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A prominent feminist media critic who amid death threats scrapped an appearance at Utah State University is vowing never to speak at a Utah school until guns are barred from the state's campuses and calling on other lecturers to join her boycott.
In a phone interview from San Francisco late Wednesday, Anita Sarkeesian said she canceled her lecture this week not because of three death threats one of which promised "the deadliest school shooting in American history" but because firearms would be allowed despite the threats.
She said it would have been "irresponsible" to go forward, knowing that USU police would not screen for weapons at the door.
"That was it for me," said Sarkeesian, who has kept multiple speaking engagements in the face of death threats, including one last weekend at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. "If they allowed weapons into the auditorium, that was too big a risk."
The canceled lecture vaulted USU and the pro-gun Utah Legislature into the national spotlight as controversies over feminism, gun laws and gaming intersected.
USU officials and Sarkeesian revealed new details about the threats in interviews Wednesday and Thursday. After the mass shooting threat was sent to the school Monday around 10:15 p.m., a second threat arrived Tuesday. That one, USU spokesman Tim Vitale confirmed, claimed affiliation with the controversial and sometimes-violent online video gamers' movement known as GamerGate.
Ann Berghout Austin, director of the university's Center for Women and Gender, said she informed USU's president, campus security and a technology specialist, who spent much of the night reviewing the threat before concluding it was serious.
The school then began trying to reach Sarkeesian, Austin said, who was in transit. She didn't get the message until she arrived Tuesday in Salt Lake City.
"We acted in good faith," Austin said Thursday during The Salt Lake Tribune's Trib Talk webcast, "and we feel that we were thorough in the information" the school provided.
Austin still hopes to arrange a remote lecture from Sarkeesian to students sometime in the future.
"We felt like she offered a very interesting perspective to our students," Austin said. "Our center stands for diverse ideas. We don't expect our students to accept all our ideas, but we do want our students to listen to all those ideas and broaden their horizons.
"The students are absolutely outraged even the students who promote conceal and carry legislation," Austin said. "They just feel it's really unfortunate our freedom of speech has been abridged."
The GamerGate movement, on the other hand, seems to target free speech specifically feminist criticism of the portrayal of women in video games and misogyny in gaming culture generally.
Initially purported to be a dispute about the ethics of a female game designer's relationship with a gaming journalist, GamerGate exploded into a flurry of rape and death threats against feminists in the gaming industry.
Robert Altizer, director of game design at the University of Utah, said many in the gaming community hoped GamerGate would prompt productive dialogue.
Women increasingly are joining gamer culture, Altizer noted. Nearly half the gamers (47 percent) are female and women over age 40 are the fastest-growing segment.
"A lot of us looked at this debate as having the potential to be fruitful," he said, "but it devolves. Whenever threats of violence happen, that's the end of the debate."
Escalating threats during the past two months have driven multiple female game developers and critics from their homes.
"Gamers don't like to be scrutinized," said Laura Wilkinson, a cybersecurity student at Brigham Young University and a hard-core gamer. "They don't like having people point out there might be misogyny in it. Anita is one of those people poking holes."
In the USU case, campus police consulted with the FBI's cyberterrorism task force and behavioral-analysis unit and determined that the threats against Sarkeesian would not prevent a safe lecture, even with firearms allowed.
"Given that she had received many of the same sorts of threats and none of the threats had materialized into anything specific, that was part of the context of the investigation," Vitale said. "That led us to believe that the threat was not imminent or real."
USU officials also pointed to a 2004 state law preventing public universities from restricting guns. Sarkeesian said she asked for metal detectors or pat-downs at the entrance of the Taggart Student Center auditorium, but USU police said they could not prevent those in attendance from carrying guns if they had concealed-weapon permits.
"In hindsight," Sarkeesian said, "I don't think I'd feel comfortable with any weapons in the auditorium."
Police instead promised more officers and backpack checks at the doors.
Sarkeesian said she asked whether police could screen the audience for guns and let them in if they had permits, but Vitale reported that campus law enforcement officers believed that would have been needlessly invasive.
"If we felt it was necessary to do that to protect Miss Sarkeesian, we absolutely would have done that," Vitale said. "We felt the level of security presence we were putting into this was completely adequate to provide a safe environment."
But, Vitale added, that determination doesn't replace Sarkeesian's own judgment, noting that "she's the one who is standing in front of the audience. She's the one who has been receiving death threats."
Sarkeesian said the threats were specific, with one claiming, "I have at my disposal a semiautomatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs."
"It's unacceptable that the school is unable or unwilling to screen for firearms at a lecture on their campus," she said, "especially when a specific terrorist threat had been made against the speaker."
Rebecca Walsh contributed to this story.