The fallout from a video compilation shared on social media and viewed more than 7.4 million times has, according to its superintendent, “ripped apart” the small 650-student school district of Cornell and the communities of Coraopolis and Neville.
The video, targeting superintendent Aaron Thomas and accusing him of knowingly inviting local veterans to attend a game where cheerleaders planned to protest, has resulted in threats of bodily harm and even death threats for those involved. More than 600 angry phone and email messages from all over the country have been received since last Friday, when the video was posted.
The threats prompted the district to move up tonight’s football game to the afternoon and bar all but parents from attending. This weekend’s homecoming activities will be rescheduled.
“It’s sad. No students, no grandma or grandpa,” Mr. Thomas said.
It’s “ripped apart our community … ripped apart my household,” said Mr. Thomas, whose family members also have been targeted by these threats.
He denies having previous knowledge of the protest which occurred Sept. 30 when 12 of the high school’s 15 cheerleaders took a knee instead of standing for the national anthem. He does acknowledge hearing rumors weeks prior that the girls were considering pursuing a peaceful protest during an away football game. Local veterans from the Coraopolis VFW served as color guard during that Sept. 30 Raiders home game.
“Please know that I did not intentionally invite our veterans, gentlemen that I respect and admire immensely, to our football game to be protested in front of,” Mr. Thomas wrote in a statement posted to the district website.
The Cornell protest emulating San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who in August refused to stand for the national anthem to protest what he termed as unequal treatment of black people, was not about disrespecting veterans, school officials said.
“I understand that this is an extremely emotional topic for everyone and the individuals involved already stated their actions were not in protest of veterans or our military personnel as it is inaccurately being portrayed. I have had positive conversations with some of the veterans that were in attendance that night, and was able to clarify the misconceptions being portrayed,” he wrote in his statement.
The video – cobbled together using snippets of previous broadcast footage of the superintendent, a picture of the protest, images from World War II and of tearful veterans – also included school district contact information requesting viewers call the school. It was later marked a “graphic video” by Facebook, warning viewers that videos with graphic content can shock, offend and upset.
According to account information, the video creator, Sarah A. Slayer, considers herself to be a news personality and lists personal interests of conservatism, America, Second Amendment, supporting our veterans and standing up for police.