Controversial Speaker Creates Stir At UNR
A controversial conservative speaker sparked emotion and activity at the University of Nevada, Reno Monday night. But it wasn't just the speaker who was outspoken during the planned event.
KUNR's Paul Boger and Stephanie Serrano were there and have this report.
It was a rowdy affair as more than 600 people filled the ballroom at the Joe Crowley Student Union to see Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk take the stage as part of the group's so-called "Culture War" lecture series.
Turning Point USA is a controversial conservative group focused on promoting right-wing political activism on college campuses nationwide. It has close ties to conservative funders and is described by some as a far-right organization.
The group has come under scrutiny for allegedly working to interfere in student elections and creating a website which documents anti-conservative actions and comments from professors. It's also been criticized by many who feel that the student organization shares the same space as other alt-right groups that espouse white nationalistic views.
But Kirk denies that. He spent much of his two hours on stage defending his organization, and condemning alt-right views.
"I want to make something very, very clear, if it's not already abundantly clear, that the evil, wicked ideology of white supremacy has no place in our organization," Kirk said. "We repudiate it. We reject it wholeheartedly and completely, as should any decent American."
But that condemnation fell short for some in the audience. Several times during the event, demonstrators interrupted Kirk, chanting slogans like "Immigrants are welcome here!" or "Racists, go home!" Each time the dissenting group was escorted out of the event amid cheers from Turning Point USA members and supporters.
Kirk however made light of the interruptions, choosing instead to make fun of the protestors.
"And if anyone wants to continually interrupt and do that, then I guess you have the freedom to be wrong in America, right? Constantly wrong, but never in doubt, that's the American Left, I'll tell ya," Kirk said with a sigh.
Despite the back and forth, Kirk spent most of his time speaking to students and supporters about conservative issues like protecting the free market, limiting the size and reach of government and pushing back against socialism.
For his supporters, the event may galvanize more activism. 22-year-old rangeland management student Sarah Kidd of Reno said she joined the UNR chapter of Turning Point USA after the event.
"UNR is a definitely a liberal-based campus," Kidd said. "Even in my classes, I have professors that if you don't think how they think, they will not call on you to answer questions in class. If you walk around campus in boots and camo, certain people will not come up and talk to you. People on campus from certain political organizations and clubs, they won't call out to you if you even look conservative."
She adds, "I think it will be nice to have a club where I can talk to people with similar ideas."
However, not everyone felt the event was productive.
Outside the Joe Crowley Student Union, nearly one hundred protesters united to share a common message.
"Hey hey! Ho ho! Charlie Kirk has got to go!" the group chanted.
But not everyone here knew about this protest ahead of time. Ashton Tutorow said he wasn’t aware of it initially, but decided to join in.
"Whenever I see some of their adverts on YouTube or wherever he's advertising, I just feel super uncomfortable, with whatever he's saying. It feels completely wrong based on the ideas that he holds and it's awful that he's trying to spread that on campus,” Tutorow said.
And while people shouted around him, there were others helping to keep things calm. Some of the protesters wore bright green vests and called themselves Marshalls, with the goal of minimizing conflict and promoting safety. One of those Marshalls was Ian Bigley, a recent UNR graduate.
"What this is, is a peace keeping vest," he said. "As everyone is here sharing their opinions and also taking stances on really important issues, there's some things like keeping the walkway open, so that everyone can stay here and no one gets kicked out, as well as trying to make sure that people don't get hurt."
Safety has been a lingering concern for university students as white supremacy propaganda surfaces on campus. The UNR community recently sent out a document denouncing hate and criticizing the university's lack of action on these kinds of incidents.
As of this posting, the open letter had over 800 signatures.
As a note of disclosure, the Board of Regents to the Nevada System of Higher Education owns the license to KUNR.