At UNC, student protesters crash Tom Tancredo's party

| April 15, 2009
A UNC student protester crouches after being exposed to pepper spray. Campus police used pepper spray to clear Bingham Hall after protesters disrupted Tom Tancredo's scheduled speech.
- Photo by Sam Wardle
A UNC student protester crouches after being exposed to pepper spray. Campus police used pepper spray to clear Bingham Hall after protesters disrupted Tom Tancredo's scheduled speech.

The scheduled talk by former Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Tuesday night was cut very short by raucous, angry student protesters.

Tancredo entered a large classroom in Bingham Hall shortly after 6:30 p.m. to jeers, boos and profanity from a largely hostile crowd. More than 100 students packed the lecture hall, many of them holding banners and signs in protest of Tancredo's anti-illegal immigration stance, and hundreds more waited outside, shaking the building with chants and stomping feet.

Tom Tancredo, who ran for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination on an anti-immigration platform, was invited to speak at UNC by Youth for Western Civilization, a student group that opposes diversity and multiculturalism. - PHOTO BY SAM WARDLE
  • Photo by Sam Wardle
  • Tom Tancredo, who ran for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination on an anti-immigration platform, was invited to speak at UNC by Youth for Western Civilization, a student group that opposes diversity and multiculturalism.

After a few attempts to calm the crowd, Tancredo leaned against the podium at the front of the class, crossed his arms and waited.

"They're fascists," he said. "These kids have been radicalized. That's what our institutions have created."

Seconds later, there was a loud scuffle in the hallway as campus police attempted to clear the building of protesters, using pepper spray and waving Tasers. Two students crouched on the ground outside the door, crying.

Inside, a student from the Carolina Hispanic Association admonished the crowd to be quiet. "We'd like to hear what he has to say," she said.

The night's only moment of calm followed. Tancredo offered to listen to students' protests, if they would listen to him, and then began to discuss his views on higher education and illegal immigrants. Tancredo said he had been invited to speak in opposition to the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, proposed federal legislation that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship through college education or military service.

A student group Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) invited Tancredo to speak at UNC-CH. Riley Matheson, the senior who started the Chapel Hill chapter of YWC, attempted to introduce Tancredo, but was largely drowned out by the crowd.

"You believe in white people's superiority, you fuck!" one student shouted, to cheers.

Tancredo ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 on an admittedly single-issue platform: Stopping illegal immigration. While in Congress, Tancredo—the grandson of Italian immigrants—introduced the Mass Immigration Reduction Act, which would have placed a moratorium on all immigration, legal or otherwise, into the U.S., except for family members of current citizens.

For days before Tancredo's appearance, flyers dotted elevator walls and utility poles around campus, calling the YWC—and its invited guest—racist, a charge both Matheson and Tancredo emphatically denied. A host of left-leaning groups banded together to protest the event, starting with a dance party in the Pit and a banner-making session.

The protest worked in disrupting his speech. Seconds after Tancredo started discussing his opposition to the DREAM Act, a classroom window shattered, broken by a rock-throwing protester outside.

"That's it," he said, walking briskly into the hallway with Matheson, through the the acrid scent of pepper spray that still hung in the air, and out Bingham Hall's back door. A student, carrying a cardboard sign that read "NO HATE SPEECH AT UNC," bolted after Tancredo and Matheson, screaming profanity and insults.

The protesters stayed long after Tancredo's departure, giving speeches through a bullhorn, chanting and berating campus police for using force on them. One student complained, to cacophonous cheers, that safety officers were protecting "racists," while those that really needed protection—the students—were being zapped and sprayed.

UNC-CH junior Rupert Campbell, one of the protest's organizers, walked through the crowd, handing out anti-YWC flyers.

"Free speech is laudable to the extent that hate speech isn't part of it," he said. Campbell, who compared YWC to the Hitler Youth movement in pre-World War II Germany, said the protest wasn't necessarily organized to drown Tancredo out. "We just wanted to make our voices heard. We wanted to raise awareness of equality."

Tyler Oakley, a UNC-CH graduate student in Romance languages, also helped organize the protest.

"Youth for Western Civilization attacks multiculturalism itself, which, to our minds, is an attack on liberty," he said.

Others were not so enthusiastic about the protesters' methods. Alicia Soto, a member of the Carolina Hispanic Association, said she opposed Tancredo's nativist policies, but wanted the chance to debate him.

"We wanted to hear him out," she said. "Unfortunately, some other groups here… have protested to the point where we couldn't. He at least had the right to speak, to say what he had to say."

During Tancredo's brief talk, UNC-CH senior Pier Duncan tried, without success, to quiet the crowd. After Tancredo left, she expressed her frustration.

"I think the protest was counterproductive to supposedly promoting a democratic society, and I think it makes Carolina look bad as a liberal university," she said. "I actually agree with the protesters, but I don't agree with the way they went about it."

In a prepared statement, UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp said he was "disappointed" that Tancredo did not have the opportunity to speak. Thorp also defended the use of pepper spray by campus police, saying they "appropriately handled a difficult situation."


Comments (20)

Showing 1-20 of 20



(Re the article: I hope you at least got past the first paragraph. But it is rather lengthy, and reading can be so tedious.)

(Re academia: As I mentioned earlier, I think, given the irretrievable state of things, the problem is going to self-correct.)

Posted by aandrews on 04/22/2009 at 12:39 PM

Aandrews, I'm not going to debate you, if you actually think Islam is "an ideology conflated with religion." And that "article" you sent? I'm not sure it could possibly be more hateful, racist, and stupid:

Of all the law-enabled crimes that the ruling elites of the West have perpetrated on their subject populations in the last 40 years, none has been as grave as the demented stuffing of 55 million imported Muslims into Western Europe, another 5 million into the white Anglosphere countries, plus unknown millions of illegals in both. This has shattered the common cultural, moral and religious social capital of the Euro peoples, dissolves bonds of community and civil society, and led to strife, violence, terrorism and anti-West genocidal plots by Muslims all of which, we shall argue, could have been avoided had the West remained the West and the East remained where it properly belongs, in the Crescent Moon East.

It's easy to thumb your nose at academia, when you consider hate speech like this to be a worthy substitute for intelligent discourse. I wonder how Tancredo--and all the other anti-immigration activists--feel about having someone like you as a supporter.

Posted by Matt Saldana, Indy Staff Writer on 04/22/2009 at 10:41 AM

A reading assignment:

Posted by aandrews on 04/22/2009 at 12:20 AM

Actually, the analogy was the carrying out a military reprisal on both the symbolic and physical ideological capitol of an enemy movement. I know that Islam isn't a country; it's an ideology conflated with religion. After World War II, "fighting Communism" became the paramount thing. Communism wasn't a country, though, was it?

Who are we fighting? Turr-ists, as Jorge Busheron would say?

That Tancredo repeated his statement years later would simply mean that upon reflection he chose to stand firm on his initial assessment. Impugning the off-the-cuff-ness of his remark is a red herring. Maybe it was initially and maybe not. I'd heard it was. But who cares. He wound up reaffirming it years later, so it doesn't much matter.

I am curious, though. Perhaps you can answer.

What should be the response of the United States government if that happened?

Several U.S. cities are nuked and it's determined that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims.

That was the question posed. What's your answer?

Posted by aandrews on 04/22/2009 at 12:00 AM

Hypothetical, off-the-cuff, and repeated two years later, during a campaign stop in Iowa: (click through for audio).

Thank you for the historical analogy, aandrews, but Islam is not a country. Calling an entire world religion the "enemy" is equally misguided. Like Tancredo's plan, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of who, exactly, we're fighting.

Posted by Matt Saldana, Indy Staff Writer on 04/21/2009 at 12:35 PM

"...asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons."

I remember that little brouhaha. What should be the response if that happened?

Several U.S. cities. Nuked. "[A]nd we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims...."

(This will be telling.)

A comparable historical situation would be the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan (7 December, 1941). Tokyo was bombed as quickly as the technology of the times would allow (18 April 1942). Wikipedia: "Doolittle would later recount in his autobiography that the raid was intended to cause the Japanese to doubt their leadership and to raise American morale."

Nowadays that is no doubt viewed by the typical university-indoctrinated droid--equipped with all the logic and rhetoric skills necessary to question authority--as mean and narrow-minded.

I think Tancredo's response, which was off-the-cuff and hypothetical, was appropriate. Destroying Mecca would be destroying the enemy's capitol. Duh! (The civilized gesture of dropping leaflets prior would be optional.)

Posted by aandrews on 04/20/2009 at 10:53 PM


Rep. Tom Tancredo (search) made his remarks Friday on WFLA-AM in Orlando, Fla. His spokesman stressed he was only speaking hypothetically.

Talk show host Pat Campbell (search) asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded.

Posted by rediculous on 04/20/2009 at 7:26 PM

While I do think that it is unfortunate that the protest got out of control, I do feel that blaming academia and liberalism is a mistake. What has made our nation great is our emphasis on the education of our population, and that includes giving students the logic and rhetoric skills necessary to question authority. Not only that, but many social programs that have helped our society have been implemented by liberals (child labor laws during the Victorian era spring immediately to mind, not because it's the most recent, but because it's in a book I have been reading :)) Perhaps there is a lack of sense of restraint, something that could just as easily be reinforced by socialization on the internet, a fairly anonymous forum where "flame wars" are frequent. This isn't the place the blame anywhere but squarely on the decisions of the people present, but to say that blaming an institution or an education or an ideology )that these students apparently in this instant took to an extreme) is wrong, and just as narrow-minded as people on either side are viewing both the protestors and Tancredo.

Posted by nerdgirl314 on 04/20/2009 at 1:30 PM

Does anyone still remember "bleeding-heart liberals?" Where did they all go??

The "bleeding-hearts" are conservatives, now. Mostly they are the "religious right," a/k/a conservative Christians. These days, liberals stand out mostly by their sheer viciousness.

The UNC liberals were shouting obscenities and chanting, "Shut him down! No racists in our town!" I'm not sure which is more repugnant: the protesters' assault on free speech, or their formulaic dishonest tarring of conservatives with the "racist" smear.

These are twist-the-knife, go-for-the-jugular, silence-your-opponents-by-any-means liberals. Today's liberalism is the ideology of baby killing, character assassination, and class hatred.

To see its logical conclusion, read Against All Hope, by Armando Valladares.

Posted by ncdave4life on 04/18/2009 at 12:01 AM

I am a sad Tarheel today. This is the kind of behavior that makes people turn Republican. I'm sure the protesters and brick throwers would describe themselves as "Progressives", but they're exactly the same as people who think we all have to take the Bible literally every day. Free speech is just that, whether you agree with it or not. Maybe they're not making students read 1984 and Animal Farm anymore. Or any history.

Posted by lland on 04/17/2009 at 2:35 PM

"The irony of this situation...." Yes, as in "[a] student, carrying a cardboard sign that read "NO HATE SPEECH AT UNC," bolted after Tancredo and Matheson, screaming profanity and insults." LOL Too rich! The origin of garbage like this is academia, and it'll be effectively ended when semester course costs at even the lowliest state university is $1000+ per credit-hour. Then Daddy and Mommy will have to tell little Ashley and Cody that upon graduation from high school they'll have to either enter a technical school or find a job (or join the Navy!). As a commenter at Lawrence Auster's "View From the Right" said, I'm cautiously optimistic about a complete and total economic meltdown.

Posted by aandrews on 04/16/2009 at 4:48 PM

The irony of this situation is just incredible. So called defenders of others rights using hate speech to stop public debate - on the campus of the University of North Carolina's flagship school no less. You just can't make this kind of thing up.

Posted by howler on 04/16/2009 at 2:13 PM

Here is a statement from UNC SDS on the protest:

Posted by harilaos on 04/16/2009 at 1:16 PM

Nice of the little idiots at UNC to use my tax dollars to fund their education and expect me to pay for the education of illegals as well. That is exactly the kind of idiotic and elitist attitude that led me to get my degree elsewhere. Thank you morons for the affirmation that I did the right thing. When you start paying taxes and open your eyes to the waste your beloved BO is spearheading you will all refocus the hate you showed Tancredo (hate that you claim to despise) to where it should be. At the Federal government that the smart people were protesting yesterday. Grow up already.

Posted by Bassdeluxe on 04/16/2009 at 11:20 AM

All I can say is that William Gheen is skilled at using rhetoric to turn what was really a group of concerned students protesting to stop the spread of hate on their campus into a group of tyrants and radicals obstructing the right to free speech. In no way is the brick through the window during Tom Tancredos speech analogous to the hate, intolerance, and savagery responsible for bricks through the windows of black churches and Jewish storefronts. Tom Tancredo is being opposed not because of his skin color or religious belief, but because his ideas and political views are founded on hate and intolerance for others. If you look back at history, it always begins with the spread of the idea, and once thats sufficiently ingrained, people will then begin to act. Imagine if there were protesters at all of Hitlers speeches and meetings. Nazi propaganda would not have spread as easily and as quickly as it did. I believe in free speech, but I dont believe in the spread of hate.

Posted by swungfromthegutters on 04/15/2009 at 3:19 PM

welldone to all my brave guys out there you did the right thing for not giving this Tom Tancreture animal speech we're 100% behind you guy stay safe.

Posted by freedom on 04/15/2009 at 2:16 PM

It's easy to call the protesters fascists, because their conflict with the police is overt. Tancredo can sit calmly in his suit while police aggress folks with legitimate concerns. But what about the violence that Tancredo supports and condones with his rhetoric? Where do we draw the line between the right to speak and speech that sustains human suffering? We all know that ICE has been cited for human rights violations, and that Tancredo is the most virulent source of hateful, racist, white supremacist views in the public eye today. So although he looks rational, his support of white supremacy has real human costs. Perhaps human life should be put over yet another rich white man's right to monologue.

Posted by -/w on 04/15/2009 at 1:07 PM

This is truly pathetic. Tom Tancredo was the only 2008 GOP nominee to attend the NAACP debates, yet he is "racist" for expressing concern about illigal immigration? These spolied protestors need to do some research on how Mexico deals with illigal immigration before they start playing the desperate race card. They also need to brush up on the right to assembly and freedom of speech that we have here in the United States. Acting like a bunch of brownshirts (and it is, indeed, they who are adopting SA tactics, not Mr. Tancredo) does nothing to help their cause.

Posted by JRL on 04/15/2009 at 11:17 AM

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp said he was "disappointed" that Tancredo did not have the opportunity to speak. How about a public apology from Thorpe. This is a prime example of how liberalism is a slow road to despotism, to quote Mark Levin. What a pathetic display by these leftist protestors.

Posted by Whoisthat? on 04/15/2009 at 10:01 AM

It is sad that UNC teaches students that free speech only applies to liberals.

Posted by rlk on 04/15/2009 at 9:34 AM
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