Trolls on the T

More than 100 students showed up last week to protest conservative podcast host and author Andrew Klavan, calling his rhetoric discriminatory. But it turns out that it was not discriminatory enough for the alt-right.

According to a photo tweeted on Oct. 31, neo-nazis and white nationalists wanted to come to Boston College last week to confront Klavan, who was hosted by the Boston College Republicans

The photo depicts a calendar for a so-called “Groyper War”—a deployment of white nationalists to conservative speaking events at universities across the country, organized online by Holocaust-denier and white nationalist Nicholas J. Fuentes. Nov. 5 of the calendar is marked with a photo of Andrew Klavan and says “Boston College” in the box.

Also on Oct. 31, an alt-right account tweeted, “Another successful Groyper operation. Next one is November 5th at Boston College with host Andrew Klavan of the Daily Wire.”

“Groyper” is a fatter version of the alt-right meme Pepe the Frog, and white nationalists have taken to identifying themselves as a “groyper army.” Led by Fuentes, their apparent goal is to disrupt Q&A segments at talks with prominent conservative pundits from networks Turning Point USA (TPUSA) and Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), which coordinate on-campus student conservative action.

During the Q&A portions of the events, white nationalists have asked a variety of questions. They’re designed to expose the speakers as “not conservative enough,” ranging from politely-worded, subverssively racist questions about decreasing populations of white people, to the outright crude—“How does anal sex help us win the culture war [against the left]?”—all in an attempt to elevate Fuentes to the level of the mainstream speakers on-stage.

They frequently demand that the speakers debate Fuentes—whose history of racist comments has barred him from popular conservatism—as part of a larger plan to inject anti-Semitic conspiracies, homophobia, and concern for changing racial demographics into mainstream conservative politics.

There could have been white nationalists lining up among students that night in Higgins 263, had OSI not restricted the event to BC students, which appears to have caused white nationalists to think the event was canceled, leading them to never show up to the intimate venue.

“That event has been cancelled. It got removed from their website,” an alt-right account tweeted, referring to Klavan’s event.

The 30-something seat classroom filled up 25 minutes before Klavan was to begin speaking—and the doors closed too—but Klavan was upset that the venue was not fit to accommodate anyone who might wander in from off-campus.

“They wouldn’t let them invite—like everyone else does this—they wouldn’t let them invite people from off-campus, but most people do invite people from off-campus. They made it explicit that they couldn’t invite people from off-campus,” says Klavan in his 8-minute video complaining about the delays that he and BC Republicans faced when dealing with OSI.

On Nov. 4, one day before Klavan spoke at BC, a white nationalist asked Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw, who was speaking at a TPUSA event at Texas A&M, a question that was praised by Fuentes online.

“The US Census Bureau has predicted America will be minority white by 2045. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, 80 percent of blacks, 65 percent of Asians, and 56 percent of Hispanics identify as Democrats,” says the person. “Given that the Democrat Party is destroying American ideals, which I think we both agree on, and given that non-whites overwhelmingly vote Democrat, how will American ideals be maintained 25 years from now when currently nearly a million non-whites become citizens each year?”

Another asked him to critique conservative pundit and YAF speaker Ben Shapiro. Shapiro, an observant Jew, is a frequent target of white nationalist and anti-Semitic alt-right groups, who are vying to take over mainstream conservativism.

To be clear, it’s not Klavan’s fault that white nationalists wanted to protest his event. But one bug of the kind of polarizing, soundbite caliber of conversation of YAF and TPUSA speakers like Klavan is a distant kinship to more austere and less racially aware politics. White nationalists would never try to steal the stage from academics or cable news personalities because those figures don’t tolerate such discourse.

But when Klavan, like other YAF and TPUSA speakers, claims that European culture is objectively better than others and then dismisses academia as nothing more than a leftist monopoly of truth, he turns away from good-faith conversation and opens himself to engage with racist opinions like those of Fuentes.

Crucial to the persona of TPUSA and YAF speakers is a conflict with the University hosting the event. The speakers are portrayed by followers as oppressed champions of free speech enlightening audiences about the “real” history of America against the wishes of leftist professors. And they justify their events with complaints about cancel culture, telling opponents to debate their ideas instead of shutting them down.

It is with this same logic that groypers show up to events, demanding that speakers debate, not dismiss, Fuentes, who dropped out of BU in 2017 after receiving death threats for attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.. In the eyes of groypers, TPUSA and YAF are biased institutions that gatekeep truth and refuse to debate ideas that go against conventional narratives, no different than Klavan’s diagnosis of the academy.

And Klavan admittedly doesn’t debate in hopes of arriving at an agreement with his opponents.

“I don’t understand at what point in this country we were bipartisan. […] I don’t want us all to sing Kumbaya and hug each other,” Klavan said in an interview with The Heights. “I simply want us to debate, like human beings and not like animals. I want us all to abide by the rules so we move the ball in our direction without destroying the system.”

In the past few years, the award-winning novelist has made a career for himself lecturing in podcasts and at universities about the importance of the Western Canon and Judeo-Christian values. But it remained unclear what Klavan was adding to the conversation by going on about the importance of reading Plato to a room full of students who will not be able to graduate from BC without reading a survey of Socratic, medieval, and modern philosophers.

Klavan, who labels students of Jesuit education as indoctrinated to leftist causes, also thinks that thrice-divorced President Donald J. Trump—who committed adultery with a pornstar—is an instrument of God.

“I think the evangelicals got Trump right. They saw him as someone God could use. We remember that God runs history. We don’t run history,” Klavan said.

Much of Klavan’s speech that night dealt with reading the great works of the Western Canon to uncover the sacred, transcendental truths that have spanned civilizations across millennia. He emphasized the importance of reading the primary documents without commentary, not obfuscated by the lenses of professors. Both philosophy and history cores at BC insist on familiarizing students with original texts as well, but Klavan delivered his speech assuring students that their professors were trying to indoctrinate them without knowing or caring about this.

“A teacher’s job is to tell you what Plato was trying to say,” Klavan told The Heights. “Today, what you have is the teacher filters what Plato was trying to say through his own leftist viewpoint, and that’s a very different thing. That’s actually getting in the way of your education. I’m not accusing Boston College of this, I have no idea what their curriculum is.”

Though unfamiliar with the curriculum, Klavan’s speech assumed BC was under control of a feminist, leftist guild of professors. From this position, Klavan was unable to engage in conversations with students in any substantive way.

Protestors banged on the windows outside classrooms in hopes of silencing a rhetorical force that could be quelled by anyone who did the reading in Philosophy of the Person I. He was ushered out by the BC Police Department, saying in his podcast the next day that he, “felt like Reagan after he was shot,” and then repeated the joke to The Heights in a later interview.

The next day, without Klavan talking about the greats of Western Civilization, life resumed at BC. Students sat in Mac eating omelets before class while annotating copies of The Five Dialogues. Professors printed reading quizzes for their theology core classes. And the pews were filled at the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Ignatius that Sunday.

Without a fresh take on Plato, a microphone, a bigger venue, or the ability to invite off-campus attendees, Klavan left BC with little to remember him by. It was, by comparison to other YAF and TPUSA events, a quiet night.

Eight days later, another YAF speaker came to the city of more than 50 colleges to deliver a speech titled, “America Wasn’t Founded on Slavery, it Was Founded on Freedom.”

A few stops down the B-Line, Shapiro, Klavan’s boss and editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, was speaking at an event at Boston University. Police closed streets surrounding the Track and Field House, and officers were posted at every corner. A helicopter hovered over the adjacent streets while protestors chanted at the entrance of the event, waving a hammer-and-sickle flag on one of the first frigid nights of November.

At the doors, security guards told attendees to remove all metal from pockets and put it over their heads as they walked through the metal detectors. Audience members surrendered their coats to security guards who rifled through each one like it was a TSA checkpoint.

“Bro, they snagged my JUUL,” said one student in a Trump hat.

Inside, at the center of the track, rows of white folding chairs were lined up to hold the expected 1,500 attendees. Some students wore all-black in solidarity with Black BU, the student organization that penned a petition claiming Shapiro’s visit made them feel “abandoned, triggered, frustrated, disheartened devalued, infuriated, overwhelmed, ignored, embarrassed of BU.”

Others wore Canada Goose Jackets and red MAGA hats.

Shapiro began his speech with a dichotomy between America as the story of a nation conceived in liberty, or, as Shapiro described it as he attempted an impersonation of Beto O’Rourke:

“Racism in America is endemic, bruh,” Shapiro said. “We can mark the creation of this country not on July 4th, 1776 but August 20th, 1619, when the first kidnapped American was brought to this country against his will in bondage as a slave and built the greatness and wealth that neither he nor his descendants would be able to participate in and enjoy.”

The quote was in reference to the 1619 project, a series of essays on America’s legacy of racism published in the New York Times Magazine at the commission of investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. The collection proposes a new understanding of America’s past, centering the inception of America with the origins of its enslavement of Africans.

The first essay, by Hannah-Jones, highlights the hypocrisy of the “All men are created equal” line from the Declaration of Independence. In his speech, Shapiro brushes over this, first saying that when the United States became a nation, slavery had yet to be outlawed in other parts of the Western world like England. He then delivers a list of B-list founding fathers and their cherry-picked quotes in support of abolition, citing it as proof that despite 41 of the 56 Founding Fathers owning slaves, they weren’t really racist.


“I’m happy to address ideas, I’m not happy to debate somebody who has joked about murdering me,” said Shapiro.

Thomas Jefferson, despite having as many as six illegitimate children with his slave Sally Hemings, was aware of his own hypocrisy, thus absolving him of his part in the legacy of racism in the nation’s founding, according to Shapiro.

Shapiro continues snarking at the project, saying the Northwest Ordinance of 1787—which George Washington signed to ban slavery in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota—was proof that the Founders didn’t envision slavery as part of the country as Americans expanded westward.

Shapiro is not wrong because of this interpretation—he’s wrong because he ignores what was happening in other parts of the country in its early days as slave populations rose and the influence slave owners had over Southern politics grew.

He progressed through history, stating that slavery and Jim Crow cannot be said to have made the economy richer because the flow of people and spending power that fled the South during the Jim Crow era fueled the Northern economy until the Civil Rights movement eliminated legalized discrimination. After that, the same concentration of black Americans and their spending power returned to the South and rejuvenated the economy.

Again, Shapiro isolates historical analysis and extrapolates from it a larger trend that goes against what he says “leftists” claim about history. And again, this averts his attention, and his audience’s, from the palpable, traceable roots of racism in American history. Shapiro succeeds by distracting listeners from his opponents’ talking points and replacing them with strawman arguments that he rebuts with anomalies. But he comes short of refuting the actual claims.

“If slavery had been an economic winner, the South wouldn’t have been roundly defeated by the industrialized North,” Shapiro said.

When Shapiro finished his speech, there was a rush to line up for the Q&A.

“In 2016, you tweeted out a list of 20 people that you called alt-right friendly. It included Ron Paul, Pat Buchanna, and Ann Coulter, and even Donald Trump,” said the first questioner in a red hat. “Recently you gave a speech at Stanford about Nick Fuentes who you called an alt-right influencer. My question is that it seems like conservatives like you, like [TPUSA founder and president] Charlie Kirk, like Dan Crenshaw feel threatened by America-first and America-first ideas. Is this why you’re smearing them as alt-right, racist, homophobic and all these other things instead of addressing their ideas and debating them?”

There was some applause, though it’s not clear if it was from people who understood what drew the questioner to the event in the first place. About 30 or 40 people clapped, but there were only five people who appeared to be chanting and heckling Shapiro in favor of Fuentes, demonstrating the normalizing nature of Fuentes’s strategy that frames white nationalist conversations in terms of free speech.

“I’m happy to address ideas, I’m not happy to debate somebody who has joked about murdering me,” said Shapiro.

“Liar!” shouted one man with a shaved head.

Shapiro explained that Fuentes streamed himself online playing Grand Theft Auto and killed an orthodox Jew that he claimed to be Shapiro.

“Get over it. It’s a joke Ben,” shouted another man in the back with a similar haircut.

Shapiro moved on to the next questioner, who wore a yarmulke and informed the audience before asking his question that Fuentes was at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville.

After a few more questions, ranging from vegetarianism to Brett Kavanaugh’s genitals, one of the hecklers, in a black t-shirt that said “Socialist,” with skull tattoos peeking out from his sleeves, told the YAF person holding the microphone that he disagreed with Shapiro. It’s an institutionalized rule at talks that attendees who disagree with Shapiro get to cut the line.

“Oh, let me guess your political affiliation,” Shapiro said as the man approached the microphone.

“It might surprise you,” said the man. “First I’d like to thank you for coming here and having an open dialogue with everybody tonight. It’s greatly appreciated. Free speech is under attack in this country.”

The audience applauded in unison.

“So recently when you spoke at Stanford, you smeared America-first patriots like myself with all the same leftist insults antifa uses. The same ones they’re using outside to smear us today,” he said. “So my question for you Ben is will you debate a real conservative like Nicholas J. Fuentes or are you too scared to debate your anti-America-first positions?”

The audience laughed at the question because of Shapiro’s answer to the previous Fuentes supporter.

As Shapiro said that he’s open to debate proponents of limited legal immigration, but not people who espouse white nationalism, Fuentes’s supporters yelled at Shapiro from the back.

“What I’m not going to do is debate someone who joked about my death, who called someone who worked for me ‘Shabbos Goy race traitor,’ praised the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville—no that I am not going to do,” Shapiro said.

After the man stepped away from the microphone, a YAF representative announced they only had time for one more question.

The event ended and the hecklers, one wearing an America-first shirt and another holding some sort of red flag, shook hands and walked out among the larger crowd, down the street, past the police, and into the night.

Shapiro had been given a large venue, a microphone, and the opportunity to invite attendees from off-campus—all conditions Klavan wished he had—giving just a hint of what could have been at BC.


November 21, 2019