Free speech comes to a head: Charlie Kirk’s “Smashing Socialism” event to be surrounded by protests

Rachel Telljohn

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 29, 2018.

Free speech has become a hot-button topic on the Colorado State University campus within the last few months, with the recent announcement of a new First Amendment website and the upcoming “Smashing Socialism” event featuring speaker Charlie Kirk.

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Charlie Kirk speaks into microphone
Charlie Kirk speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore | Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Kirk, the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, will speak in the Lory Student Center Friday night. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. 

Surrounding the event are multiple, self-described peaceful protests from various groups within the community. Groups include the CSU Chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Northern Colorado Anti-Fascist Collective (NoCo AnCo). 

Isabel Brown, CSU’s chapter president of Turning Point USA, wrote in an email to the Collegian that the goal of inviting Kirk to campus is to generate a campus-wide conversation about political differences and to give students exposure to an ideology outside of the classroom. 

“My hope for our event on Friday is that conservative students feel a sense of community on our campus,” Brown wrote. “Beyond that, however, I deeply hope that liberal students and community members have the opportunity to ask questions about why conservatives believe the things they do.”

YDSA will table outside of the Kirk event. Their counter-event aims to educate those in attendance about democratic socialism, as well as raise money for and accept donations of sanitary products for local homeless shelters. 

However, the Traditionalist Worker Party, an extremist, right-wing American political party created in 2013, also plans to attend the event — with plans to counter protest the leftists’ protest, according to Larson Ross, a spokesperson for YDSA, and NoCo AnCo. 

The Traditionalist Worker Party is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist, designated hate group, as well as a white nationalist group. The Party’s message is aimed at high school and college aged individuals.  

Ross shared his thoughts about Kirk and other groups coming to the CSU campus. 

“I’m glad that CSU is open to having a diversity of ideas represented on campus, but I’m disappointed that they’ve decided to host (Charlie Kirk,) such a shallow, callous speaker,” Ross wrote.  

Representatives of NoCo AnCo, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an email to the Collegian that they are shocked the Traditionalist Worker Party plans to come to support Turning Point USA and that Kirk would be prioritized above the safety of students. 

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“Our goal is to defend our community, raise awareness of what is happening here and use that to organize like-minded individuals and Groups,” a representative of NoCo AnCo wrote. “We understand that this puts people of color and other minority groups in danger from harassment and even violence, and we are here to aid in the protection of marginalized groups to the best of our ability by putting our bodies on the line in an act of solidarity with those whose bodies are already regularly on the line merely for existing.”

Fort Collins Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) has partnered with NoCo AnCo to help spread word about the event. SURJ sent an email to those on their mailing list calling for volunteers to escort those who feel unsafe leaving the event or in the days following.

There will be various leftist groups tabling outside of the LSC Friday night with pamphlets and other information, according to NoCo AnCo, who encouraged anyone who wishes to stand with them to attend Friday.

Brown said Turning Point USA respected the protests, as people are exercising their free speech rights.

“Turning Point USA at CSU is a strong proponent of the First Amendment right to free speech and everything that it stands for, including through the avenue of peaceful protests,” Brown wrote. 

Brown wrote approximately 550 tickets for the free event have already been claimed and added that all are welcome at the event. 

“I hope the reaction from our campus is one that allows all Rams to come together in a space of community, learning from one another and debating the issues that really matter,” Brown wrote.

Collegian News Editor Rachel Telljohn can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @racheltelljohn.