On Wednesday, April 17, former U.S. Rep. Allen West posted threatening-sounding messages on his Facebook and Twitter accounts suggesting that Florida Atlantic University students had harassed his wife, Angela Graham-West, a trustee at the school.
The post read, "I... have no issue with the insidious and incessant personal attacks by the left against me. However, I am warning you, end your harassment of my wife Angela. The students from Florida Atlantic University who have gone to my wife's office, stalked her at the FAU Board of Trustee meetings, and sent letters to her company headquarters, end it now. This is not a threat, it is a promise that if Angela calls and tells me of one more incident, you will face me, the side of me that you do not want to see. My wife Angela is an American citizen, and if you believe that you can intimidate her to surrender her freedoms, you are mistaken. Those left-wing groups and lawyers associated with these individuals supporting their antics, I recommend you disassociate yourself. How dare you animals attack my wife and her professional reputation. This is your one and only advisory notice."
He also tweeted, "To FAU students stalking my wife at Bd of Trustee mtgs, end it now. If u believe you can intimidate her, u are mistaken. Nxt time u face me."
That afternoon via phone, Graham-West explained what prompted her husband's messages. "This all started out as an internal thing," she said. Several weeks ago — before the cancellation of a controversial deal for FAU to accept $6 million from private prison operator GEO Group in exchange for stadium naming — two male students "with some group called 'Owlcatraz' entered my office talking about all kinds of crazy stuff, like how I should resign from the board."
Stop Owlcatraz is the name of a group that opposed the GEO deal. Graham-West is a financial planner who works at a Raymond James & Associates office in Fort Lauderdale at least a dozen miles from campus.
Graham-West, who was a business professor at Kansas State University, said the men told her secretary "a story" to get past the front desk and entered her office uninvited and without an appointment. "This was about the GEO deal. I tried to explain that every corporation has a history, you know." She said she talked about how "Nike, Volkswagen, all have histories. They started getting riled up." She described the two men as "zealots."
She said they asked, "You think you're as tough as your husband, don't you?" and "All you want to do is bring back Jim Crow!" (to which she responded, "How can we? We're black!").
Graham-West says she felt threatened. "All logical arguments come off the table when you start to intimidate people. I'll discuss A through Z, but I'm not willing to listen to strangers tell me what they want me to do. There is no way that you can violate a person's space and then have a logical discussion... There are civilized ways of going about meeting with people."
After about 45 minutes or an hour, she said, a business associate came in, saw it was not going well, and interrupted. Her company's internal security then asked the intruders to leave. She says that she did not get either young man's name and that when they left, one "took the door and slammed it so hard it almost broke the plate glass."
She thought the confrontation was over, but then last Tuesday, at a board of trustees meeting that was open to the public, she saw one of the students in the crowd. "That's called stalking," she said. She alerted campus security but did not file an incident report. "Police were there and tried to escort them out."
That night and the next morning, her boss and co-workers received emails presumably from the same two men. "It's becoming a three-ring circus," she said.
She declined to provide a copy of the email but said it suggested she should be fired and let go from the board of trustees. The students alleged they had been invited into her office and accused her of becoming aggressive and saying that people who owned Volkswagens were Nazis. She said the email had an ominous tone, saying, "You can't threaten us, Angela." She did not know why she and no other trustee was targeted for protest.
Given the bombings in Boston and recent campus shootings, Graham-West said she was unnerved. "They could have done anything. They could have shot me. I just come with a pencil, a pen, and a briefcase." Graham-West seemed frustrated that "a small group of students got their way. Whatever the repercussions for other students — higher tuition, less gifts given out — this was decided and run up the pole. The squeaky wheel did get the grease."
Asked if the students might have considered their efforts part of a tradition of nonviolent protest on college campuses à la Martin Luther King Jr., Graham-West said, "But none of us knew — I didn't know — who these people are. I'm busy trying to do the right thing, volunteering... Six-million-dollar gifts don't grow on trees." She said it's not peaceful protesting "if you push your way in."
Graham-West said she would not discuss the underlying issues with anyone "if you don't conduct yourself in a rightful manner. What is it called when you make someone feel afraid for their life? It's called assault. Attempting to assault somebody through intimidation. After that happened, [discussions] were off the table. Stalking, intimidation, all that — it takes logical arguments off the table."
So when her husband spoke out for her on Facebook and Twitter, she said, "He was just saying, 'If you've got something to say, say it to me. We'll have a man-to-man talk.' "
Graham-West did not want to discuss GEO Group's business practices or the recent controversy involving Professor Deandre Poole in which he asked a student to step on a piece of paper with the word Jesus on it.
Asked how the university might move on from the recent string of bad publicity, she said, "I don't know... I'm bereft of ideas. I've come to the university to educate. That's my passion. All of this is distracting from the main beauty of acquiring knowledge." Which is something the letter-writers could use a bit more of, she said: "They should be spending more time on learning how to structure sentences, not ruining my career."
On Wednesday, students involved in the Stop Owlcatraz movement released a statement that read, "The FAU administration should issue Allen West a restraining order barring him from all FAU campuses, and should release a statement affirming their commitment to students' and the greater FAU community's rights to public safety and free speech.
"Allen West alleges students are 'harassing' his wife, Angela West. Members of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition, in February and March, met privately with most of the members of the FAU Board of Trustees, including Angela West. As public officials and the trustees of our university, they have a duty to be accessible and accountable to the constituencies they serve.
"She agreed to a March 18 meeting at her Raymond James office in Fort Lauderdale. At that meeting, Angela became rude and aggressive, and students walked out of the meeting as she began yelling at them.
"Students attended yesterday's Board of Trustees meeting to hear the President and all the Trustees, not just West. There, she harassed FAU students and instructed two FAU police officers to question them about the meeting (they refused to do so). Allen and Angela West are harassing and threatening FAU students, not the other way around."
Allen West, through a representative, declined to comment.