On Feb. 10 at Castleton State College, a Soundings presentation in the Casella Theater featured peace-activist Colman McCarthy. McCarthy’s talk was informative and interesting, but it was during the question and answer session that it became more interesting.
James Cote, a 28-year-old freshman and former Sgt. of the 82nd Airborne Infantry, stood up and spoke into the microphone calling for action.
“How can we just sit by and continually let these staggering numbers of people suffer at our government and be pacifists and not up-rise against our government and assassinate our president and our entire government?” he said to McCarthy, who was at the stage. “Aren’t we just as much at fault for sitting and not rising up to take out our government and to enact a more peaceful, humanitarian government?”
McCarthy stammered for a moment leaning against the podium and responded, “Who do you wanna knock off first?”
There were quiet laughs from the audience.
“Every single one to be honest with you,” said Cote. “Every single person in political power at this point should be taken out.”
Cote continued to speak and answer questions from McCarthy.
“I had the chance to assassinate President Bush when I was in Iraq in 2003, and I regret the fact that our plot was foiled . A lot of people would be alive here today if that man had been assassinated during that Thanksgiving.”
Cote, who was advised by his attorney to decline an interview request for this story, had served his military term and honorably discharged from service.
Sitting beside Cote that night was junior Nicole Mastropasqua, his girlfriend. Though she had heard James talk of his experiences before, she had never heard anything “to that extent” from him.
“He was trying to say the government performs grievances every day on our citizens,” said Mastropasqua. “He was ridiculed for it and that’s wrong. Castleton students should be ashamed of themselves.”
After that evening, she described Cote as feeling as though he had been labeled and ostracized by students for what he had said despite not “articulating himself correctly.”
A week after the Soundings event, members of the Secret Service arrived on campus and removed Cote from class to speak with him. An agent also contacted Mastropasqua.
Secret Services officials said they would return a phone call for this story, but did not.
“People next to me said, ‘Oh my God, I hope he doesn’t have a gun,'” said freshman Carly Legasse, who attended the speech. “The way I took it was hyperbole. I think he was being emotional, trying to show how strongly he felt about the situation.”
Legasse also stated that she was upset students around reacted with laughter during Cote’s response.
“It was sorta shocking, I mean saying you tried to kill someone is a big deal,” said junior Maria Arnot. “And then he kept going with it, despite obvious concern from the audience. No one in there had been through what he had experienced. Most people were not expecting that.”
For his term, Cote had served had served as a paratrooper.
“It’s really hard, I think, for veterans to speak of past experiences in the military,” said Mastropasqua. “Sometimes it doesn’t come out the way that you expect it and that’s probably part of the reason why students don’t say anything. They’re waiting for somebody else to do it like, Mr. Cote.”
Mastropasqua said she’s a little perturbed and curious at being contacted by the Secret Service.
“I want to know who released my information,” said Mastropasqua. “I thought I had confidentiality rights.”
Some members of the faculty and administration, like some students, believe Cote had the right to speak out against leaders of government, whether or nor in seditious context.
“I have a strong belief in free speech, extreme or otherwise, to discuss controversial matter,” said Dean of Students Dennis Proux. “Especially in a context of an academic setting. If there is a threat, the college will take action.”
During Cote’s speech, he made no indication of outward violence or anger toward any of his fellow classmates or professors.
“We should be talking about controversial things,” said Proux. “We’re trying to help people shape opinion, to help frame opinions.