The Cancellation of Mimi Groves

The controversial New York Times story tells a tale we will hear again

The New York Times found and highlighted one of the cruelest examples of weaponized cancel culture I’ve seen in a long time.

Dan Levin tells the story of Mimi Groves and Jimmy Galligan, classmates at Heritage High school in Leesburg, VA. Galligan came into possession of a three-second clip of Groves in which she says “I can drive [expletive]” with the expletive being a certain racial epithet that white people are not allowed to speak. Groves, now 19, recorded the clip in 2016 after receiving her learner’s permit. She shared the clip privately with a friend on Snapchat and it was shared among some classmates at the time but nothing came of it.

It is not clear who sent the clip to Galligan or why, and he told the Times that he had not seen the clip prior to it being sent to him. In service of explaining what happened next,

“The slur, he said, was regularly hurled in classrooms and hallways throughout his years in the Loudoun County school district. He had brought the issue up to teachers and administrators but, much to his anger and frustration, his complaints had gone nowhere.”

A point I want to make clear before going forward; Galligan claims he complained to school administrators about the use of that racial epithet in general, not about Groves’ behavior specifically. At no point does he mention the clip to any Heritage High administrations, faculty, or to Groves herself. Instead, he decides to take the cruelest path possible

“‘I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,’ Mr. Galligan, 18, whose mother is Black and father is white, said of the classmate who uttered the slur, Mimi Groves. He tucked the video away, deciding to post it publicly when the time was right.

Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.”

Groves had been accepted to the University of Tennessee, her dream school, and earned a spot on its top-ranked cheer squad.

Anyone who is familiar with cancellations mobs can predict what happened next

“The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students and the public.

Once the video went viral, the backlash was swift, and relentless. A photograph of Ms. Groves, captioned with a racial slur, also began circulating online, but she and her parents say someone else wrote it to further tarnish her reputation. On social media, people tagged the University of Tennessee and its cheer team, demanding her admission be rescinded. Some threatened her with physical violence if she came to the university campus. The next day, local media outlets in Virginia and Tennessee published articles about the uproar.

The day after the video went viral, Ms. Groves tried to defend herself in tense calls with the university. But the athletics department swiftly removed Ms. Groves from the cheer team. And then came the call in which admissions officials began trying to persuade her to withdraw, saying they feared she would not feel comfortable on campus.”

The ending of this story for Groves and Galligan are quite different; Groves is attending virtual classes at a local community college while Galligan is attending Vanguard University, a private Christian university in Costa Mesa, CA.

When asked if he feels any regret over his actions, Galligan states

“‘If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,’ he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

‘I’m going to remind myself, you started something,’ he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

There is a certain level of sociopathic cruelty in hurting someone who did nothing to you. Groves was not calling Galligan a racial epithet, she was not speaking about him at all, and that clip was not meant for him to watch. But, in some twisted idea of racial justice, he decided that taking something away from Groves that she dearly wanted and earned was justified. The deliberateness of his actions is stunning; he planned on hurting Groves in whatever way would cause her the most pain in lieu of pursuing any of the other options for resolving this that were available to him.

Some, like Reason’s Robby Soave, have wondered why the New York Times would choose to report this story at all. Galligan and Groves are two young adults who, prior to this story being made national news, were not public figures in any way. Why bring their story to a national audience, with the scrutiny that comes with it? Why judge either of these teenagers by their worst moment?

While I don’t entirely approve of the slant the Times put on the story - there was an emphasis on location, wealth, and melanin level that felt like an excuse for Galligan’s actions - I understand why they felt it was important to tell the story. It serves as another example that cancel culture is indeed real and has the power to seriously damage lives. It highlights how the adults in this situation failed the teenagers by not making it clear that a three second clip recorded years ago is not worthy of discussion, let alone punishment.

For me, the most important part of the story is that Galligan’s plan worked. The online mob he incited led the University of Tennessee to make it clear to Groves that she would not be welcome on campus. That should be at least worrisome, that a cancellation campaign can be successful against a private person who’s misdeed was as exaggerated as Groves’ was.

There is also a discussion to be had about the cruelty of Galligan’s plan, not to single him out but to point out he is hardly alone. He viewed Groves not as a person but as an avatar to punch up at, and he learned that behavior somewhere.

Discussing the activities of teenagers is controversial, I understand that. This story touches on topics that are hotly debated; cancel culture, online histories, and what should be the statute of limitations on holding a person liable for past transgressions. I don’t like that this vindictive cancellation mentality is being visited on teens. This is where we are now however, and I don’t take issue with the Times for reporting about it. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we hear a story like this.