Police officers in riot gear broke up a protest Friday, January 27 against far-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, who stopped at the University of New Mexico as part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour.”
The Greek-born Yiannopoulos, who is gay, is a vocal critic of Islam, feminism, social justice and political correctness. He writes for the right-wing news and opinion website Breitbart News, and has gained a following for his “alt-right” views on plus-size women, people of color and other marginalized populations. In 2016, he was permanently banned from Twitter after harassing black actress Leslie Jones.
The group UNM College Republicans invited Yiannopoulos to the Albuquerque campus, where he spoke to a crowd of about 600 people at the Student Union Building. An avid fan of President Donald Trump, Yiannopoulos rallied his audience with statements in favor of the proposed wall on the Mexican border and the ban on Muslim immigrants—interspersed with lewd and sexual jokes.
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“Illegal people aren’t a race,” he said during his speech. “They’re people who don’t belong in your country.” Yiannopoulos went on to encourage his audience to “purge your local illegals” by reporting undocumented immigrants.
An estimated 1,000 people—representing various student and community groups—gathered on campus to protest the speech with signs reading “White supremacy is inexcusable” and “Immigrants are welcome; fascists are not.” Police on horseback and dressed in riot gear escorted protestors away from the event and discharged tear gas when they resisted.
“We came together in a peaceful protest, as students from marginalized communities,” said Hope Alvarado, a junior majoring in intercultural communication and Native American studies. “We wanted to let Milo know that we don’t accept his racism, his misogyny, his sexism.”
Alvarado, Navajo, is a member of the community activist group The Red Nation, which was outside the Student Union Building to protest Yiannopoulos and the university’s decision to allow the controversial speaker on campus.
“Shame on UNM for allowing someone so outwardly sexist and Islamophobic on campus,” Alvarado said. “Our message to Milo, his supporters and to the university is that hate speech is not welcome on our campus.”
The university defended the right to “free speech,” however, and acting President Chaouki Abdallah waived the $3,400 fee required of any group that wants to host an event on campus. The fee goes, in part, to pay for security at the event.
In a statement issued two days before the speech, Abdallah said the university is committed to the “principles of free speech” and values its role as a “marketplace of ideas.” Abdallah concluded that forcing UNM College Republicans to pay the $3,400 fee would “impact free speech on campus” and suspended the policy pending a thorough review.
Alvarado said students appealed ahead of time, pleading with administrators to cancel Yiannopoulos’s speech. When that failed, they protested at the event with the mission of shutting it down.
“We didn’t get it shut down,” said Alvarado, who was hit with tear gas during the protest. “But we sent a message. We waged a battle against someone who hates us for no reason other than who we are.”
Yiannopoulos’s speech came the same day Trump signed an executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspending refugee admission for 120 days and banning Syrian refugees indefinitely. The so-called “Muslim ban” alarmed activists at UNM, where marginalized populations have been historically mistreated.
“We need to think about the kinds of violence a Trump administration fosters,” said Jennifer Nez Denetdale, associate professor of American Studies at UNM. “We can’t have a climate that goes unchallenged.”
Denetdale, Navajo, was traveling out of state during Yiannopoulos’s speech, but she encouraged students and community members to stand against what she called “egregious hate speech.” She also has criticized the university’s decision to host Yiannopoulos at all.
“We have to think about what free speech is when we have someone saying hateful things about women and people of color,” Denetdale said. “It’s important to understand that protestors at events like this are doing so at incredible risk. These are communities of people who are up against incredible violence every day.”
Watch Yiannopoulos’s full speech here: