BOULDER – Dressed in all black, armed with signs such as “Stop funding hate speech” and chanting “No Trump, No KKK, No fascist USA,” around 200 people protested the presence of Milo Yiannopolos on the University of Colorado campus Wednesday night.
Yiannopolos, a controversial conservative figure and editor of Breitbart news, is known for his rhetoric against feminism, the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQ community. His events on college campuses are typically accompanied by protests, and most recently ended in violence at the University of Washington when a Yiannopolos supporter shot and wounded a protester.
On the CU campus, a heavy police presence and about 30 counter protesters joined the large crowd that formed outside of the Mathematics building from about 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Counter-protesters sported “Make America Great Again” hats, and one individual held a sign that read, “Feminism is cancer.” In addition to the general protesters, about 30 graduate mathematics students protested the use of their building for the event, and held signs that read “Mathematicians against division,” and “Math is for everyone.”
Doors to Yiannopolos’ speech opened at about 5 p.m. Around 50-70 people were outside in line, and the lecture hall was reportedly full for the speech.
Police presence from CU Police and Boulder County Sheriff’s Office began to increase as the crowd of protesters did, and eventually authorities wore riot masks and formed a line towards the protesters. The presence of riot gear appeared to incite the protesters further, and the crowd began to chant, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”
“I understand it’s a safety precaution but really the police provoke more than anything,” said Anastasie Moise, a CU business sophomore.
While the protest remained mostly peaceful, one arrest occurred at about 7 p.m. when a protester refused to comply with police and abide by venue rules, which included prohibiting face coverings, bags and weapons. Two more individuals, a male and female, were arrested later in the night around 9 p.m. on charges of assault. All three people arrested were issued tickets and released – none were taken to jail.
There was reportedly one injury during the protest, but the injured party left the scene before medical personnel were able to respond to them, according to CU Boulder Police spokesman Scott Pribble.
As Yiannopolos continued his event inside, the crowd of protesters grew and pushed up against the building, forcing authorities to put up crowd gates at the perimeter. At one point, protesters began to burn “Make America Great Again” hats and a Nazi flag.
— Erin Douglas (@erinmdouglas23) January 26, 2017
Signs protesters carried included:
- “This is not normal”
- “Stop funding hate speech”
- “Delete Alt Right”
- “Just because Milo hates himself doesn’t mean you have to”
- “Zero Tolerance for Fascism”
- “Fascism 101 with Prof. Milo”
- “Punch Nazis”
- “Queer Rage”
At the end of the night, protesters began to disperse around 9 p.m. when attendees of the Yiannopolos event began to exit the building. Some protesters remained outside the venue, while others began to march towards a highway intending to block the road. The protesters blocked a portion of the highway, causing a small collision, and then dispersed.
Yiannopolos was invited by College Republicans and Turning Point USA to speak on the CU campus. CU administration approved the request to host the controversial figure despite the chancellor writing to a concerned student that they heard from many people asking them to cancel the event.
“As a public institution, the University of Colorado respects freedom of speech, and we may not refuse Yiannopolous an opportunity to speak when a student group has invited him to campus,” wrote CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano in an email to a concerned student. “We have consistently said that Yiannopolous does not represent the University of Colorado’s ideals, and we will continue to denounce his tactics.”
The CU Chancellor wrote that the university may not refuse a speaker based on a disagreement with his or her viewpoints, but several students expressed disappointment with their university.
“Universities are supposed to be safe, not safe-space in a PC way, but actually physically safe for students,” said Blake Marcelle, one of the earliest protesters to arrive. “So, I think it’s wildly irresponsible of CU to bring this person in knowing that there will most likely be violence.”
— Erin Douglas (@erinmdouglas23) January 26, 2017
Similarly on the CSU campus, the Students for Life group invited a pro-life speaker, but were denied because they applied for money under a diversity grant. The group is currently suing CSU for violation of free speech.
A small group of CSU students traveled from Fort Collins to participate in the counter protests, organized by the Conservative Interest Group, an organization spear-headed by Juan Caro, a conservative CSU student who campaigned for Donald Trump during the presidential election.
Sarah Bruce, a CSU communication studies senior, participated in the counter-protest and was at one point shoved in the middle of a large crowd when she asked the protesters to explain what she described as derogatory comments towards her.
“It’s their right to be angry, it’s everyone’s right to be angry,” Bruce said in response to the protesters. “… At some point I’ve started to really just wonder when we’ve all lost reverence for one another in the midst of politics because I don’t think politics is worth it. … It’s just very interesting to me to see the way the First Amendment has been mutilated to only include the voices that people want to hear.”
However, other protesters said they did believe that the counter-protesters had a right to be there, but that they did not agree with their cause.
“I think (the counter protesters) have a right to what they have to say, but their kind of glib attitude towards the real oppression and disenfranchisement that people feel, particularly marginalized people, is indicative of the privilege that they possess,” said Eric Bliss, a resident of Denver who traveled to Boulder to protest. “Hateful rhetoric like the kind that Milo spews has no place in communities like Denver and Boulder where we embrace diversity, compassion and difference.”
Collegian News Editor Erin Douglas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @erinmdouglas23.