February’s speech at Cal State LA by conservative journalist Ben Shapiro devolved into chaos — with anti-Shapiro protesters blocking entrances to the event, shouting him down, even pulling the fire alarm. Things got so tense by the end of the event that Shapiro had to be escorted out by a police cordon.
But in an open letter to students the day after the tumultuous event, Cal State LA’s president implied much of the blame for the disruption belonged to the conservative group that sponsored the speech.
This version of events is not backed up by more than 1,000 pages of records, reviewed exclusively by Heat Street. They suggest that far greater security concerns centered on the leftist students and faculty who wanted Shapiro’s event shut down.
The title alone of Shapiro’s speech, “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” roused the ire of social justice warriors determined to stop him from speaking. On the night of the event, students had to struggle through about 150 protestors to attend the event. A Breitbart reporter taped a protestor hitting her phone and threatening to “beat the piss out of you.”
Students were smuggled in four at a time through the back door; leftists blocked all the entrances. Police were told not to move them.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 25, 2016
The speech itself was incredibly raucous. Once it was over, police reportedly told attendees not to leave the auditorium because of the high risk of violence.
We had to be escorted by a full police cordon as well as a motorcade thanks to safety concerns.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 25, 2016
It’s this lack of security and threats of violence that are now central to a free-speech lawsuit brought by Young Americans for Freedom, the campus group that sponsored Shapiro’s speech. (Because of this ongoing litigation, Cal State LA declined our request for an interview.)
Weeks prior to the event, university administrators were worried about Shapiro. Initially, President Covino cited the threat of violence as a reason to “reschedule,” postponing the event until some liberal co-panelists could be assembled to offset Shapiro.
(The event would go forward as scheduled, at Shapiro’s insistence)
On Feb. 5, the University’s director of the Department of Public Safety sent a memo requesting additional law-enforcement on campus to help with crowd control and address any incidents that may arise.
“While there are no specific threats to the campus or our students or faculty at this time, there have been postings with overtones of violence from supporters and detractors of the event,” he wrote.
By Feb. 16, when the University sought additional insurance for the Shapiro event, a representative from Alliant wrote, “Unfortunately, due to the nature of the lecture I would need to pass on this one.” The University’s director of risk management wrote that he had been “unable to obtain additional insurance beyond what [Shapiro] brings with him and our own [general liability] program.”
By March, records show several progressive students emailed administrators before Shapiro’s speech, complaining they felt threatened.
One student compared the coming event to a KKK meeting, while another asked, “If there were an incident where a person of Jewish decent [sic] feared for their life because Neo-Nazi’s came to campus, would this get treated in the same manner?”
According to the records reviewed by Heat Street, there were also threats of actual violence from people who opposed Shapiro speaking.
A Facebook user posting under the name Zamaria Xomez visited the event page advertising Shapiro’s speech, which was sponsored by Cal State’s Young Americans for Freedom, a campus group affiliated with Young Americas Foundation. “All I’m going to say you chose the wrong campus,” Xomez wrote. “Get ready. We don’t play.”
A Cal State LA sociology professor named Robert Weide also commented. As several news outlets reported at the time, he offered to fight the conservative students, whom he dubbed “tough guy provocateurs.”
“We have an open mat on campus in the gym in the USU building at 1 p.m. Friday and Noon on Saturday if you want to show us your white supremacy,” Weide wrote. “Heads up though, I lift bro…” A little later, Weide also posted that this was “your opportunity of a lifetime” to “choke one of your anti-fascist professors.”
Emails received by administrators offer more accounts of Weide’s threatening behavior. (Names and identifying information were redacted, and it’s unclear whether those who wrote in had witnessed Weide’s behavior firsthand or whether word had traveled.)
“Faculty member ROBERT WEIDE has been exhibiting bizarre behavior by tearing down posters advertising a guest speaker’s appearance on campus,” someone wrote to several staffers in the office of the university’s president on Feb. 21, just days before the speech.
The email continues: “WEIDE has escalated his bullying and badgering by confronting students and threatening them… WEIDE has resorted to name calling describing members of the Young American for Freedom (YAF) as White Supremacists and Nazi’s. He has publicly challenged students associated with the YAF to a physical fight. He has publicly threatened others with physical violence.”
Despite publicly challenging Shapiro’s supporters to a fight, Weide later complained to administration of “stalking, harassment, threats and intimidation directed against me,” email correspondence shows.
Weide claimed that a YAF supporter was “milling about in the hallway outside my office for about 15 minutes and then came in with his cell phone out to try to record me and wanted to talk to me about the Ben Shapiro event.”
He also wrote that “two members of the group who are not students” had been “wallpapering my office bulleting [sic] board” with posters promoting the event, “which was clearly intended to threaten and intimidate me.”
Weide concludes: “Frankly at this point I am being stalked and harassed,” adding that “I have received multiple death threats, physical threats, harassing phone calls and emails from supporters and/or members of this group around the country.”
Weide did not respond to Heat Street’s multiple requests seeking an example of a death threat received.
His Facebook page is still active, and Weide’s current profile picture is a skull and crossbones with a slogan from Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno: “DEATH to everyone who is in the way of freedom to working people.” An earlier profile picture depicts the Monopoly Man’s head on a platter, under the slogan of “feed the poor, eat the rich.”
On the night of Shapiro’s speech, itself, there are reports of aggression from both sides.
One student, who participated in the protests against Shapiro, wrote, “Many YAF members became aggressive and began pushing protestors.” The student, whose name was redacted, also said a police officer had “specifically scolded at me stating ‘If you don’t get the fuck out of here, I will beat your fucking face in.’”
Another student wrote to President Covino on the night of the event, saying that while some “respectfully engaged in conversations,” there was also “a line of students blocking every entrance to the auditorium and not allowing people to enter.”
“I personally got involved to ensure the safety of those visiting the campus to make sure no physical violence happened from students at the rally,” the student wrote, adding that the police didn’t do enough when “people from Shapiro’s group and the student group got into physical altercations.”
Another student, who claims to disagree with the conservative group and Shapiro, nonetheless wrote an email voicing concerns about “a student group being bullied by a violent mob on campus.”
The student specifically states that Young Americans for Freedom didn’t make the situation unsafe; “it was the violent vitriolic mob who showed up to oppose their right to peaceably assemble.” The student describes being “intimidated by this mob and by faculty members,” adding, “I feel as though if I say the wrong thing by accident, even in agreement, I will become the victim of violence…”
The correspondence reviewed by Heat Street did show one potential threat received from a Shapiro supporter to Covino—but only after the speech had already occurred.
Administrators received one phone call from an upset Shapiro supporter warning that “the veterans are coming to protest” and that “they know where President Covino lives and that he should be very careful because the Constitution is nothing to [mess] with.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.