The chant “racist, fascist, anti-gay, Ben Shapiro go away,” rang through Hahn Plaza Thursday as nearly 250 students and community members protested the conservative speaker at Tommy Trojan.
After a week of outcry from cultural assemblies and other organizations, protesters held banners and signs stating “No to Shapiro. No to bigotry” as they denounced his speech at Bovard Auditorium, calling his views discriminatory and labeling them as hate speech.
Aubtin Heydari, who was injured at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. last year while counter-protesting, was among the speakers.
“Shapiro’s bread and butter is picking on college students,” Heydari said. “[He avoids] any situation where someone can substantially respond to him in a manner remotely similar to the discussion of idea that he and the other alt-right commentators insist they desire.”
Several cultural assembly leaders stood at Tommy Trojan, quoting statements that Shapiro previously made, calling out what they deemed racism and transphobia. Event organizer Kameron Hurt, a leader from Students for Justice in Palestine, Native American Student Union student leader Mato Standing Soldier and Black Student Assembly assistant director Mae Gates also spoke.
The protest was interrupted toward the beginning by a few interjections, causing community service officers to call into the crowd for protesters to “keep it civil.” One protester called out, “You’re a fucking liar” while another called out “Give it up for Israel” at the protesters, prompting them to chant “racists go home.”
In addition to students, the Rev. Dr. Sunny Kang from United University Church addressed the crowd, saying Shapiro’s message was not in the Bible, despite people associating his messages with Christian values. Kang said the Bible stands for justice and what is right.
“They’re asking you to dumb down and you need to stand up and say that this is an academic institution,” he said. “Ignorance has no place [here].”
Shapiro addressed the protesters in a video on Young American Freedom’s Twitter page.
“We got a couple hundred protesters outside, doing what they usually do, spending a weeknight making trouble, being who they are, exercising their First Amendment rights, that’s great,” Shapiro said.
Once the event began, Hurt led protestors past Bovard Auditorium to USC Village with the intention of making the rest of campus aware their reason for protest. They chanted “cops and the Klan go hand in hand” as they passed the line of people waiting on standby to enter the event.
The rally was sponsored by 17 campus organizations, including SJP, Latinx Student Assembly and the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment.
“I think we achieved our mission … to bring awareness to the issues that this University is ignoring,” Hurt told the Daily Trojan. “Our mission was to show that there is an active resistance that will not stand for hate speech. And it was to show people’s power and we did that.”
The protest did not receive much visible opposition from those in support of Shapiro on campus.
“It’s cool that they have their beliefs and you can respect that,” said Cole Cirillo, a junior majoring in business administration and political science, who attended the Shapiro event. “Obviously, I think that they’re out of line and that it’s a little irrational … But it’s what they believe and they have the right to be out here.”
Young Americans for Freedom at USC spent $1,000 to create a designated area for protest during the event; however, protestors rallied near Tommy Trojan and in front of Bovard Auditorium instead. Some student leaders said YAF never informed them about the space.
“[The protest going well was a] big relief,” YAF Chairman Maxwell Brandon said after the event. “[We were] wondering what the fallout would be depending on how bad it was, but I’m really happy it turned out so civilly and people were able to sit down and listen.”
After controversy surrounding student ticket cancellations for leaders of student assemblies, Brandon told the Daily Trojan that he had allowed some of those students to enter the event. However, various leaders from LSA, BSA and SAGE said they had not been contacted by Brandon or leaders from YAF and did not attend the event.
“They communicate with y’all more than us,” an LSA leader Eloisa Campuzano told the Daily Trojan.
Nearly 30 uniformed police officers were stationed around Bovard and throughout Trousdale Parkway, according to DPS. Protest organizers also had trained “de-escalators” who were meant to manage the crowd to keep the event peaceful. They stood around the active protesters in yellow bandanas, holding signs and facing outward toward nearby spectators, some of whom were participating, while others observed.
USG President Debbie Lee and Vice President Blake Ackerman were pleased to see student activism on campus, but said student safety was their top priority.
“It’s inspiring to see student activism on this campus,” Ackerman said. “It’s something in our three years here we’ve looked to see, we haven’t seen as much before. [But] I think that students recognizing their right to free exercise is beautiful.”
The protest ended before 7:30 p.m. by Hecuba at USC Village without any reported incidences of violence from protesters or event attendees.
Maddie Lazas and Malika Mohan contributed to this report.