Conservative Speaker's Appearance Ignites Protests at NYU

The visit came a day after another controversial conservative's planned speech prompted clashes at Berkeley

Chaos erupted at NYU when controversial personality Gavin McInnes arrived to speak Thursday evening, with angry protesters coming to blows, people getting arrested, and McInnes himself getting hit with pepper-spray. 

McInnes, a conservative actor, comedian and co-founder of Vice Media (he severed ties with the company in 2008), was invited to speak at the Kimmel Center on campus by the NYU College Republican group, according to the student blog NYU Local.

His appearance sparked a protest by other students, including the NYU Anti-Fascists, who said McInnes "has a long track record of using incendiary language to attract media attention and frenzy." 

McInnes is the founder of a group called the "Proud Boys." He dubs himself a "western chauvinist," uses racial epithets in his essays and has argued that women make less money because they are less ambitious than men.

Protesters began gathering and chanting outside the building before McInnes arrived, and when he showed up, they began cursing and shoving, video posted to social media shows.

"There was a good deal of protesting and provocation," NYU spokesman John Beckman said. 

A fight broke out among the people who were gathered outside, though it's not clear who they were. McInnes, meanwhile, was hit with pepper spray, according to Beckman. 

"I'm dumbfounded that NYU would invite somebody who is a hate speaker. He is a fascist," Tamara Fine said. 

But one student who went to attend the event said protesters took things too far.

"We just wanted to come and listen to the speaker," the student said. "As soon as we got here, a bunch of individuals came, tried to Mace us, tried to punch us several times. I've been called a Nazi."  

McInnes went on into the building and carried on with the event, but when protesters began streaming into the room and shouting over him. At one point McInnes said he was "relieved" his attackers outside the school "were not Muslim." He later insulted the school's head of student affairs and then after about a half-hour, abruptly left.

"The decision to end the event when he did was his own," Beckman told The Associated Press. "Moreover, within the student center - to which only those with NYU IDs were admitted - there was no violence and no arrests."

Beckman said there was no violence inside the building or at the event, but video on Periscope and Twitter shows heated scuffles between protesters and police outside. [Warning: Graphic language in Twitter video linked above]

Video showed police vans filling up with protesters. Police said 11 people were arrested on charges including criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. No students were arrested.

McInnes said on Twitter: "Thanks for asking if I'm OK guys. I was sprayed with pepper spray but being called a Nazi burned way more."

The visit came a day after another controversial conservative's planned speech prompted clashes at a university on the West Coast.

Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was unable to speak at the University of California, Berkeley Wednesday amid protests that turned violent. President Donald Trump suggested federal funds could be withheld from the school if Berkeley "does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view."

Trump tweeted about protests again Friday morning, saying "Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

NYU College Republican President Elena Hatib had said of the club's decision to invite McInnes, "Even though I don’t personally agree with everything he says, I think he brings up interesting conversation topics, especially for NYU and the current campus culture."

She said the club is interested in hearing his opinions on the recent election, the so-called culture wars, campus censorship.

"Students need to recognize that our members don’t always agree with what he says or many of his views, but we believe it’s important to preserve free speech on campus," Hatib wrote, adding that "people need to know he’s also a comedian and you can’t take everything [he says] too seriously." 

A rhetoric professor at Hofstra believes the heated debates could continue for awhile.

"You know, there's a lot of dissatisfaction, particularly among millenials. A lot of it came out in the campaign with support for Bernie Sanders," MaryAnne Trasciatti said. "People have really strong ideas, and they're increasingly feeling empowered to express them, on both sides." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us