University of Missouri graduate student Jonathan Butler grabbed national headlines last fall after embarking on a seven-day hunger strike that led to the ousting of the University of Missouri’s president and chancellor. Since then, he’s gone on a speaking tour, represented by celebrity talent booker All American Speakers.
“Butler did it,” gushed Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Vernon Howard, introducing the graduate student as he made the keynote speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in January. Since November, Butler has made half-a-dozen speeches, including addresses at the law schools of Harvard and Duke.
Perhaps these institutions should have done their research before portraying Butler as a social-justice hero. Heat Street’s review of Butler’s online presence, as well as video reviewed exclusively by the publication, reveals he’s chronically stolen items, denigrated low-income workers, and made troubling comments about women and drugs.
Most of the coverage of the events of last fall focused on claims of pervasive racism at the university, as well as administrators’ struggle to address the demands of student organization #ConcernedStudent1950. But our investigation has uncovered not only past controversial statements by Butler but also other dimensions to the unrest, including pervasive fears about safety on campus, as well as massive backlash from donors, sports fans and alumni.
Last fall, other student activists and social-justice warriors on campus began looking into Butler’s background because he hadn’t been involved in activism at the University of Missouri previously, and they had concerns about his speaking for everyone. Now that things on the campus have settled down, they’ve provided the information they found to Heat Street.
In a blog post from August 2011, titled “My Summer Breakfast Experience,” Butler describes how, for 61 days, he swung by a hotel before work and “decided to indulge myself with ‘free’ breakfast items.”
Butler describes trying to get caught stealing food, making goofy faces in the camera and making sure staff got a good look at his face.
His disdain for low-income Americans is also apparent in another blog post, from July 2011, that was written about his visit to a Subway sandwich shop. Butler describes how he “stormed up to the counter inpatient [sic] and indecisive,” further detailing rude behavior to the worker. He describes watching the worker, “a grumpy older gentleman, about 70-75 years old,” making his sandwich.”
Butler, who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, is the son of an railroad executive whose compensation in 2014 was $8.4 million, according to regulatory filings.
Some videos published by Butler, also in 2011, are equally controversial.
In one, nearly 15 minutes long that was published to YouTube in March 2011, Butler says he wants to “address the issue—a very important issue—of XX versus XY. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, male and female: which is better.”
Butler and a guest continue to discuss the problem of “ratchet women,” who flirt and generally are not well-behaved, by their reckoning.
“So you’re saying, she jumps from male to male,” Butler says, continuing: “So this would be like in the kingdom, the wild kingdom, where they’re trying to get their prey.”
At one point, Butler asks his guest: “So what he’s saying is that us as men, we don’t have issues, it’s all women, obviously, because what do we do? We just eat, sleep, work, we’re the backbone. Is that what you’re saying? … You’re saying all women are trash, is that what you’re saying?”
Another 9-minute video, posted to YouTube in July 2011, features Butler singing about cooking crack cocaine with his love interest.