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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Students react to violence outside of Turning Point USA event

The conservative student group canceled its event on Oct. 25 after violence broke out between protesters and counter-protesters 

By SYDNEY AMESTOY — campus@theaggie.org

 

On the evening of Oct. 25, an event at the UC Davis Conference Center organized by Turning Point USA (TPUSA) at UC Davis was canceled before speaker Stephen Davis began his talk after the protest outside turned violent.

TPUSA, a Registered Student Organization (RSO) on campus, is a conservative student group with a mission to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government,” according to their website

Stephen Davis is a conservative activist and a regular contributor to TPUSA, writing columns for their website, speaking at events and hosting a podcast. He often goes by the name “MAGA Hulk,” and was planning to speak at the Oct. 25 event at UC Davis about why he, as an African American man, believes that “systemic racism isn’t real.”

In the days leading up to the talk, UC Davis Cops Off Campus, an unregistered advocacy group, replaced advertisements for the event with posters calling for a protest against the speaker and TPUSA. The organization planned to hold the protest outside of the Conference Center while the event took place.  

“[TPUSA members] claim to be in favor of freedom and limited government,” the posters read. “But this is a front for their notoriously racist, homophobic, transphobic, and anti-immigrant activities.” 

At 6 p.m. on Oct. 25, around 100 people gathered outside of the conference center.One protester, who wished to remain anonymous for their safety, shared why they felt the protest was important. 

“When you have someone who is espousing ideas that we’ve seen […] hurt our democracy, it’s important that we continue to protest and fight for the values that make this country a country that is welcoming to people,” the protester said.

Another protester, who also requested anonymity, cited recent antisemitic incidents on campus as a motivating factor for protesting this event.

“Every single time that there’s a racist or antisemitic event [the administration says] we don’t stand for that on campus, but then they allow racist speakers to come in,” the protester said. 

A metal barricade was set up around the Conference Center to separate protestors from the event. The protesters picked up the barricade and began to hit it against the glass of the building, according to UC Davis Police Chief Joseph Farrow and eyewitnesses. 

About an hour into the event, a group of counter-protesters who are believed to be affiliated with the Proud Boys based on their attire, arrived. The Proud Boys are an exclusively male far-right extremist group that has a history of instigating and engaging with political violence; some members are also involved in white supremacist groups.

Members of the crowd used pepper spray, including those identifiable as Proud Boys, although it is currently unclear who initiated its use. According to eyewitness reports there were also physical altercations, although Farrow said that only one such report has been officially made to the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD) as of Oct. 28.

“We have the one report of a young lady [who was sprayed with pepper spray],” Farrow said. “We’ve heard of other reports of people being shoved. But nobody [else has] come forward.” 

Security officers associated with UCDPD assisted the contracted private security force outside of the event in setting up a perimeter around the building, according to Farrow, but they made no arrests. The official report of a student being pepper sprayed is under active investigation.

After the TPUSA event was canceled, attendees were evacuated through a back exit. The clash outside dissipated as protesters and counter-protesters left the scene. 

“[Guests attending the event] didn’t want to be subjected to the protests that were going on outside,” Farrow said. “Our officers escorted them out a backdoor into the parking lot, and then sent them on the way. That was the only time they were deployed, but that was really just to get the participants out of the building.” 

According to an updated version of UC Davis’ official statement on the cancellation of the event, the UCPD’s decision to not engage in the protest when it became violent was made collaboratively with Student Affairs. 

“[UCPD worked] to monitor the protest in real time and make decisions quickly,” the statement reads. “They were on stand-by when fighting broke out, but the situation de-escalated on its own, eliminating the need for the police to engage. No serious injuries were reported.”

The Student Community Center (SCC) closed early because of the event, as well as other spaces on campus. Around 8 p.m., according to third-year clinical nutrition major and employee at the SCC Diana Li, a sign was posted on the front entrance that read: “This facility is locked down/closed due to an emergency situation.”

The university’s official statement denounces the violence on campus and states that it was “unfortunate that the event could not proceed as planned.”

As a public institution, UC Davis values and supports freedom of expression as rights guaranteed to every citizen,” the statement reads. 

The statement reiterates the university’s obligation to uphold the first amendment by allowing TPUSA to invite speakers on campus, as well as by protecting the rights of those who wish to protest against such events. The UC Davis Principles of Community were linked in the response, as well as resources available to students who were affected by the event.

Before the protest began, ASUCD President Radhika Gawde posted a statement on the @ucdpresident Instagram account calling on students to consider not attending the event and instead join in protesting the speaker. 

Gawde, along with ASUCD Vice President JT Eden and members of ASUCD student government, also released an official statement on Oct. 26 that expressed their solidarity with those who protested the speaker and called out the group of counter-protesters.

“We are horrified by the actions of the counter-protestors and condemn their hateful decision to resort to violence,” the statement reads. “Domestic terrorist groups, including the Proud Boys, have no place on our campus. Pepper spraying and engaging in assault and battery against students and security guards are not acceptable methods to voice your discontent with a protesting group.” 

The response went on to encourage students to “exercise their right to protest” and reminded students of the importance of protesting safely.

“We want to be unequivocally clear that the destruction of campus property and the surrounding environment is an inappropriate means of protesting,” the statement reads. “We ask that students protest in a manner that is safe and that avoids destruction without symbolic purpose. As always, please look after each other and ensure that we are keeping one another safe.”

Gawde was in attendance at the protest when she saw the conflict begin to escalate and said that she then “contacted the appropriate members of campus administration.”

“[I contacted them] just to make sure that things would be safe,” Gawde said. “Obviously, that didn’t work out.” 

Gawde and Eden have had meetings with administrators, including UC Davis Chancellor Gary May and have planned to further discuss the university’s response to the event. According to Gawde, one of their main concerns is a lack of direct condemnation by the university of the counter-protesters.

“Campus tends to be very worried about legal ramifications,” Gawde said. “We recognize First Amendment jurisprudence […], so we’re not expecting […] condemnation. However, we’re just asking them to say, maybe pepper spraying people is not a good thing.” 

Eden expressed similar thoughts and expressed a desire for the university to distinguish more clearly between the actions of the original protesters and the counter-protesters.

“There was some idea, I think, that both sides were brawling or something like that,” Eden said. “That’s just not an accurate reflection. I think it was definitely peaceful and then [there was] violence [from] that group of actors who were not there with good intentions.” 

 

Written by: Sydney Amestoy — campus@theaggie.org