With the chaos that surrounded Keene’s 24th annual Pumpkin Festival came the accompanied national exposure from various news stations, online news outlets and social media sites.
Media coverage spread well across the U.S. with stories appearing across seas as well.
“My heart really hurt yesterday [Oct. 18]. I think we got such bad attention … We were in the news for all the wrong reasons. I think it was a really small amount of people who ruined it for a lot of the student body,” Keene State College Senior Kathleen Kanaley said, speaking on the riots that flooded the City of Keene that Saturday Oct. 18.
CNN, BBC.com, The Boston Globe, ABC News, FOX News, WMUR, MTV.com, The Huffington Post and USA Today were among the many stations and websites that reported on the actions of rioters outside of the Pumpkin Fest area that Saturday.
The New York Times featured a story briefly describing the riotous behavior that engulfed the streets of Keene, as Jess Bidgood wrote, “Video and photos posted to social media on Saturday and Sunday showed revelers knocking over street signs, setting boxes on fire, standing triumphantly atop an overturned car and chanting obscenities at the police, who moved in formation to disperse them.”
News traveled as far as Colorado, California and even extended worldwide as rt.com, a site that delivers the “latest news and current events from around the world,” posted an article that allowed access in the U.K. and Russia.
Riots were also featured on Time.com, The Denver Post and The Los Angeles Times.
“I just think social media is blowing it out of proportion — almost one hundred percent. The fact that I’ve heard that Pumpkin Fest has reached Russia, or Colorado or even national news, I mean, that’s pretty ridiculous,” Ashley DeFilippo, a senior at Keene State College, stated.
WMUR reported that “Police from as far away as Laconia, UNH and Massachusetts responded [to the riots] along with New Hampshire state police and Keene police.”
“Police in riot gear used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse a large crowd at Keene, New Hampshire’s 24th annual Pumpkin Festival Saturday night,” according to CNN.
“Dozens of individuals were arrested, and ambulances were summoned to deal with myriad injuries,” Alex Heigl wrote in a People.com article on Oct. 19, describing the New Hampshire riots.
Matt Pearce of The Los Angeles Times also reported on the destruction as he wrote, “A quaint pumpkin festival in New Hampshire ended with tear gas, street fires and at least one flipped car on Saturday as mobs of college students and young people turned parts of the town of Keene into a free-for-all.”
A GoFundMe page has since been made for the owner of the flipped car, who was identified as Tyler Bagdonas.
“All my friends said Pumpkinfest is a blast and that I should head up there, so I was pumped … I was walking around with my friend during the later part of the night during the riots when I saw my car was flipped over and totaled for no reason,” a DJ from the weekend quoted Bagdonas on the GoFundMe page.
Bagdonas continued to describe his unfortunate situation as he said, “I go to school full time and work 25 hours a week making $9 dollars an hour, and for me, my car was my only good asset. My policy with my insurance company does not cover me for the damages and I need my car to get to work 35 minutes away and to then commute to school after.” As of Oct. 21, the page had been shared 4,900 times and had raised over $4,200 dollars. The goal was $3,800.
Matthew Paskov, vice president of Phi Mu Delta at Keene State College, spoke at an all-campus forum held in the Mabel Brown Room of KSC late on Oct. 20.
Paskov noted that KSC students cannot go on acting like the social media coverage that occurred is abnormal.
“The fact that this is the first time we got media coverage for it [riotous behavior] is kind of astonishing. We can’t pretend like this is a one-time view,” Paskov said.
The Keene Pumpkin Fest had already made national news several months prior, as Stephen Colbert reported on the City of Keene’s decision to obtain a Lenco Bearcat on his show “The Colbert Report.”
According to The Boston Globe, John Oliver also covered Keene’s Bearcat on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” “where he bemoaned in August the military arming of police forces,” Globe writer Jaclyn Reiss wrote. Reiss noted that Oliver’s audience laughed at the “terrorism threat” the City of Keene cited as the reason for the Bearcat. “Good luck out-maneuvering that, teenagers with baseball bats,” Oliver said.
While many news stations and online journalists covered the occurrences of the event, many people took to social media sites to express their opinions regarding the actions of the rioters.
A Facebook page named KSC Students Shine was created by an unknown Keene community member the day of the festival, stating its purpose as “Keene residents coming together to assist ALL involved accountable.”
The page’s popularity grew significantly within 24 hours of its creation, gaining well over 2,000 likes by late Sunday evening.
The page became a place for venting and opinions from people involved and people who were not, with many arguing over who exactly is to blame.
Photos of rioters and any destruction that resulted from the riots were posted in an effort to identify the people involved.
Members of the page researched and posted the names of people shown and included their current residential location and affiliated school.
A woman listed as Amanda Heger tracked down one rioter who tweeted that he “flipped a car.”
Heger then found his employer and his employer’s phone number and sent this message to them, accompanied by a photo of the tweet: “This is a tweet from one of your loser apprentices that he flipped a car in Keene [New Hampshire] over the weekend at the Keene Pumpkin Festival. Thought you should know how mature he is!”
Keene State College President Anne Huot released a statement Oct. 19 that said the college is “actively working to identify the individuals who participated in unlawful behavior, and those who are identified will be held accountable.”
The statement continued, “We are reviewing images, videos, media coverage, social media postings and information we have about off-campus residences. The most serious offenders will face interim suspension, followed by conduct action up to and including, expulsion.”
It was suggested by a Boston Globe witness and several people on the KSC Students Shine page that much of the damage that occurred was not in fact caused by KSC students.
Screenshots from the app Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app much like Twitter, began to surface depicting “yaks” from the University of New Hampshire.
Several of the messages read, “Everybody’s ragging on the Keene riots but the truth remains that a large portion of the kids rioting were from UNH,” and continued with, “Straight trashed Keene this weekend and then came home to our beautiful campus.”
Twitter saw a different angle on the riots, as pictures of the destruction and chaos spread rapidly.
“It was high comedy. Twitter had great fun with mocking and calling out the foolishness of the white pumpkin rioters,” Chauncey DeVega stated on AlterNet.org.
These tweets eventually lead to comparisons between the riots outside of Pumpkin Fest to that of Ferguson, Missouri.
The account @bassem_masri tweeted on Oct. 19, “#WhitePrivelege is alive #pumpkinfest or #PumpkinRiot had no purpose #Ferguson has important purpose #Justice #WTF.”
Twitter account @callmetrademark added several hours later, “The kids at #keenestate threw beer cans at cops and got arrested. Mike Brown threw his hands up and caught SIX shots.”
In an article on politicsusa.com, Justin Baragona commented on the comparison in what he labeled “Media’s Overt Racism.”
He wrote, “As was pointed out by many on Twitter, the amount of damage caused in a few hours by drunk students far outweighs what has occurred in Ferguson over two-plus months … Let’s face it. The racial disparity in the coverage is obvious and, quite frankly, sickening.”
AlterNet.org’s DeVega connected back to the hashtag #whiteprivilege, writing, “Saturday’s riots by white college students at Keene State College’s annual Pumpkinfest is a priceless example of white privilege and white racism as a type of social practice and habit.”
DeVega continued to discuss the differences between the media’s portrayals of Ferguson and Pumpkin Fest and the responses to both.
“Black folks who are protesting with righteous rage and anger in response to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson have been called ‘thugs’ and ‘animals,’ … Privileged white college students who riot at a pumpkin festival are ‘spirited partiers,’ ‘unruly’ or ‘rowdy,” DeVega wrote. While many continued to argue over who is to blame for the riots, some sites chose to highlight the Campus Cleanup event that took place early morning on Sunday, Oct. 19.
“Meanwhile, hundreds of students, appearing to be far more than the number participating in Saturday’s riots, volunteered Sunday morning to clean up the Keene State campus and surrounding area in response to a Facebook post,” Jeremy C. Fox of The Boston Globe wrote.
Fox stated that a student approached an out-of-state resident who sought to enjoy the festival with her step-daughter and said, “I just want to formally apologize for what happened.”
Facebook and Twitter saw KSC students and Keene State College’s own accounts publishing statuses of their own, urging the world to recognize KSC as more than the face-valued destructive town.
“I feel like it’s giving Keene such a bad reputation. But they’re [the media] not looking at anything Keene’s done in the past year that’s over-the-top or amazing, so for this negative thing I think the media is just taking the wrong things from it,” DeFilippo said.
Posting photos from the campus cleanup, Keene State College wrote on their Facebook page,
“We’d like very much to show the world that Keene State is a valuable asset to our local, regional and global communities.”
The page joined others in sharing a Boston Globe article from Oct. 19 covering the cleanup, noting that, “This is the Keene State that we know.”
Alexa Ondreicka can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org