At 7 p.m. today, October 22, Colorado State University will host an appearance by presidential son Donald Trump Jr. and Charlie Kirk, founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, an organization that critics see as a spruced-up, mainstream-friendly purveyor of prejudice aimed at pretty much everyone other than Caucasians.
The event, scheduled to take place at the University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington Street in Fort Collins, will focus on the "culture war" between conservatives and progressives. This subject would be divisive under any circumstances, but it's even more controversial now given a pair of past incidents.
The last time Kirk appeared at CSU, back in February 2018, members of a white supremacist group clashed with anti-fascist counter-protesters nearby, resulting in an ugly riot and accusations of collusion that the university dubbed "ridiculous." Then, last month, a photo of four white CSU students wearing blackface went viral, prompting scads of negative PR fueled in part by the response of school president Joyce McConnell, who said she couldn't punish the quartet because "personal social media accounts are not under our jurisdiction," meaning that students "can generally post whatever they wish to post on their personal online accounts in accordance with their First Amendment rights."
When word of the Kirk-Trump gathering first went public, plenty of social-media commentators drew a connection to the ill-considered pic. Tweets included "Let their students wear #blackface, it was in preparation for this visit," "My campus thought it would be a great idea to bring Donald Trump Jr. to campus after a blackface incident" and "CSU be like 'in light of blackface on our campus, we're working to create a kind community to confront the mistreatment of students of color.' Also CSU: 'Come see Donald Trump Jr. with special guest Charlie KKKirk present on the alt-left culture war!'"
Of course, Kirk doesn't cop to any white-supremacist sympathies, and Turning Point USA says its mission is "to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government." But opponents say such terminology is cover for the organization's real goals, which they see as extending beyond skin pigmentation into other areas of society. In a scathing Rocky Mountain Collegian op-ed published prior to Kirk's previous CSU stop; for instance, student Hank Stowers charged the outfit with having a "history of condoning misogyny and rape apologia in Colorado."
Back in February 2018, there were indications aplenty that the Kirk appearance would lead to chaos, including the appearance of racist fliers from the Traditionalist Worker Party, which has been identified as a hate group. The signs were so dire that then-CSU president Tony Frank wrote an open letter titled "No Place for Hate at Colorado State." But that didn't prevent the sort of nastiness and neo-Nazi behavior, including Hitler-era salutes, captured in the Unicorn Riot video below.
CSU is trying to avoid a repeat of violence this time around, as is made clear by information emailed to Westword from university spokesperson Dell Rae Ciaravola.
"This upcoming event on campus on October 22 is sponsored by the CSU student chapter of Turning Point USA, which also invited the speaker directly," Ciaravola stresses. "As such, this is not a university-sponsored or endorsed event."
She adds: "CSU is required to uphold the important and powerful role that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution plays within an institution of higher education like ours. We cannot exclude speakers invited by a student organization on the basis of the content of that speaker’s message or remarks. There are multiple points of view within our nation’s current political discussion."
Nonetheless, she goes on, "The safety of our university community is our primary priority, and the CSU Police Department is directly engaged in managing all large-scale events on campus."
When asked what approach authorities would roll out regarding security for the get-together, Ciaravola answers, "The university does not share specific information about their involvement or about their specific plans related to any event, due to safety risks that sharing this information may present. However, this story on our online newsletter provides context regarding how large events such as this one are managed by CSUPD and others in charge of university safety."
One passage from the article reads: "The safety of our university community is our primary priority. The University evaluates each proposed event and assesses security needs well in advance. We create safety plans with a holistic approach, including the safety needs of event attendees, our university community, and the larger Fort Collins community. We also partner with appropriate law enforcement agencies when needed. In some situations, we research and talk in-depth with other institutions that have hosted various speakers or events to better understand their experiences. We then create a safety plan for each event and, in cases involving political speakers, these safety plans are in depth, collaborative, and based on best practices."
Ciaravola acknowledges that "this event may attract increased political engagement on our campus, including organized demonstrations. Our First Amendment website has more information about CSU's Free Speech and Peaceful Assembly policies. The university’s peaceful assembly policy is here."
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Members of the Antifa movement reached by Westword didn't share details about their plans, if any, related to the Trump-Kirk combo plate. But there's what appears to be an organic effort online to undermine the speeches in a more subtle way.
"Follow this link, click CSU, reserve tickets (1 student and 11 adults FOR FREE) so we can leave the stadium empty," one person posted on Facebook. Another reacted with this: "I already reserved my 12 and I’m not gonna show. Maybe y’all want to do the same?"
A third person advocated for a related tactic on the chance organizers figure out what's going on: "They will be overbooking the event in the case that students just don't show up, so if you can, grab a free ticket and go to the event, then walk out so that they don't fill your seat."
"Come protest and bring your 'Surrender Donald' posters," advised a fourth individual. "First get a free ticket so the place will be empty. Though they will let in the people waiting to get in if the seats are empty...hoping there won't be that many people....."