By Logan Hullinger
INDIANA — Two speakers drew crowds to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus on Monday evening with some expecting divisive rhetoric about racism. The contrasts between the two messages were sharp, but contrary to early fears of violence, both events passed peaceably.
The university boosted a speech by Holocaust survivor Moshe Baran, whose appearance was moved onto campus, upgraded to Fisher Hall and followed by breakout discussions and free pizza in a nearby classroom building.
The visit by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, in contrast, was moved off-campus to the adjacent Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. Ten mounted officers and more than 20 state and university police patrolled the grounds and supervised two admission-ticket checkpoints. Officers blocked adjoining streets and corralled protestors.
Attendance told a tale of the tape: Baran’s speech drew 640 people; Kirk’s event drew about 150.
At the KCAC police scanned attendees at the entrances. Cigarette lighters were confiscated. In the auditorium, each of the 650 seats bore signs with such slogans as “socialism sucks.”
Kirk, 24, arrived on stage 20 minutes late sporting a T-shirt bearing the message, “There are only two genders.” The reference was to a controversy surrounding IUP religious studies student Lake Ingle, who was barred from and later re-admitted to a class after allegedly disrupting it with objections to instruction on gender-related issues.
Ingle’s version of the classroom events went viral, including in conservative news media, after he said he was targeted by professor Alison Downie for asserting that there are only two genders. Downie has not answered questions about the incident, but she issued an 880-word statement to the IUP student newspaper, which published it on April 3.
According to religious studies student Katherine H. Bradshaw, Ingle disrupted the classroom and was disrespectful to Downie and students. The account was verified by Lily K. Rogerson, another religious studies student, in a March 24 interview with The HawkEye. Both women attend Downie’s class with Ingle.
IUP President Michael A. Driscoll announced March 19 that he had halted Ingle’s judicial process.
Ingle, who isn’t officially a member of IUP’s TPUSA chapter, has been adopted by the conservative political organization. During Kirk’s speech, moderators gave Ingle a microphone to rebut audience accusations. Ingle said his classmates’ statements were “biased.”
Kirk’s speech was titled “Exposing Leftist Lies & Progressive Propaganda.” It was a 30-minute verbal assault on Democrats, and it continued during a two-hour question-and-answer session.
Kirk spoke of “misdeeds of the left,” the “scientific evidence” of the existence of only two genders and the “falsehood” of white privilege.
Kirk asserted that liberals are “left in a world of contradiction” and are “out to destroy the president.” He mocked liberal politicians by flailing his arms and speaking in a distorted voice, as President Trump mocked a disabled reporter in 2016.
“How great is it that Trump is president?” he asked. The audience screamed and applauded. The enthusiasm infused the nearly three-hour event.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, TPUSA is prohibited from indirectly or directly supporting candidates for public office, according to the Internal Revenue Service. However, Kirk recited a routine stump-speech refrain — that he was “exercising his free speech as an individual,” not speaking on behalf of his organization.
During debates with opposition audience members, Kirk six times countered with, “But what about Hillary Clinton?” Each time, applause resounded.
Kirk said white privilege was a “liberal lie,” and he referred to Asian-Americans.
“People say African-Americans are systematically mistreated, and I’m here to tell you that isn’t true,” he said. “What about Asians? They make the most money out of any race in the country. Why isn’t anyone talking about Asian privilege?”
However, research suggests an Asian income gap is illusory.
Kirk supporters were not swayed.
“Charlie, from one freedom fighter to another, God bless you,” said Julie Anderson, a Republican running for Pennsylvania’s 62nd House District seat to represent Indiana County in Harrisburg. “I’ve been in this fight quite a while, and I’m glad to pass on this torch to these young people here.”
Other audience members also thanked Kirk for addressing perceived faults in liberal thinking. TPUSA members said they felt isolation as conservatives on campus.
However, one IUP student, who attended Baran’s speech, said Kirk’s widely reported assertions lack substance.
“Kirk is merely a provocateur whose rhetorical patterns are rooted entirely in false equivalencies,” said Alexander D. Foradori, a senior journalism and public relations student. “I rarely see a legitimate point being made. He would be a much better orator if he had sounder arguments and resolves.”
Holocaust survivor Moshe Baran, born in 1920, spoke first in Fisher Auditorium before a nearly packed audience of 640, a gatekeeper said following the Six O’Clock Series event sponsored by the IUP Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement. One greeter onstage described the crowd as “overwhelming.”
Baran was reprising a visit to town a couple of years earlier, he said. Monday’s event featured a half-hour 2005 video in which Baran and his late wife, Makla, recounted their struggles to survive Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland and Russia during World War II. Baran said he escaped the ghetto where the Nazis herded Jews as part of the Third Reich’s “final solution.” He joined partisans fighting Germans from camps in forests.
During his remarks, Baran sat next to the wheelchair in which he arrived on stage. He spoke quietly into a microphone, sometimes haltingly. An aide relayed audience questions by repeating them into his right ear. He wore a black yarmulke.
Audience members asked questions from mezzanine microphone stands, with variations on a theme comparing rhetoric now with rhetoric then. His responses to two such questions were particularly sharp and audible.
What does he fear most?
“Ignorance,” Baran said.
His advice to young people?
“Don’t be passive,” Baran declared. “’It’s none of my business’ is the worst thing you could do. You have to be active. You have to speak up.”
Audience reactions ranged from appreciative to rhapsodic.
“It’s my favorite period of history,” said Eden Bailey, a health and human services worker from Homer City.
Joe Schwartz, 60, a retired chiropractic physician in Indiana, said he heard Baran speak at the local synagogue during his earlier visit to town. Schwartz said he was struck by Baran’s forceful advice to avoid passivity.
“You can’t get enough of these guys,” Schwartz said. “The story might die with our generation.”
University employee Eric Barker said he was honored to shake the hand of a Holocaust survivor.
“It’s a testament to this community that he sees value in coming here,” Barker said. “Love trumps hate.”
Logan R. Hullinger, a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a staff reporter for The HawkEye, is from Clarion. He may be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu
Sidebar: The buildup to Kirk v. Baran
By Rachel E. Brieve and Madison J. Longenecker
INDIANA — On Feb. 6, borough council members heard sharply opposing views about the scheduled visit by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, sponsored by the campus chapter of the national TPUSA group.
IUP chapter members said critics were labeling TPUSA a hate group and were issuing threats against a family member of chapter president Brandon T. Uhalik.
Denise Jennings-Doyle, of Blairsville, criticized the group out of concern for a daughter enrolled at the university.
“As a mom of a freshman at IUP, if violence happens, I am asking, will the borough have a plan in place — have people — in case it spills out and affects my daughter and the people of Indiana?” asked Jennings-Doyle.
IUP alum Justin Brown, an Indiana activist, told borough council members that Turning Point USA was among what he called “white-nationalist hate groups.”
“I urge all here to call President Driscoll and the administration at IUP and tell them that Turning Point poses a direct threat to public safety for students and the surrounding community,” Brown said.
The public comments followed by four days a speech by Kirk at Colorado State University, where violence erupted. Local news coverage reported protesters chanted Nazi slogans and carried riot shields, bats, gas masks and large flashlights.
On March 19, IUP President Michael A. Driscoll expressed disappointment at the local public comments. But the university took steps to distance itself from Kirk’s event by moving it from the on-campus Eberly Auditorium to the off-campus Kovalchick center and to boost Baran’s event by moving it to on-campus Fisher Auditorium from the off-campus Hadley Union Building’s Ohio Room.
TPUSA chapter president Uhalik did not object.
“The KCAC ensures heightened security and designated protesting spots to prevent things from getting out of hand,” Uhalik wrote in an email.
The university said it supported free speech and public safety.
“As a university, we support this civil exchange of ideas and perspectives, while protecting the safety and security of our campus,” wrote IUP spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling in a Feb. 7 email.
One IUP TPUSA member said the controversy did not harm the organization.
“No press is bad press,” Maggie R. McGahen, economics major and TPUSA chapter member, said in an interview before Monday’s competing speeches.
Rachel E. Brieve, a junior journalism and public relations major and political science minor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Pittsburgh. She may be contacted at R.E.Brieve@iup.edu
Madison J. Longenecker, senior journalism and public relations major and English minor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Roaring Spring. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.