A clown in action

The Royal Navy stall at freshers’ fair was attacked by clowns.

The group of ten clowns, thought to be anarchist students, daubed paint and glitter on the stall of the University Royal Naval Unit (URNU) in an anti-war protest.

The group had appeared near Sussex House wearing red and black noses and make-up. Some wore what appeared to be women’s tights over their heads to hide their identity. They paraded through Library Square where hundreds of students were attending the freshers’ fair, but received little attention as they tried to issue their message through a squealing megaphone.

When the group reached Falmer Quad, a female clown walked up to the URNU stall and squirted a bottle of orange poster paint over the display board, while another threw glitter. One of the men behind the stall grabbed the clown’s arm but failed to prevent the damage.

The protest received a small round of applause and some supporters started chanting “no more war.” One of the supporters was met with stiff looks from the navy men when he approached the stall. The anti-war student said, “I’d like you to explain why you’re coming here trying to recruit young people.”

“I’ll fight for queen and country – that’s me,” came the reply.

Another navy man, who did not want to be named, said the protesters had got their facts wrong. “The role of URNU is to provide an insight into what happens in the Royal Navy. We are a non-recruiting organisation.” He added that students who joined URNU had no obligation to join the armed forces. However the Royal Navy website says one of URNU’s aims is to “develop awareness of career opportunities in the service.”

A leaflet handed out by the clowns argued that their actions were a proportionate response to the invasions
of Iraq and Afghanistan. But a second-year English student who witnessed the incident from a nearby stall thought the anarchists had been hypocritical. “Freedom of speech is probably the most important of their ideals and they’ve just compromised themselves,” he said.

A spokesman for the students’ union condemned the actions of the protesters. He said, “We recognize and encourage political debate on the campus but do not condone violence or intimidating behaviour. Any political statement should be made in the proper democratic channels where opinions can be voiced in a fair and respectful way.”

URNU has long been a target for protesters at Sussex. Their offices were occupied shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan and more recently their open day was disrupted. Earlier this year, military recruitment on campuses hit the national press when students at University College London voted to ban military recruitment from their students’ union.

There are fourteen URNUs located on or near university campuses around the UK to promote the navy. Each one is commanded by a Lieutenant responsible for 51 undergraduates, who join the URNU as navy reservists for their three years at university. The recruits are given training at sea and lectures on topics including “the role of [naval] forces in sustaining the national interest and in worldwide peacekeeping,” according to their website.

Police were called to campus after the incident, but The Badger understands that no formal complaint has been made. A university spokeswoman called the incident “completely unacceptable” and said, “If any of the perpetrators were identified we would not hesitate to take this through proper disciplinary proceedings.”

‘Our actions are justified’

The following is an extract from leaflet handed out by protesters:

“If you believe we are imposing our views on you and prevent people from having a ‘free’ career choice, think about our brothers and sisters all over the world who have in recent years had a totally undemocratic and exploitative power imposed on them at gunpoint. The Universities Royal Naval Unit is one of the institutions that recruits people into the military, and we believe they have no place on our campus, or in our world.”

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