A private event hosted by the USC College Republicans featuring conservative speaker David Horowitz prompted protests and a walkout Wednesday night.
The event came a day after a number of students complained about being denied entrance to the speech. Earlier this week, USC College Republicans said they would bar some individuals affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine to prevent any disruption.
Horowitz’s speech focused on the global threat to Judaism and how that fight was taking place on college campuses in the United States.
Horowitz discussed the conflict between Israel and Palestine, describing “Islamofascist” attacks against Jews, and how Islamists had driven them from the West Bank.
“There’s no more threatened people in the world than Jews. That’s the reality,” Horowitz said. “The Arabs are racist.”
About 10 students who were admitted to the event stood up and turned their backs half an hour into the his speech, in response to his characterization of Muslims.
“This is my intolerance for the intolerance,” Horowitz said when the students turned their backs. “These students are either brain-dead or they’re malicious.”
The students were escorted out by Department of Public Safety officers at the event, and were met outside with an uproar of chanting from about 15 demonstrators outside, who were denied entrance because of their affiliation with SJP.
Heather Larabee, the assistant dean of students and director of Campus Activities said students were removed because they had disrupted the event.
“They were blocking the views of people behind them, so that’s why they were asked to leave. Had they stood up silently and in the back rows, Horowitz would have been able to see them and that would have been fine,” she said.
According to Larabee, six members of SJP were denied entrance to the event. College Republicans also turned away others who had not signed up for the event, except for a few who waited and were allowed entrance to fill some of the empty seats, even though there were a few remaining ones.
Horowitz spoke about the controversy surrounding his appearance at USC.
“Now I can’t set foot on the USC campus,” he said. “Let me just say the behavior is an utter disgrace and one of the worst cases I have seen.”
Horowitz called the protestors from SJP, the USC Progressive Alliance and Muslim Student Union “fascist thugs.”
“I don’t care what you think of anything I said,” Horowitz told attendees after the protestors inside were escorted out by campus security.
SJP members stood outside before the event and initially protested silently with signs that read, “I refuse to respect hate speech,” “Is my last name a ‘security’ threat?” “Stand with us against racism” and “His hate speech is violating my free speech.”
When the protestors were escorted out, the demonstrators outside began chanting, “Racist” and “Free speech yes, hate speech no.”
“Allowing him to speak at USC legitimizes his racist speech as something that’s academic debate, which it isn’t,” said SJP President Alex Shams, a senior majoring in international relations who participated in the demonstration. “What David Horowitz is saying is hate speech and it’s speech that is offensive to a lot of students on campus and is threatening to a lot of students on campus.”
But Falicia Mandel, the co-chair for the California College Republicans who served as the College Republicans vice president in 2008, said the students didn’t give Horowitz a chance to explain his case.
“I really wish they would have stayed and heard what he had to say, and then if they chose to ask the hard questions … there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a better way to exercise what they’re asking for, which is freedom of speech,” she said.
Larabee said Student Affairs made an effort to ensure both groups were given an opportunity to give their side of the story.
“As a whole, we want to make sure the students demonstrating have a chance to demonstrate and their voices are heard, and the students that wanted the program to happen are having their program,” Larabee said. “We’re not here to judge right or wrong or pick a side at all. It’s just about making sure students have a positive experience, whatever that is for them.”
Larabee said the university will investigate why some students were denied entrance to the event.
Despite Student Affairs’ efforts, Horowitz complained about the treatment of his hosts by the protestors.
“Students that invited me, which is the worst part, are attacked and called racist,” Horowitz said, adding that the discussion of free speech must continue on USC’s campus. “This is a battle and it’s a battle we have to win.”
Horowitz said the groups protesting the College Republicans’ event and attempting to obstruct the speaker they invited should be put on probation for “a heinous assault on USC students.”
“The administration itself is allowing this fascist attempt at free speech … to defile College Republicans,” he said, calling the protestors “lunatics the university refuses to discipline.”