Among a crowd of Fresno State students frequently found near the library, a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap often peaks out from a distance.
Walk a little closer, and more is revealed and chatter begins to be heard. A flag picturing a smiling President Donald Trump is held on one hand and an iPhone set to livestream is held on the other hand.
Though the hat, flag, live-stream and a sign stating “stop liberal intolerance” may anger students, more ire is drawn to the man behind the display – Ben Bergquam.
He’s become almost like a fixture on campus whether students like it or not. He stands in the free speech zone often calling students out. Some stop, others don’t.
The Collegian sat down with Bergquam recently to learn about who he is, why he comes to campus and what his goal is in being at the university.
We first learned, he is a Fresno State alumnus of the department of kinesiology and Craig School of Business.
Thirty-four years ago, Bergquam was born in Dallas, Texas. His family later spent five years living in Africa; his parents were on a missionary assignment. His father was a Christian pastor and his mother was a nurse.
“My upbringing and my bias is Christian conservative – so, that’s my perspective,” Bergquam said.
The family moved to San Jose after their time in Africa. Then it was off to Fresno in the 90s. He’s lived in the foothills of Tollhouse ever since.
Nearby areas, like Fresno, are home to Bergquam, who has been a married man for 13 years. And he believes his two daughters can one day make it home too.
“The reason why I do what I do, beyond why I come to Fresno State is so they have a better country when they grow up,” he said. “If I didn’t have kids or a wife, I may not care as much.”
His work is in the fitness and the synthetic grass industry, although he did not reveal where he works.
“Some days I’m traveling around the state. Some days I’m on a jobsite,” he said.
When he is not working, Bergquam enjoys extreme sports like wakeboarding, snowboarding and hiking.
He had been captain of the Sierra High School football team. He wanted to play college football, but he had too many injuries. His life course changed after that.
Politics was his newfound passion. And his favorite former U.S. president is the late Ronald Reagan. And with his interest in politics came the firm views, like separation of church and state. He’s a strong advocate for freedom of religion.
The Fresno State alumnus graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the kinesiology program in 2007 and earned his master’s degree in business administration in 2010.
When he started at Fresno State, Bergquam said, he was unsettled by “the active negativity towards creationism” in his biology classes.
He wanted to explore all ideas. “Let’s talk about all issues,” he said, reminiscing his earlier years.
In his opinion, conservatism at Fresno State was being minimized in those years. Though, he had not been as politically active as he is now.
As former President George W. Bush was nearing the end of his second term, Bergquam was graduated with his first degree. Shortly after, he began graduate school. Former President Barack Obama had now taken office.
By all accounts, Bergquam was not a fan.
He said he founded “Patriots for America’s Independence” at Fresno State. The core principles were faith, family and freedom.
The group passed out “Nobama” bumper stickers along with leaflets containing information about the group’s values.
As he steps back into Fresno State, he noticed a different political attitude from students, he said. “It’s more angry. It’s more violent now.”
He added, “There’s definitely a decrease of the willingness to dialogue and increase of intolerance for other views.”
Bergquam helped found the Central Valley Tea Party in 2009 and became a board member. The conservative political party believes in fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free market, according to their website.
His eventual connection with politicians came as he became involved with the “agricultural community.” Bergquam spent time at the state capital as he led Assemblyman Jim Patterson’s 2010 state congressional campaign, in which Congressman Jeff Denham won.
“I didn’t have a voice then because I was his voice,” he said.
Three years ago, Bergquam left public politics and returned to a more private sector. He had found his voice once again, he said.
Engaging at Fresno State
The election of Trump into the White House likely propelled Bergquam toward a more politically-active lifestyle. “Really over the last year is when I really re-engaged,” he said.
He claims his live-streamed Fresno State visits have been successful.
Student support for him comes quietly, he said. “I’ve had several [students] come up to me and quietly say, ‘I support you, but I’m afraid to do what you’re doing.’”
However, “Every time I come, it tends to be a bit of a firestorm,” he said. “And it shouldn’t be – we should be able to dialogue.”
Among his goals, he declared to The Collegian, is to defeat “leftist” arguments and to organize Christian conservatives.
And he understands his views could be wrong.
“I could be totally wrong. My views could be absolutely wrong,” Bergquam admits. “But until I’m proved wrong, and I accept that, then I’m going to continue to voice my beliefs because I believe it’s important.”
His crusade is lead with intent to offer different political perspectives, he said.
“If you’re speaking just to speak, then you’re wasting your time,” Bergquam said. “My objective is to add value for my cause.”
His time at Fresno State has not come with immunity to criticism and negative reactions from students. However, as he told The Collegian, his fundamental values have not changed since stepping foot on campus.
“I haven’t had someone convince me that abortion is a good thing,” he said. “Or that my belief in God is a bad thing.”
And at times, being at the university is “where the battle is most relevant,” he said.
And not coming to the university campus is an option he said. Unclear however, is if he leans toward that option.
He told The Collegian he would “love” to not have to come to Fresno State and instead get back to spending time with his family.
Politics and conflict
Bergquam was hit twice in the head by protesters on a recent trip to a Bay Area protest at University of California, Berkeley, where conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to appear.
Aside from having the controversial “Make America Great Again” hat stolen, a scar on his head and ear are proof of the attacks he received as he tried to give his side of the political spectrum.
The protest turned violent. Fence boundaries were torn down, buildings were damaged and an estimated $100,000 in damages was caused, according to CNN reports.
But the danger is no match for the “adrenaline” feeling he gets in engaging in political discourse, often on heated and controversial topics. And he recently said he does not agree with white supremacist ideas, a very-known current political topic.
“I stand against white supremacists, the [Klu Klux Klan] and all these idiots, but they have the right to their nonsense speech,” Bergquam said. “They have the right to be idiots.”
But, he said, he is against the white hate groups as much as he is against “brown power” and “black power” groups.
“You see all of this division in this country based on race or political affiliation, and I got sick of it,” he said.
Many have accused Trump supporting white supremacists but Bergquam insists that simply being white is not a bad thing.
He disagrees with “this idea that anybody should be guilty for their history, for their past or their ancestors,” he said. “There are things we need to look at and say, ‘Man, those are good things we ended.’”
Bergquam said he was not a Trump supporter at the beginning of the campaign. He preferred Ben Carson or Ted Cruz. But when Trump was left as the Republican party’s only option against Hillary Clinton in 2016, it was a “no brainer” to whom his vote would go.
Now, he said of the president: “I love him. I love what he’s doing.”
And to defend the slogan “Make America Great Again,” exhibited on his hat during his encounter with students on campus, Bergquam rephrased a statement from Alexis de Tocqueville, a French diplomat, political scientist and historian.
He said, “The greatness of America is not that she’s perfect, but she has the ability to fix her faults.”