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Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro blasts alt-right, radical left, identity politics in MemAud lecture

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After weeks of controversy, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro took the stage before a packed crowd at Memorial Auditorium on Thursday in an event hosted by the Stanford College Republicans (SCR).

But instead of focusing the event on his argument that, “No, leftist idiots don’t get to raise my kids,” as previously advertised, Shapiro spent the majority of the event drawing parallels between what he sees as the alt-right and radical left, saying they “mirror themselves in politics and culture” by utilizing “identity politics bullshit pandering.”

He did occasionally turn to the originally planned discussion, targeting gender transitions in particular. He said that people who believe “men can be women and women can men” are idiotic, and he argued that the government should bar children who identify as transgender from undergoing surgical procedures to transition. He said allowing children to undergo sex changes is “evil,” since they are too young to give consent. 

“I’m not going to go along with the general societal willingness to rewrite basic facets of human nature and human biology and, frankly, mammalian biology in order to suggest that a delusion is true,” Shapiro said.

As an author and the editor-in-chief of conservative news website The Daily Wire, Shapiro is outspoken about controversial viewpoints. He opposes abortion under all circumstances and has challenged popular scientific research on climate change. He tweeted in 2010 that “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage,” but he has since retracted that statement.

Upon taking the stage Thursday night, Shapiro was greeted with a partial standing ovation before he read a letter posted in the Norcliffe and Adelfa residence halls that welcomed students to reach out to staff for guidance, to which he responded: “Honestly, if seeing a flyer requires psychological support, then you needed psychological support before you saw the flyer.”

Fewer than 20 minutes into Thursday’s event, a small group of protestors interrupted the event, chanting, “Hey hey ho ho, Ben Shapiro’s got to go.” Shapiro responded by comparing them to his toddler children. Other audience members were quick to defend him, drowning out the protestors with chants of “USA! USA!” The protestors were quickly escorted out of the auditorium by the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS). 

“The protest was insignificant … Stanford students are clearly choosing dialogue over extremism,” wrote SCR President Sills ’22 in an email to The Daily.

Shapiro defended President Donald Trump, saying “Trump is many things. He is not a white supremacist, and he is not an anti-Semite.” He distinguished Trump’s politics from those of the alt-right, saying that alt-right Trump supporters are “so-called, self-proclaimed America First asshats.”

Though Shapiro claimed he was “for a Trump Wall before Trump was for a Trump Wall,” he said he is also in favor of granting citizenship to “new immigrants who benefit the United States.”

“If you’re America First,” Shapiro asked, “why don’t you want more strong, principled people coming into the United States to make us stronger?”

One of Shapiro’s primary talking points was challenging the notion of “white ideals.”

He said the alt-right and radical left both believe incorrectly in a racial hierarchy, one with white people positioned firmly on top. The alt-right supports that hierarchy while the radical left wants to flip it, Shapiro said, adding that he does not believe in such a hierarchy.

“Race does not have ideals; it’s just a melanin level,” he said.

Following his talk, Shapiro opened up the floor for questions from the audience.

When asked about the role of welfare, Shapiro said, “You have to distinguish between members of the poor. I mean, treating the poor as a universal class that doesn’t have any sort of income malleability or movement is a category error, meaning that a lot of people who are poor now are not going to be poor in the future.”

He argued that charity is a better option than “the government sucking enormous quantities of cash out of the system and then injecting it randomly as though they’re putting filler in somebody’s butt.” 

Shapiro also addressed a question about his pro-life views, saying that “it is true that a lot of people who have abortions are poor, it is true that a lot of people who have abortions may not have great resources to raise the child.” 

The solution, he said, is not to kill the child in order to prevent possible future crime: “The solution is that people should be having babies more responsibly.” He again disputed government welfare, stating “the government should stop incentivizing single motherhood by cutting checks and playing dad.”

Flyering controversy 

Some flyers hung in dorms advertising Shapiro’s talk were torn down or crumpled, sparking controversy on campus. One incident led to a confrontation at Latinx-themed dorm Casa Zapata.

According to Casa Zapata resident Kamilah Arteaga ’22, SCR members attempted to put flyers in the residence hall on Oct. 18, but were denied under the dorm policy that flyers must be approved by staff. Arteaga claimed that SCR was “trying to antagonize residents” after they were not invited into the dorm.

SCR posted on its public Facebook page that dorms had “erected censorious flyering policies in an attempt to keep students from hearing conservative views.”

“An aggressive mob of students heckled our members and spewed obscenities,” SCR wrote. “When we returned a few days later to discuss the policy with staff, our group was laughably accused of ‘targeting’ the dormitory.”

Following the incident, Provost Persis Drell hosted an open discussion with residents in the Zapata lounge on Oct. 22.

“These acts by SCR are specifically targeting Casa Zapata and its residents, making us feel unsafe on our own campus, at our school, in our homes,” Arteaga said.

In an email to the campus community in the hours leading up to Shapiro’s talk, Drell and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole expressed their belief that, while flyering to promote political ideas is vital to campus dialogue, “some of the behaviors that have accompanied these practices have crossed a line of respectful treatment.” 

Sills challenged this representation of the incident in an email to The Daily.

“The idea that we harassed the dorm residents by attempting to film them is false,” Sills wrote. “We simply returned with a larger group to speak with an RF, after being harassed by a mob of over 10 aggressive and profane students two nights prior.”

In their community message, Drell and Brubaker-Cole asked for students “to extend care and support to Casa Zapata and our broader Latinx community.”

Opposition 

Shortly before the doors opened on Thursday, a crowd of protestors stood in front of the venue chanting, “No cops, no KKK, Ben Shapiro go away!” 

“I don’t like that Stanford is devoting time to give this man a platform,” said Chinemere Uche ’23, a protestor at the event. 

Anna Toledano, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate, echoed the sentiment. She was dissatisfied with how the University handled the situation, and said that “this is also hate speech and that shouldn’t be something I think is welcome at the University.” 

Leading up to Thursday night, a banner reading “Be tolerant accept racism” with an illustration of Drell and SCR shaking hands was hung in White Plaza. SUDPS spokesperson Bill Larson did not disclose the details regarding the theft of the banner.

“In allowing a student-initiated event to move forward, the University is not taking a position on the merits of the speaker,” wrote University spokesperson Brad Hayward in a statement to The Daily. “Our hope and aspiration at Stanford always is for intellectually rigorous discussion that respects the dignity and belonging of all members of our diverse community.”

This article has been updated to accurately reflect a statement made by SUDPS spokesperson Bill Larson. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Leily Rezvani at lrezvani ‘at’ stanford.edu and Emma Talley at emmat332 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

Leily Rezvani is the managing editor of podcasts and a desk editor of news. She is a sophomore majoring in Symbolic Systems in hopes of better understanding the intersection between technology and the humanities. Leily has interned for National Public Radio, Google Arts and Culture, the United Nations Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Contact Leily at lrezvani ‘at’ stanford.edu.