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By Logan Blakeslee

Something was amiss on the cold night of November 9, 2022. In the prestigious Myron Taylor Hall at Cornell University, a large crowd gathered to hear a guest speaker who carries a certain degree of infamy in American media, Ann Coulter. An author, commentator, and conservative firebrand, Coulter was bound to attract some negative attention while visiting one of the most liberal colleges in New York, if not the United States. The event began at 5 P.M., but what transpired over the next few hours would be one of the most humiliating moments in Cornell’s history. 

The auditorium was full of a seemingly well-behaved audience, in stark contrast to the sizable number of protesters outside of the entrance to the law school, many of whom were carrying signs tarring Coulter with the usual labels: “racist,” “white supremacist,” and “fascist.” In the days leading up to the event, petitions shared among Cornell students demanded that the event be canceled on the grounds that her views were “non-inclusive.” Of course, the university administration chose not to cave to these demands, stating their belief that allowing Coulter to speak reflected the core values of the college, especially freedom of expression, diversity of opinion, and transference of knowledge. 

Yet these concepts were unacceptable to a troublesome few in the audience. After welcoming speeches were given by the dean and a representative from the Leadership Institute, Ann Coulter herself was met with circus music as she went to the podium, signifying doom for the event before it had formally begun. A protester cried out from the center of the audience, calling the guest speaker “a clown” multiple times until he was escorted out by security. The auditorium had over a dozen police officers and several hired guards working as security for the event.

Coulter took the jest in stride, reminding the audience that they should have been happy about the midterm election results, where Republicans severely underperformed nationwide. Surprising many in the audience, she implied that Donald Trump—of whom she was once an ardent supporter—was at fault for the outcome, and that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was a more effective future leader for the Republican Party. She then went into a bit of her own history, talking about how she has given countless speeches on other college campuses and faced protests before. Coulter mentioned that, since she was an alum of Cornell, she remembered when people could respectfully disagree with each other around politics, even between friends. She then remarked that this current generation had no such luxury. 

Although Coulter was set to speak for an hour or so, she was unable to talk continuously for more than five minutes due to constant interruptions from protesters. Such interruptions ranged from annoying to ridiculous: Not long after the clown music, one student rose up and declared “your words are violence!” before he was escorted out of the building. As he was being removed, he persisted in saying that Coulter’s views were not welcome at Cornell. Another shouted profanities at her before blowing a whistle and being escorted out. Yet another repeatedly shouted “No KKK, no fascist USA!” and a subsequent protester simulated flatulence with his hands whenever Coulter tried to speak. 

A slightly more cogent disruption came when a student, revealing himself to be the grandson of illegal immigrants, declared that his progenitors were “more American” than Ann Coulter. These list only a few of the many interruptions that got the event prematurely canceled. 

Finally, the Leadership Institute representative declared the event to be over in the interest of the event’s safety. Coulter herself was guided out of the building by the extensive detail of campus police and security guards. Every person in the auditorium was then asked to leave by the remaining police officers. Numerous threads about the debacle on campus soon sprouted on the Cornell University Reddit page. The most vocal students proudly announced their so-called “victory” over Ann Coulter and the groups that supported her, while a handful of commenters remarked on how the protesters took the wrong approach in silencing speech with which they disagreed. The latter were drowned out by the former, both in likes and in volume. 

What happened at Cornell University that night is but one instance of an increasing progressive intolerance towards conservatives and other dissidents at places of higher learning. A similar incident occurred here at Binghamton University over three years ago. Echoing the finale of the Coulter catastrophe, the prominent economist Art Laffer needed to be escorted off campus by police after a group of student-hecklers prevented him from giving a guest lecture on his economic theories. This was not for any specific views that Laffer held, nor any content that would appear in the lecture, but merely for his brief consultation work with the Trump Administration. 

For additional relevance to Binghamton, this University’s College Republicans were invited to Ann Coulter’s talk, which several members attended. Much like these visitors, it appeared that the overwhelming majority of attendees at Myron Taylor Hall were not protesters, but rather curious students who were ready to listen and challenge Coulter’s viewpoints respectfully, as evinced by the audience cheering each time a protester was removed. 

To all those who are reading this article, take the lesson to heart that free speech is the cornerstone of all other liberties we share in America. There would be no progress in the world if we were not capable of voicing dissent. Things said by Ann Coulter in the past are indeed problematic, but that is no excuse for students at an Ivy League school to behave like children. It robs the rest of us of the chance to hear from someone who is ideologically different, which severely limits our range of thinking in the realm of higher learning.  

Irony lies in the fact that many of Coulter’s stances are plainly wrong and unconvincing. In fact, her beliefs are so extreme that shutting her event down was more counterproductive than allowing her to express them plainly, for it gives her undue legitimacy. She believes in the disenfranchisement of women because “Women see the government as their husbands” and has never retracted this view. She once wished that terrorist Timothy McVeigh “went” to the New York Times headquarters instead of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which he bombed in 1995. In the wake of 9/11, she called for the full-scale invasion of the middle east, the execution of all leaders, and its conversion to Christianity. In her follow-up column, she called for intensified airport security, especially against “suspicious-looking swarthy males.” She supported and excused the use of torture during the Global War on Terror. She argued that immigration policies are designed to gradually reduce the white population in the United States. The list goes on. Ann Coulter proudly wears the “bigoted” label with which liberals have branded her. 

Though Coulter’s most extreme talking-points may be nigh-indefensible, what many fail to grasp is that an invitation to speak is not necessarily an endorsement of what is said. Cornell University is certainly not the place that would ever condone her words, yet the administration still chose to let her speak. They calculated that there was more to gain from a conservative pundit’s speech than there was to lose because really, there was nothing to lose. Ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT community were not going to have their rights stripped away from one unpopular speech. 

The students responsible for the embarrassment at Cornell will likely graduate and enter the workforce sooner rather than later. Beyond a liberal campus, they will be confronted with viewpoints that they will struggle to fathom. They will therefore lack the fundamental tools to understand their opposition, making it harder to empathize with conservatives or any right-leaning American. This carries the potential to be extremely harmful to democracy and freedom of speech itself. After all, believing that one’s political rivals are dangerous to society is the historical justification for totalitarianism.

Every year in America, there are new instances of students enforcing the heckler’s veto to drive away so-called “unwanted” ideas, and also instill fear in people who may harbor those ideas. Several anonymous individuals, following the Coulter event, said that they were afraid to identify themselves as conservatives in front of their peers, especially since open threats against their safety were not unheard of. Radical progressives explain away their actions as protecting the sensitivities of what they consider the “oppressed,” yet they tolerate the psychological harm they inflict on their own classmates. Universities nationwide ought to take this matter seriously before silencing dissent becomes a mainstream policy in business and in government. 

The question at hand is this: Are Ann Coulter’s views so detrimental that they can only be solved by authoritarianism? If so, where is the line drawn between acceptable and unacceptable views? And who draws that line? 

It is unlikely that the protesters at Cornell would be able to answer these questions in good faith. 

Thumbnail Credit: Terra Eclipse, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2 Replies to “Coulter Catastrophe at Cornell”

  1. I just found this article, a few years late :). This was a well balanced take on the event. It really brought to light the intolerance that exist on both sides of the political spectrum and how colleges (where all voices should be heard) have the ability to influence opinions today and in the future. Thanks Logan?

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