The confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court split the country. So, too, did it divide families, including one rather prominent household.
John David Rice-Cameron — the son of Susan E. Rice, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama — is proof, in many ways, that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He is a student at Stanford, as was his mother. He is invested in politics, as is his mother. Both caught the political bug early, serving on student council in high school.
But the son stands apart from the mother in at least one major way. She is not just a Democrat but a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations whose hopes of succeeding Hillary Clinton as secretary of state were wrecked by political shrapnel from the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice-Cameron is not just a conservative but the head of the Stanford College Republicans and a proud supporter of President Trump. His ambition is to “Make Stanford Great Again.”
The political chasm separating Rice and her son was made plain by Kavanaugh’s ascent to the Supreme Court. In the days after the Senate voted 50 to 48 to confirm the embattled judge, the former national security adviser suggested that she might take on one of the lawmakers who helped smooth Kavanaugh’s path to the high court. “Me,” she wrote on Twitter in response to an appeal for someone to oppose Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, later saying that she would decide after the midterm elections next month whether to run against the four-term senator in 2020.
Across the country, Rice-Cameron was holding court at an event on the Palo Alto campus celebrating Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Signs displayed Tuesday at a so-called Change My Mind event — regular events designed “to promote conservative viewpoints,” as the group’s treasurer told Fox’s Laura Ingraham last week — proclaimed “Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty,” according to the Stanford Daily.
One student whose mind was not changed was Melinda Hernandez, a sophomore who became involved in a disagreement with the president of the campus GOP.
The dispute ended at about 1 p.m. on Tuesday when Rice-Cameron called Stanford police to the central university plaza where, he alleged, Hernandez had assaulted him.
Rice-Cameron claimed that Hernandez had shoved him in the chest with her hand, said William Larson, a spokesman for the Stanford University Department of Public Safety. Deputies interviewed both parties, as well as witnesses, and placed the suspect under a “private person arrest” — also known as a citizen’s arrest — and issued her a citation for battery requiring that she appear in court. The case was written up and submitted to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for review.
Rice-Cameron, who wrote in a message to club members obtained by the Stanford Daily that he was pressing “full charges,” had “no obvious physical injury,” Larson said, and “declined to be evaluated by paramedics.”
Hernandez confirmed that she was given a citation but otherwise declined to comment. “In due time my side of the story will come out,” she said in a message to The Washington Post. She told the campus newspaper that she had merely touched the organization’s president on the chest when he refused to stop filming her without her consent.
Rice-Cameron didn’t return several emails and messages seeking comment on Sunday.
But the Stanford College Republicans hardly shied away from promoting the encounter. On its Facebook page, the organization provided Hernandez’s full name. A photo of her accompanied an indignant post.
“Today, SCR experienced the violent and totalitarian behavior of the unhinged Stanford left,” the organization declared, aping the president’s description of Democrats. Trump, who in 2016 urged his supporters to “knock the crap out of” protesters, has taken to vilifying his opponents as violent and unhinged.
Video posted by the Stanford College Republicans shows students grabbing some of the signs off the table and asking their classmates about the purpose of the event. Expletives fly as someone off camera asks, of the alleged attempt to interfere with free speech, “How is it fascist?”
Additional footage shows members of the Stanford College Republicans using an expletive to describe a classmate who had pulled signs off the table and run away. They can also be seen following her and demanding that she reveal her identity.
The incident was written up on Jihad Watch, a blog run by Robert Spencer, the anti-Islam propagandist, and affiliated with the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Meanwhile, Fox got ahold of the group’s treasurer, whom the network described as Rice-Cameron’s best friend, and, in a Thursday segment, treated the former diplomat’s son as a martyr for free speech on campus.
Ingraham asked if Rice-Cameron faced “more pushback” as the son of a prominent former Obama administration official. “Perhaps,” answered the friend, Ben Esposito. “But really I think the reason he faces the most pushback, I mean, anywhere is because he’s a conservative on a college campus promoting individual liberty. I mean, every day, you know, it’s very difficult for any student to promote conservatism. Students are expected to conform.”
Rice-Cameron has not conformed.
In his high school bid for student body president, he pledged to defend the interests of students “even if it means questioning the agenda of the school.” In a spring interview with Fox, he said it was because his parents had encouraged debate and discussion that he had developed different ideas. His father is Ian Cameron, a former ABC News executive producer. The pair met as students at Stanford.
In a sense, their son is following in their footsteps, gaining the same academic pedigree that they did. But his worldview is vastly different.
He has called Mark Levin, the right-wing radio personality, an “inspiration.” He fought last year to bring Spencer to campus, and, according to campus media, delivered a “glowing account” of the blogger who has said that there is no distinction between “peaceful Muslims and jihadists.” He has called for the resignation of a comparative literature professor, David Palumbo-Liu, whom he claims has ties to Antifa, the black-clad, anti-fascist anarchists. And he waged a successful campaign urging Stanford to allow the college Republicans to put American flags on their apparel.
Under his leadership, the campus GOP has become an experiment in Trumpian provocation, relishing liberal outrage and acting as a victim of the intolerant left. Rice-Cameron’s first major event as president was titled “Make Stanford Great Again.” The Facebook page for the event described its message bluntly:
“Trump is great. Build the wall. Deport criminal illegals. Guns save lives. There are only two genders. Abortion is murder. Defund sanctuary city San Francisco. Taxation is theft. Affirmative action is racist. White privilege is a lie.”
This approach is at odds with how Rice describes her son’s politics.
“I would characterize Jake as a conservative — and a more traditional conservative, not a populist conservative,” she told a campus politics magazine earlier this year, using a nickname for her son.
Rice grew up in an elite black family in D.C. Her mother was a barrier-busting corporate executive who lobbied Congress to provide federal subsidies, known as Pell Grants, to disadvantaged college students. She was born Lois Dickson in Portland, Me., in 1933, and her daughter has maintained ties to the state, including receiving an honorary degree from Bowdoin College this year.
The former Obama administration official said her son campaigned enthusiastically for the then-Illinois senator in 2008 — and again in 2012 — but grew enamored of conservative talk radio and tea party activists. Rice said the family television wasn’t typically tuned to Fox but added, “we also never sought to constrain his ability to read or listen to what he wanted to.”
Rice-Cameron has said he didn’t embrace right-wing ideology as a way to rebel against his parents but rather because he found “principles of individual liberty” compelling.
His mother, for her part, said she supports her right-wing son even if he espouses different political values. “I love him very much and I’m very proud of him,” she told Stanford Politics. And Rice-Cameron told Fox that there were issues on which he and his mother could agree — “we agree that America is the greatest nation the world has ever seen, and thus, we believe that America has an important role to play as a force for liberty and justice on the world stage,” he said.
Rice-Cameron may not be as combative as his public persona suggests.
“While the person known around campus as ‘JRC’ has a reputation as a vociferous right-wing agitator, the sophomore we sit down with is polite, amiable, and direct,” observed a profile this year in the campus politics magazine. The writers described the young conservative as “dignified, if a bit old-fashioned, in a button-down shirt tucked into khakis.”
“Like many campus political types, he tends to talk in monologues,” they added. Rice-Cameron told them that there were two types of people who entered politics — those interested only in power and those interested in principles. He counted himself in the latter category.
Yet he said he had no intention of entering politics anytime soon. The economics and history double major told the magazine that he plans to work in finance after graduation.