing on bringing progressive candidates, phone banking, volunteering—to make sure that Joe and Kamala are elected in November.”
Jones, who joined the event after the Zoombombing took place, went on to speak about the need for progressive policies such as Medicare for All, the Green New deal, and criminal justice and policing reform, ending on a plea for students to fight for their country and planet.
Mona Tong and Anisha Reddy contributed reporting.
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