There have been mixed accounts of what happened at the University of Utah on the evening of September 27 at a protest outside conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s speech. It was reported by national outlets, including The Washington Post and New York Post, that two people were arrested following scuffles between protesters and Shapiro supporters. On the other hand, the official University of Utah Twitter account tweeted, “Tonight was a good example of how free speech should look on a university campus. Passionate people, nonviolently expressing their opinions.” The conservative YouTube-er Steven Crowder released a 10-minute video accusing “ANTIFA” activists of plotting to bring AK-47s to the protest.
So what happened at the Ben Shapiro protest? Clearly, it depends on who you ask. National reporters were looking for instances of violence, and they found it. University officials wanted the event to be documented as peaceful, so they reported it as being such. And a right-wing propagandist wanted to portray a violent leftist conspiracy, and he found that as well.
Passion could be witnessed on both sides, as protesters and Shapiro supporters fought for control over the steps of the Fine Arts auditorium. Chants of “Black lives matter” and “All lives matter” replaced each other as the groups attempted to out-scream one another.
I spoke with a group of Shapiro supporters who said they were there to counter protest. They said they support Shapiro’s right to speak offensively, which is what they say free speech is all about. “No matter how offensive or politically incorrect the message is, it still has a right to be spoken, regardless of whether or not you personally disagree with it. As long as it’s not inciting violence it has a right to be heard.” “And just because I’m for the right [to free speech] that does not make me a Nazi,” another added.
People There to Provoke
Not everyone at the protest believed everything they were shouting. During a chant for “education not deportation” one man shouted back, “Why not both? Education and deportation?” When I asked what he meant by this, he said he didn’t really feel that way and admitted he likes getting a rise out of people. However, he insisted that he is a true conservative at heart and would be there to support Shapiro regardless.
Instances of Violence
The protest was calm and nonviolent for the first three hours. However, as the sun went down, tensions peaked and a handful of fights broke out. One of them involved a 17-year-old African American girl and Beto Hatch (Hatch’s age is not known at this time). They are seen being involved in a dispute over race relations in America, and you can hear the male tell the girl to stop blaming white people for the problems faced by Black Americans. Although there is no audio recording of it, the girl claims the male then used the “n-word,” and video shows her slapping him with an open hand in response. At this point, the male throws two closed-fist punches in the girl’s direction, sending her to the ground. He yells, “she f***ing hit me first” before being dragged off by police.
At this point, a group of Shapiro supporters chased a protester through the library parking lot, towards the Rice-Eccles Stadium. They can be seen on video cornering the protester, and a man in a Trump shirt shoves him to the ground. In a comment apparently directed at the protester’s female friend, the man in the Trump shirt says, “Don’t get in my way or I’ll f***ing knock you out, b****.”
Racist and Homophobic Language
As the group of Shapiro supporters were walking off, one of them called the protester they were chasing a “f*ggot.” I confronted him and asked him to defend his hateful language. “Dude, I f***ing stand behind what I say,” he said. “I’ve got balls.” Despite this insistence, he wouldn’t tell me how he meant the word, and insinuated that he meant it as a “bundle of sticks.”
The most emotional part of the evening came when a University of Utah student called fellow student Sara Kang, who is Asian, an “egg roll.” “Did you just call me ‘egg roll’?” she asked him. “Yes,” Faddis responded. Before breaking down into tears, Kang said, “This racist just called me an ‘egg roll’. That’s racist. That’s hate speech.” The male student defended his racially-motivated comment by saying, “She’s been swearing at me all day.”
Kang spoke afterwards about how it felt to be targeted and made fun of on the basis of her race. “People are telling me my skin color doesn’t matter,” she said. “People are telling me my sexuality doesn’t matter. People are telling me that the country that I’m from doesn’t matter.” Kang said that the comment made her feel invalidated as a person, and that if she didn’t stand up for herself, nobody would.
Ben Shapiro got what he wanted last Wednesday. Despite protests and demands for the university to cancel the speech, Shapiro was allowed to speak. But this came at a heavy cost. People were hurt, physically and emotionally. The racist, homophobic and insensitive attitudes of certain members of the University of Utah community were put on full display. An estimated $25,000 was spent on police presence. However university officials choose to respond to last Wednesday’s chaos, they cannot say they didn’t see it coming.