When conservative commentator Ian Haworth showed up to speak at The State University of New York at Albany (SUNY Albany) on Tuesday evening, he had no idea what was about to hit him. Haworth’s talk, sponsored by Turning Point USA, was titled “Free Speech on Campus”—and an unhinged campus mob decided to show up and prove his point for him.
As shown in multiple videos from the event, angry students flooded the auditorium and chanted “F*ck TPUSA,” “Ian sucks,” “this is what queer rage looks like,” and “trans rights are human rights.” (Ian and TPUSA have both been highly critical of progressive positions on trans issues.) This was explicitly done to drown out the event and prevent Haworth from speaking.
“Trans rights are human rights!”
— Ian Haworth (@ighaworth) April 5, 2023
“They basically proved my point for me,” Haworth told BASEDPolitics. “I showed up to the speech, I was waiting in a back room, and it got really loud. A socialist group on campus held a counter-protest downstairs—which is fine, that’s part of free speech—the issue is when they took over our auditorium, shouting into submission, hurling abuse at attendees.”
“I would’ve been delighted to talk with them afterwards, answer any questions,” he added. “But that wasn’t the goal, the goal was to shut down speech and force ideas off campus.”
The event was eventually able to continue, but it was significantly disrupted.
“One of the protestors destroyed one of the organizer’s Bibles,” Tyler Lindner, a student involved with the groups that hosted Haworth, recounted. “A white man in a dress came up to one of our members of color and called him a race traitor. The protestors stole the food we purchased for the event. One of them spit on a member of our club. They spent the whole time cursing us out and comparing TPUSA to the KKK, rather than engaging in intellectual conversations.”
Things started to get REAL weird when a conga line formed.
— Ian Haworth (@ighaworth) April 5, 2023
In the face of this unruly mob, which repeatedly would not let the speakers be heard, they had to find an entirely new venue, with a police escort to the new location and then police surrounding the new room to prevent the disruptors from taking it over as well. Unfortunately, many people left during the interim chaos and ultimately did not get to see the rest of Haworth’s remarks.
This is seemingly as clear-cut an example of a “heckler’s veto” as you can find. These unhinged students were not exercising their own free speech—something Ian Haworth welcomed—but they were actively attempting to block someone from speaking. (Ironically, they accused Haworth/TPUSA of “fascism” while themselves acting… pretty fascist). And that’s why this ugly incident crosses the line from protest to an unacceptable act of censorship.
Remember, the SUNY Albany is a public college. It is bound by the First Amendment, and its right-leaning students have a constitutional right to host speakers without disruption. (Of course, other students are free to criticize or counterprotest them, but not silence them). These students’ rights were clearly violated by this mob.
The student protestors who crossed the line should be held accountable by the university and, where applicable, law enforcement. In a statement, the university responded to this incident. (Elsewhere, it noted that two students were issued tickets by campus police.) It said:
Consistent with the mission of an institution of higher learning, we expect members of our community to be able to voice their views in a manner that promotes constructive dialogue and honors UAlbany’s commitment to freedom of expression. This is especially true when it involves speech that members of our community find offensive or objectionable.
Our constitutional obligation to protect speech, even when that speech fundamentally conflicts with our core values, is a pillar of our democratic system. We are equally committed to fostering an environment in which all students feel safe and included – and that the right to protest is also protected.
All recognized student organizations are entitled to reserve space on campus, invite guest speakers, and host their events without interference. As a public university, we will continue to help members of our community fully understand their rights and responsibilities under the First Amendment.
More broadly, these students need to get a grip and realize that they’re only further proving why speeches defending free speech, like Ian Haworth’s, are clearly sorely needed on campus.
NOTE: This article was updated to include the statement from SUNY Albany.