Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago are planning to protest a Turning Point USA college event Thursday featuring far-right speakers Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens.
Kirk and Owens, both known for rhetoric often targeting various minority groups, are scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at UIC’s Dorin Forum as part of a TPUSA tour event that starts at 6 p.m.
“Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens’ past use of hate speech and discriminatory language against marginalized groups indicates that these figures are in search of furthering divisions and ‘triggering’ people rather than engaging in meaningful discussion,” said a member of UIC Against Hatred who asked to remain anonymous. “The main goal of our rally is to create a space for UIC students to feel free to express their concerns regarding the TPUSA event, the university’s failure to act, and the need for more solidarity and community among students.”
UIC Against Hatred is a collective of separate student groups that came together in February after learning about Kirk and Owens’ appearance. It’s hoping to replicate the success of 2016 when Donald Trump canceled a planned rally at UIC after droves of students began protesting, the spokesperson said.
Organizers said the counter-event will run from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at UIC’s East Campus Quad and Latino Cultural Center with at least 100 people expected to attend.
The group will pursue a nonengagement policy to keep students safe. The demonstration is to show that fascists are not welcome on campus, organizers with UIC Against Hatred said.
“It’s unacceptable that this extremely diverse university allowed such hateful people to come to campus,” said Asha Edwards, a Black 22-year-old senior at UIC who identifies as gender-fluid and uses she/they pronouns. “I’m really concerned because (Kirk and Owens) have very vicious antitrans rhetoric, which is dehumanizing. In a way, it’s calling for, in my opinion, their genocide because they don’t want trans people to exist, or they want to force kids to de-transition.”
Citing a 2021 incident when Kirk stood in front of a majority white audience in Minnesota — not far from where George Floyd was murdered — and called Floyd a “scumbag,” Edwards said she tries to be politically aware and keeps a wary eye on what’s being promoted by people like Owens and Kirk.
On its website, the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism highlighted several instances that point to “hate speech” from people associated with TPUSA, including co-founder Kirk, who “promotes numerous conspiracy theories about election fraud and COVID-19 and has demonized the transgender community,” as well as bigoted remarks about Muslims, Jews, immigrants and other minority groups.
On a March 6 episode of The Charlie Kirk Show, which is broadcast on Salem Radio Stations across the country, Kirk called transgender people “sick.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Kirk helped bring hundreds of Trump supporters to a rally in Washington that lead to the insurrection of the capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Owens, former communications director of TPUSA, denied white supremacy is harmful in a testimony in front of a U.S. House Oversight Joint Subcommittee hearing in 2019.
“Based on the hierarchy of what’s impacting minority Americans, if I had to make a list of 100 things, white nationalism would not make the list. White supremacy and white nationalism is not a problem that is harming Black America,” Owens said.
“What does UIC stand for if they allow these despicable people on campus?” Edwards said.
Brian Flood, associate director of Public Affairs at UIC, said in an email that the TPUSA event is not university sponsored.
“The university frequently rents available space on campus to individuals or organizations when requested, as was the case for this specific event,” Flood said. “A UIC rental agreement does not constitute endorsement, sponsorship or support for any particular speaker or organization on campus.”
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TPUSA did not respond to a request for comment.
Edwards and students from UIC Against Hatred think a line could have been drawn.
“We could have easily not accepted money from a white supremacist organization,” Edwards said. “It wouldn’t have been a huge loss for them to say, ‘No, we don’t platform hateful, racist people.’”
UIC Against Hatred noted that UIC is classified as a Minority Serving Institution.
“UIC’s mission statement explains that its goals are to be inclusive and diverse, creating a space where historically marginalized communities can have ample opportunity to succeed,” the group said. “We believe that in order to achieve this mission, UIC must take a stand against figures whose rhetoric directly harms the communities UIC intends to serve. UIC has decided to place their interest in profit from renting out the space for this event above the best interest of the students at UIC.”
Although UIC has a TPUSA chapter that recently became more active, judging from the organization’s social media presence, “they’re not really that popular,” Edwards said.
“They aren’t that major on campus and don’t have much influence compared to the progressive groups at school … which is a good thing,” Edwards said.