Conservative activist organization Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk was invited to speak at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Monday, Oct. 7 in the Joe Crowley Student Union Ballrooms. 

The event was open and free to the public, as well as university students. “Culture Wars” is a multi-city tour sponsored by Turning Point USA.

“We believe that we are in the midst of a metaphorical culture war, where there’s very broad distinctions being made right now, dividing lines,” Kirk said. “There’s a group of people that are very thankful to be in America and there’s a  group of people that are very angry to be in America. A culture struggle, or a culture war, is one where a country looks introspectively at what the core values and ideas are and essentially who we are as Americans and what that means. I did my best to try to articulate that tonight and we believe were in the midst of this right now, and so we get plenty of people that are very interested in what we have to say.”

Counter protests

Multiple students and student groups organized counter-protests and events prior to the Culture War event. 

Several members of the UNR Anti-Racist Coalition—made up of different student groups and clubs—stood with sandwich boards in protest of the university. The boards were dismantled after being told the A-frame boards were against university policy, according to a member of the coalition. This was not an official protest by the UNR Anti-Racist Coalition.

The boards read messages such as “UNR Protects Racists” and “F*** White Supremacy”.

Counter protester Unique Hardy said she is protesting Kirk’s presence on campus, stating that “he’s supporting a racist ideology at a school that clearly doesn’t f***ing want it.”

“All they do is sit here and talk about how they’re afraid of equality and all this stuff, but in reality, we know what it is, this is just another form of the fucking KKK. We’ve been through this shit before, time and time again, and we’re telling people we don’t want it on our campus but they keep bringing people that support the opposite of what we’re trying to bring to this campus,” Hardy said.

Former university student Louis Magriel said protesting the event was necessary to send a message to the administration.

“There are two messages that are really important here: The first is to UNR and Marc Johnson, being direct to him that we see this is a massive problem,” Magriel said. “This has been an ongoing problem. We are frankly f***ing sick and tired of him just failing to do anything that is actually actionable, failing to do anything beyond empty words and empty emails, because that’s all we’ve seen since Charlottesville, since the 2018 incident of a black man threatened to be shot by a cop on campus. Seems like it’s just repeated attempts to cover it up and do damage control and that’s not enough in 2019.”

Magriel feels students and the community must be vocal in order to dominate campus culture.

“We have to be vocally anti-racist, we have to be vocal against the conservative presence that tries to dominate campus culture and tries to basically eradicate all the social gains we have developed,” Magriel said. “Those people are pernicious, we call them Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Liberty, Young Americans for Freedom, American Identity Movement—no matter who they are, they are shitty and they are trying to demean marginalized communities in our area. So basically, that’s why we’re here, to tell them to fuck off and make sure Marc Johnson hears how pissed off we are at him.”

Along with protests outside the Joe, the Anti Racist Coalition sponsored a series of “Resist the Hate” events. During the “Culture War” event, the coalition sponsored “Resist Hate: Artivism, Teach-in and Celebration” event in the Wells Fargo Auditorium in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.

The event served as a way to celebrate the “power of diversity via spoken word, performance art, visual arts and music”. 

From noon to 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7, speakers and artists shared “information, stories and strategies for standing against hate on the steps of the MIKC.” 

Faculty, student, staff and members of the community created a letter addressed to President Marc Johnson discussing white nationalism, diversity issues and TPUSA on campus. 

“We are especially concerned by two patterns of action at UNR: the selective application of free speech and student conduct policy; and the lack of commitment to systemic transformation of the racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic atmosphere on campus,” the letter read.

The letter outlined specific examples of these “patterns of actions”. As of Monday evening, 400 people have signed the petition.

Turning Point USA and Charlie Kirk

Turning Point USA is a non-profit organization founded on June 5, 2012, by Charlie Kirk. The organization’s mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.” On their website, Turning Point said there are approximately 1,500 chapters.

“Since its founding, Turning Point USA has embarked on a mission to build the most organized, active and powerful conservative grassroots activist network on high school and college campuses across the country,” the organization’s website said.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Turning Point USA is considered an “alt-lite” organization. The ADL also describes alt-lite as a right-wing activist movement that rejects overtly white supremacist ideology of the alt-right but embraces misogyny and xenophobia.

In February 2019, Candace Owens, TPUSA’s communication director, defended Adolf Hitler and nationalism. Owen clarified her statement saying she was trying to separate the idea of “nationalist” with Hitler.

“If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well—okay, fine,” Owen said. “The problem is that he…had dreams outside of Germany [and] wanted to globalize.”

In May 2019, Riley Gisar, the president of TPUSA’s University of Nevada, Las Vegas chapter was found in a video making racist comments and shouting “white power”. TPUSA said they permanently removed him from the organization.

ASUN and university response

ASUN President Anthony Martinez said ASUN encourages free speech but does not support white supremacy.

“ASUN encourages dialogue and free speech,” Martinez said in a statement to the Nevada Sagebrush. “Those are easily the most robust aspects of our democracy. Yet, let us be clear: we condemn hateful actions and rhetoric that seeks to marginalize any member of our community. We do not support white supremacy. We challenge all students to stand guard against the hateful rhetoric and propaganda that would lead us to believe that our community is fractured. Never forget that our power is in standing together.”

Communications officer Natalie Fry provided a statement to the Nevada Sagebrush on behalf of the university.

“The University of Nevada, Reno supports creating space for opinions so that our campus community can consider ideas and make individual choices,” the statement read. “An event on Monday evening was held by a student organization that invited a speaker to our campus. We understand that for many members of our learning community, that event was troubling and unsettling. We remain committed to establishing an environment that nurtures respectful dialogue and promotes positive inclusiveness of everyone in our community.  It is important to note that there were alternative events held throughout the day on Monday as an effort by students, faculty and staff to bring the campus together. These alternative events provided an opportunity for positive expressions of inclusiveness.”

Below: Live tweets from Nevada Sagebrush’s Sarah Strang

Below: Live tweets from Nevada Sagebrush’s Taylor Johnson

The Nevada Sagebrush News Desk can be reached at oali@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.