Some University of Wyoming students are hoping to stop radio host and conservative firebrand Dennis Prager from speaking on campus today — and plan to protest the event should they fail.
Hunter McFarland, the student government’s director of diversity, sent an email regarding the planned protest to Jessica Leach, president of the student group inviting Prager to campus.
“I am scheduling a protest against your event,” McFarland writes in the email. “If you continue you will have the entire campus against you. This will be another Milo situation.”
Milo Yiannopoulos is another controversial conservative figure who was barred from several campus speaking engagements, across the country, after students protested his visit. He was not allowed to speak at the University of California-Berkeley following student protests and Anti-Fascist Action riots.
The email carried an implicit threat of violence designed to intimidate the university into cancelling the event, Leach said in an interview last week.
“I took that, as someone who is familiar with what happened in the Milo situation, as $100,000 worth of damage being incurred by the university and people being injured physically, cops being attacked with molotov cocktails and rocks, just violence in general,” she said.
Prager said he also took the comment as a threat and fears violence during his visit.
“Given what occurred at Berkeley when (Yiannopoulos) went there to speak, what else could she have meant?” he writes via email. “The left claims they are for free speech, but not ‘hate speech.’ That they can’t see the contradiction there is itself depressing … They are profoundly intellectually dishonest and even more profoundly un-American. That’s what our universities are producing. At the rate they’re doing so, it won’t be long before this country is unrecognizable.”
Prager added he has never been disinvited from a college campus and does not expect UW to disinvite him.
“But this is the first time in my life that I fear that I will not be able to speak,” he said. “It shows how much things have deteriorated on college campuses. I am not a flame thrower. I am a 69-year-old man with traditional American views. If someone like me is threatened with riots, or constant interruptions, what non-leftist, mainstream American won’t be?”
McFarland said Tuesday her email was not meant as a threat of violence and was referring to peaceful protests.
“The comment was in reference to how many students banded together to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at their campus such as SDSU, UC Davis, and NYU, and that is still my intention,” she said. “I am working tirelessly to contact alumni, community members and faculty to gain their support of canceling the event.”
She declined to say anymore about the email.
The UW Police Department has been in contact with McFarland, who clarified the language of her email, UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said.
“The university is making space available for peaceful protest outside the venue,” he said. “The police have been in contact with both those who oppose his appearance and those who are sponsoring it. We’re encouraging people to be peaceful and have courteous dialogue.”
Baldwin added UWPD will be present outside of and inside the venue, and their safety plans include both uniformed and plainclothes law enforcement officers.
Prager plans to speak about economics — the title of his talk being “Why Socialism Makes People Selfish” — but student complaints, and subsequent discussions happening across campus, have revolved instead around issues of free speech, allocation of student fees and methods of protest.
The guest speaker writes that the planned protests, while disappointing, prove the point he was hoping to make during his talk.
“I am talking about how socialism produces selfish people,” Prager said. “What could be a better example than what these socialists are doing to prevent me speaking? ‘We don’t agree with this speaker, so we will do whatever we can to ensure that no students at the university are permitted to hear him.’ That’s beyond selfish — it’s left-wing narcissism.”
As an opinion writer, a public commentator and the founder of PragerU — a media company which produces five-minute videos with a conservative bent on everything from abortion and gay marriage to climate change and taxes — Prager has defended a number of controversial positions throughout his long career.
These positions include that “Society has the right and obligation to prefer heterosexuality to homosexuality” and “A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him.” PragerU videos have argued that CO2 is good for the environment and thus climate change is not a significant problem, that black Americans are more likely to be killed by other blacks than by police and therefore the police are not racist and that societies suffer when they abandon Judeo-Christian values.
In reference to these and other positions, some have called Prager a “racist, homophobic, xenophobic, red-baiting, anti-academic, climate denying rape apologist” on a Facebook page organizing the protest at UW.
One student affiliated with the protesters, Austin Morgan, appeared as a guest on Prager’s radio show Tuesday.
“I have always invited people who differ with me, and even attack me, onto my show,” Prager writes. “When people hear me answer those attacks, it gives me added credibility in their eyes … All these attacks are baseless, so I have everything to gain by exposing them as such.”
The majority of the interview was spent debating the terms, or “buzzwords,” UW protesters have used to describe Prager.
“We share a fundamental agreement,” Morgan said. “He and I believe in absolute free speech. I would be perfectly happy defending — as have many other liberal defense attorneys — somebody like Rush Limbaugh, who makes these outrageous statements. I would defend their right to speak because I believe in free speech.”
Protest organizers have also raised concerns regarding the student government’s funding of the event. Turning Point USA at the University of Wyoming — the student group run by Leach, which invited Prager to campus — successfully lobbied student government for $10,000 to offset the cost of the speaking engagement, which had a price-tag of roughly $17,000.
A university which has so recently experienced a fiscal crisis — especially an institution still feeling the effects of that crisis — should not allocate as much money as it has to bring Prager to campus, Morgan said.
“I believe that if Mr. Prager’s talk is cancelled and the money refunded, it is a good thing from an economic standpoint,” he said. “I believe people have the right to speak, but institutions have the right to turn people down.”
Morgan added he finds Prager’s ideas reprehensible and worthy of protest, though he will not object to Prager speaking, assuming UW does not cancel the event. He added he would also not object to protesters chanting over Prager’s speech as doing so would be a similar exercise in free speech.
“I think that anyone who invites a speaker like that to campus ought to reconsider whether or not they are a good person and where their interests lie,” he said.
A campus message from UW President Laurie Nichols addresses student concerns, stating UW’s mission is to produce graduates who are critical thinkers and active listeners.
“The principles of free speech and campus inclusiveness should not be mutually exclusive; that is, they should not conflict with, but rather reinforce each other,” Nichols writes. “Inclusiveness is about widening the circle of voices, including more perspectives from different backgrounds, all free to speak, free to disagree, free to discuss and debate.”
It is unclear whether protesters will be disruptive during the event itself — with some protesters saying they will chant while Prager is talking and others saying they will not — but UWPD is prepared to respond, Baldwin said.
“If there were efforts to disrupt, to try to keep the guy from talking then … I think they would be removed,” he said.
The event runs 6-8 p.m. in the Education Auditorium on campus and will include a question-and-answer segment. The event is free, but attendees are encouraged to get tickets through Turning Point USA at the University of Wyoming’s Facebook event page “Dennis Prager: Socialism Makes People Selfish!”