By Don Dike-Anukam and Bob Conrad
The University of Nevada, Reno was host to an event Monday that drew sharp criticism from faculty and students. The campus was a hive of activity late in the evening as hundreds of students, activists and community members came to hear controversial conservative speaker Charlie Kirk.
Scores of activists denounced Kirk, the founder of Turning Points USA, a conservative nonprofit with chapters throughout the nation that seek to “combat liberalism” on college campuses.
More than 650 people attended his talk at the Joe Crowley Student Union, according to the UNR Police Department. Security was extremely tight as attendees were subject to bag searches and credentials.
Kirk was the main act and started with a 20-minute speech stating his platform and positions on free markets (loves them), socialism (hates it), freedom (loves it, especially in America) and immigration (it depends).
He was loudly interrupted four times by several protesters who shouted or held banners.
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“If you want to see the American left in 30 seconds or less, that is the American left,” he said in response to chanting protesters. “There is certainly something about this rise of outbursts and attack on freedom of speech. When liberals come on campus, do you guys interrupt and go do outbursts? No, it’s strange how that works.”
After speaking, Kirk opened up the floor to questions from the audience.
“Anyone who disagrees with me, come on up front,” he said.
Questions from the audience were harsh and heavy as the tension in the room increased.
Kirk agreed with people at times on some issues and strongly disagreed with and denounced an audience member for suggesting there is “a Jewish conspiracy” in owning American media.
We are deeply alarmed by your administration’s inadequate response to the presence and impacts of Turning Point USA on our campus, and by your failure to fully support students who organize anti-racist speech, protest, and action.”
One audience member called Kirk a racist after the event.
“I think it is really racist to keep using one black event to [make the claim] that he’s not racist,” said the student who did not wish to be identified. “Because that’s exactly what makes you racist. You use that to defend yourself. That’s not how that works.”
Kirk’s Turning Point organization has also been accused of racism and campaign finance violations.
“Perhaps most troubling for an organization that holds up conservatives as the real victims of discrimination in America, Turning Point USA is also alleged to have fostered an atmosphere that is hostile to minorities,” Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker in 2017. “Former Turning Point employees say that the organization was a difficult workplace and rife with tension, some of it racial.”
But in an interview with ThisisReno after the event, Kirk said he finds racism repugnant.
“We have a really strong chapter here [at the] University of Nevada, Reno,” he explained. “You know, this state is one where there’s getting a lot of, let’s just say, national political attention. And from what I understand, there’s been a lot of left-wing speakers that have been coming on campus recently.”
“But there’s been ideas that have been being expressed that we find … worthy of challenging. So we, we kind of looked at the calendar, we said why not, kind of make sense,” he added.
Kirk said he was crystal clear on his organization’s position on extremists and white nationalist groups.
“We have full repulsion, repudiation and rejection of anyone that even gets close to identifying with racial identity politics, on that fringe right,” he told ThisisReno. “I am troubled by the false accusation that people throw at me because I have done my part at every corner and every turn to repudiate and reject that sinful and hateful ideology.”
Students, faculty issue lengthy statement on white nationalism at UNR
Nearly 1,000 faculty staff, students and community members have signed an online statement criticizing UNR for having the event on campus, as well the widely reported incidences of hate crimes.
“We write as faculty, staff, students, and others who are deeply concerned with the UNR administration’s responses to acts of white nationalism on campus. We are dismayed by the many white supremacist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ messages that have been posted, painted, carved, or otherwise displayed in dorms, classrooms, campus buildings, and online.
“We are deeply alarmed by your administration’s inadequate response to the presence and impacts of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) on our campus, and by your failure to fully support students who organize anti-racist speech, protest, and action.
“We are especially concerned by two patterns of action at UNR: the selective application of free speech and student conduct policy; and the lack of commitment to systemic transformation of the racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic atmosphere on campus. Examples include:
–The retraction of the Anti-Racist Student Coalition’s permission to post sandwich boards displaying, in their words, “positive messages for those who have been affected by racism.”
–The arrests of a UNR student who brought a sign reading “Abolish ICE” to the UNR stadium, and who argued with campus TPUSA members and knocked over their display table. Both arrests were carried out by the Reno Police Department with no apparent attempt to resolve conflict through campus resources, and no communication with the campus community.
–No apparent consequences for TPUSA members tearing down anti-racist artwork and signage and verbally intimidating students of color, as occurred on October 4, 2019 in The Center.
–No apparent consequences for those responsible for racist vandalism on campus, including swastikas, items with Ku Klux Klan insignia, and anti-black messages.
–No apparent consequences for those responsible for racist and anti-LGBTQ speech online, including video apparently showing UNR students burning a LGBTQ pride flag.
–Failure to monitor or otherwise counter harassment of individual faculty, including attempts to infringe faculty speech and academic freedom.
Read the complete statement: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScM7R_Jj-I1pIy2ZK0mwFgUUN2ffkr56MM8btROoHiVfRo9lg/viewform
Don Dike-Anukam is a Reno native attending college in northern Nevada. He has been involved in activist politics for 15 years on and off, and has been involved in multiple campaigns in multiple positions in that time. He also was a college radio political, news, and talk-show host covering a range of stories from hostage standoffs, fires, interviews, and public speeches.