On Friday, students, faculty and staff flooded McLane Hall right before the Fresno State College Republicans club started its “Future of America” event.
On one side, event speakers John Doyle, Carson Wolf and Kai Schwemmer stood in front of a wave of protesters. Behind them, their supporters wore “America First” caps and waved American flags.
On the other side, groups of counterprotesters chanted, “No hate at Fresno State,” holding signs that said “Equality” and “No Fascists.” Many carried rainbow-colored flags for the LGBTQ+ community.
Backlash within the university broke out after the College Republicans club announced the speakers for its event. Doyle, Wolf, Schwemmer and surprise speaker Tyler Russel have all been accused of having ties to white nationalists.
“We are not white nationalists. We’re interested in conservative values… This is just a speaking event. The college campus is the place to discuss ideas,” the club said in a statement.
Fresno State also released a statement denying any endorsement of “the views expressed by the speakers,” while also emphasizing the university policy of freedom of expression.
“Fresno State remains committed to free expression, which is essential to its educational mission,” said Lisa Bell, public information officer for University Communications.
“The students in the Fresno State College Republicans club followed the process of reserving the room through the Reservation Center.”
Many counterprotesters disagreed that events like these should be held on campus.
Nick McKenna, a Fresno State student and president of the History Graduate Student Association (HGSA), was one of the counterprotesters during the event.
He said the speakers at the event endorse “fascist” ideologies in their social media, including anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and connecting Christianity to the government.
“They’re coming here to say we don’t accept others. That’s not what any university is about. We’re here for open ideas and not excluding others. We’re here to accept people as they are,” McKenna said.
McKenna acknowledged that freedom of speech is important and that conservative values are OK to express, but said it shouldn’t be allowed in Fresno State when that kind of speech discriminates against certain groups.
“We got involved because we oppose the hateful rhetoric that these people are associated with. We believe in equality and civil liberties for all people,” Angel Rojas, Fresno State student and vice president of HGSA, said.
He said events like these shouldn’t be held on campus because they go against the university’s policy of inclusivity and accepting others.
“You’re not being so-called ‘America First.’ You’re not being pro-human. You’re being anti-human because you’re excluding people who are different,” Rojas said.
He said the same First Amendment right that allows the speakers to talk at “Future of America” also allows them to protest. He also accused one of the speakers of denying systematic racism, so it was more of a reason for him to protest.
“Racism is still alive in this country… to deny that is denying the historical oppression not only to Black people, but Mexicans, LGBTQ+, women and also working-class white people,” Rojas said.
During the protest, James Watson, Fresno State Chief of Police, reminded protestors and event organizers to clear the way for students, faculty and staff attempting to walk through the building.
Justin James, a student majoring in political science, attended the event to learn different political ideologies and be exposed to another point of view.
James had heard of the speakers previously, but this was the first time he had seen them in person. This wasn’t the first political event James had attended, as he took part in previous trucker rallies for Donald Trump.
“I would say, come to events like this and just look at different points of view and stuff. I would encourage people to come to events like this. Rather, whether you are left, right or center, at the very least listen. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them all. It is just respectful listening,” James said.