SAE Members Got Death Threats Over Racist Song, Lawyer Says

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A lawyer retained by a University of Oklahoma fraternity chapter caught singing a racist song called the incident “inexcusable,” but said the chapter’s members still have rights that deserve to be protected, despite public outrage

Stephen Jones, who defended convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, said some members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter have received death threats after the video was released online. The chant repeats a racial epithet and refers to lynching.

The university quickly responded and shut down the frat, and expelled two students it said played leadership roles in the incident.

"There is no justification for what occurred — zero," Jones said at a Friday news conference, but said the incident caught on video happened on one bus that carried about a quarter of the fraternity’s members.

"We stand ready to protect the rights of the student members," adding that he thought University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s decision to close the fraternity may have been "a little over-broad."

"We believe that working together in a positive manner we can find a solution that is acceptable to everyone," Jones said without specifying what that solution would be, except for noting that there are legal questions about who owns the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house and the property it stands on. Jones said he wasn't ruling out a lawsuit, but said suing is not his first choice.

National Sigma Alpha Epsilon officials said in a statement shortly after Jones’ press conference that the decision to retain Jones was one made by the local chapter, and it was not involved. The fraternity has condemned the song.

"Our priority now remains squarely focused on making sure we continue to proactively address this issue in a way that reflects our zero-tolerance for any kind of discrimination and upholds the values of our Fraternity," the statement said.

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— Elisha Fieldstadt

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