Another far-right speaker is coming to UC Davis. How should the community respond? | Opinion

Charlie Kirk Facebook page

Less than six months after a violent brawl broke out at UC Davis over a speaking event organized by the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, its founder, Charlie Kirk — a vocal transphobe and Donald Trump fanatic — will visit campus on Tuesday.

Kirk’s planned visit is upsetting and unwelcome, especially in light of nationwide attacks on the transgender community and on broader LGBTQ+ rights. It’s also worrisome considering an abysmal history of public events that have gone terribly wrong on the UC Davis campus. Most people still remember campus cops pepper spraying students in 2011 in an incident that generated global news.

But there have been more recent incidents as well. Last October, students and community members protesting a TPUSA event for podcast host Stephen “MAGA Hulk” Davis clashed with counterprotesters, including members of the Proud Boys, a white supremacist hate group. TPUSA and UC Davis leaders agreed to cancel the event due to safety concerns. Kirk subsequently took to Twitter to blame the violence on “Antifa agitators.”


Just this past week, Davis was seen posing with members of the same Proud Boys group that assaulted students.

“TPUSA propagates the belief that universities are ‘a scam’ devoted to indoctrinating students,” wrote UC Davis English Professor Joshua Clover, who has been targeted by TPUSA, in a recent op-ed for the university’s newspaper. “They expend considerable effort targeting professors whose politics they don’t care for, threatening them with job loss and more direct violence (with a special focus on non-white teachers). They are, that is to say, profoundly hostile to education.”

Kirk has turned controversy into money for years, often by targeting places and people far-right conservatives love to loathe — such as California college campuses. In 2022, the Washington Post reported that TPUSA was a nonprofit that “prospered” because of its ties to Trump. The Post reported that TPUSA raised $80 million, according to four recent tax filings.

In advertising the same spring campus tour bringing him to UC Davis, Kirk has said that who disagree will be brought to the front of the line.” And, sure enough, at Kirk’s first campus tour stop, at UC Santa Barbara, hundreds of students protested the event.

Among his most offensive comments, called George Floyd a “scumbag.” In February, Kirk decried the participation of trans athletes in NCAA college athletics. He particularly criticized the inclusion of swimmer Lia Thomas, who became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship in March of 2022.

“The NCAA is a perverted organization,” Kirk said. “They platformed a biological male to win an NCAA championship.” Kirk blamed the presence of trans women in NCAA sports on “the decline of American men” and that if this were the 1950s and 60s, someone would have “taken care of it.” Some trans activists wondered if Kirk was referring to potential violence associated with mid-century America, but he strongly denied this on Twitter.

OK, but he did say this: “As testosterone rates go down and men start acting like women and they don’t do anything...Look, there are a lot of sick people in the world, unfortunately.”

Frankly, as a UCD alumn, I have little confidence in the ability of UCD to keep the peace with TPUSA on campus.

In a letter sent to students and other individuals concerning Kirk, Chancellor Gary May denounced the conservative’s hateful ideals while affirming the university’s legal obligation to uphold free speech and the right of TPUSA students to invite speakers like Kirk to campus.

“While I abhor the inflammatory speech of this speaker, UC policy permits the students to invite this speaker,” May wrote in the letter. “We will be monitoring the event closely to determine if a threat or incitement develops that meets that threshold, or violates other campus policies.”

Ironically, despite shilling for unequivocal freedom of speech, UC Davis’ communications team denied not only my interview request with an administrative representative but also my request to merely submit questions about the event. Really, UCD?

So why can’t universities take a more proactive approach and shut down the violence before it happens? It’s unconstitutional. There’s even a term for it: a heckler’s veto. The government cannot cite actual or anticipated reactions by objectors to a speech as a reason for censorship.

David Loy, legal director at the First Amendment Coalition, sees constitutionally protected free speech on public universities as a black-and-white matter.

“The public university, as an arm of the government, is not allowed to discriminate based on viewpoints,” Loy said.

“(You can’t) prevent people from speaking just because some other third party might protest,” Loy explained.

My overwhelming inclination is to demand UC Davis get ahead of the situation and uninvite Kirk. But there’s no legal basis for doing so. Even calling for legal reform to curb the trend of fascists speaking on campus opens the door to First Amendment restrictions that could have huge, unintended ramifications.

So while the First Amendment protects hate speech, it also protects our right to protest this speech. Charlie Kirk has a right to speak, and the Davis community has a right to show him he’s not welcome.

And I hope that the hyper-sensitive UCD administration, which sure lacks for transparency despite its professed commitment to free speech, is up to the task of keeping students safe along with protecting their First Amendment rights.

An earlier version of this column included a reference to trans people that Charlie Kirk has strongly denied. His denial has been added to the column.