Austin Tong, the son of Chinese immigrants and a student at Fordham University in New York, posted a photo of himself on June 4 for the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Instagram. In the photo he is holding a rifle and the caption reads, “Don’t tread on me,” a phrase that refers to the American Revolution and the idea of defending oneself from a tyrannical government. The 1989 Tiananmen massacre was a movement of Chinese pro-democracy students who were crushed by tanks sent by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

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Don’t tread on me. #198964 🇺🇸🇨🇳

A post shared by Austin Tong (@comrademeow) on

 

The post received over 900 comments, both positive and negative, until someone added the university hashtag. That evening university security officers showed up at Austin’s house, asking him questions about his legally acquired gun and asking him to delete the post to “put all this behind him.” Which Austin agreed to. 

But it didn’t end there.

The dean of students, Keith Eldrege, said he had opened an investigation on Tong for violating policies on “bias and/or hate crimes” and “threats/intimidation.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, Tong said he had a hearing with university authorities and explained why he had made the post; he had no intention of harming or threatening anyone and was only expressing from his heart, appreciation for American values; the freedom of speech that others do not have. Tong said, “I really love this country, I love its freedoms.”

Austin commented on the photo, “‘Don’t tread on me’ is the voice of the people against a powerful government. … I didn’t really expect all this, it’s just a post. I mean, this is America, I didn’t hurt anybody, I didn’t break the law.”

Tong told about the hearing, “I told the dean ‘Why do I have a hearing? Not only that, why did security officers come to my house to see if I was a safe person? It’s a hypocrisy, you know why? Because there was a former student who threw a Molotov cocktail or something into a police car and Fordham didn’t say anything. I didn’t hurt anybody. There are people who hurt people and nothing happens.” 

The university finally banned him from campus, except with the permission of the dean, and he has to finish his course remotely. He was also required to write a letter of apology and take a course of “inclusion,” which Tong said, “I call that political re-education.”

Tong spoke on Laura Ingraham’s program on Thursday and confirmed that he is going to sue the university, and in fact he has already raised $51,000 and his goal is $350,000.

He added, “I’m not going to say sorry. I’m not going to back down. This is not just my case. They took my life away. They put my future into a very bad place and that’s why I’m going to bet all my future into this.”

Ingraham was surprised by the university’s reaction and asked, “ So why would a U.S. university have an issue with this?” Austin said they didn’t like what he said, it is not in line with the university’s political ideology.

Then Ingraham said, “You wouldn’t be able to say of course what you are saying now in China, but I bet you didn’t think after coming to the United States and living here … that the long arm of China would reach into the United States. “

Tong pointed out that the First Amendment exists in the United States, but that the university does not see it that way. As a private entity, it is not restricted by the First Amendment, but according to Tong, it has violated its own mission as stated on its website.

China Connection

In reviewing Fordham University’s website, a 2013 article shows great cooperation between the CCP and the university. It notes that over half of the international students at the university are Chinese, and that Fordham has partnerships with universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and other cities. 

In a more recent article, the university acknowledges the donation of masks sent by the CCP amid the pandemic. 

The article is from 2013, and it is not clear what the situation is now. It can be said though, that Tong’s censorship makes a little more sense, as it is not unusual for private companies with strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party to end up applying the CCP’s criteria on the opinions of others. As is the recent case of the NBA censoring its own players who expressed sympathy with Hong Kong’s cause.

This is not a simple issue for those who are not familiar with the CCP’s “modus operandi.” There is no such thing as private property in China, so whether it is Chinese universities collaborating with U.S. educational institutions or Chinese companies sponsoring the NBA, they all have to follow the CCP’s guidelines: You can’t speak ill of the Party, otherwise we will stop funding you or not send any more students to your institution. 

This could well be the case at Fordham University, the Jesuit university of New York: We censure a student for the sake of continuing to maintain good relations with the CCP, whatever it takes.