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UI protesters prove controversial speaker correct
Matt Walsh drew a picture. Anti-Walsh protesters painted it.
Apr. 30, 2023 6:00 am
Last week, I wrote about having gone to see conservative speaker Matt Walsh, a frank and outspoken critic of transgender ideology, at the University of Iowa Memorial Union. (April 23, “Protesters block traffic, surround vehicles.”) As I wrote last week, I left the event feeling rather underwhelmed — until my car was surrounded by protesters, leaving me feeling scared for my safety.
Frazzled by what had transpired, I suddenly had occasion to mull over the previously uninspiring words of the podcast host of whom I wasn’t even a fan — and recall something he said early on in his speech: “You’re not gonna make me less eager to oppose you by acting like a monster. That will have the opposite effect every single time.”
He was right. The protesters who lined up to block traffic and hurl obscenities at people trying to leave the event did nothing to win the concurrence of those with whom they disagreed. If anything, they made their villain’s case in a way that even the villain himself could not. A plurality of Walsh’s commentary described his experience of being threatened and harassed for speaking about his beliefs. After hearing it, the people who came to see him went to leave and experienced their own scene of threats and harassment. Walsh drew a picture. The protesters painted it.
Predictably, almost all the reaction to last week’s column fell along partisan lines. More than one reader suggested that I should have expected to be surrounded by hostile protesters. “Have you ever driven through the [area outside IMU] at about 21 minutes past the hour on a class day?” wrote a reader from Iowa City. “You would experience almost the same thing as you did in the protest, namely hundreds of students blocking the street as they move to or from classes and the east side dorms.” (Fact check: False. The scene he described was a bit different from the scene I experienced.) Others implied that I had purposely brought the clamor on myself. “You placed yourself in a situation you knew in advance may deteriorate into conflict, and that you were willing to disregard precautions in order to generate content,” wrote a reader from Cedar Rapids. (Again: False.)
Readers who were skeptical of the actual danger I described feeling clearly weren’t considering the volatility that is inherent in large groups of protesters. Even a joyous crowd, such as at a concert or a sporting match, poses an element of danger. What makes a crowd potentially unsafe is not what is seen and known, but rather unseen and unknown.
It was impossible to know if any protesters were in possession of anything that could be used as a weapon, such as pepper spray or a stun gun. (Stun guns are allowed on college campuses in Iowa.) It was impossible to know if anyone of the many, many kids in the crowd intended violence that evening. Already, a protester had dropped marbles in front of and on a set of stairs at the IMU with the apparent intent of causing people to slip and fall. It was no stretch of the imagination to worry that somewhere in the crowd blocking (and surrounding) vehicles lurked someone with violent intent.
“It takes one person smashing a car window and it’s gonna get silly,” said Caleb Winey, 24, who had driven from central Iowa to see Walsh speak. Winey and the two people with whom he attended the event arrived early and were among the first people in what would become a very long line. (Event organizers had encouraged attendees to arrive early, as having a ticket did not guarantee entry.)
When Winey’s trio had arrived, there were no protesters inside IMU. That would change about 30 minutes before the doors opened, when, as Winey recalled, protesters entered the building, flooding the area and chanting slogans like “TRANS MEN ARE MEN!” “TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN!” (I’ll skip the fact check on those) and my personal favorite, which I cited last week: “F*** YOU FASCIST!” One video posted online showed an event attendee plugging his ears with his fingers while a protester stood only a few feet away chanting toward him through a megaphone.
Like me, Winey and his companions found themselves unable to leave — or even move — as protesters marched up East Market Street to block traffic. Also like me, they were frightened. Winey, an active member of the armed forces, asked his girlfriend to take video on her phone in order to have a record of the event, should the situation become extreme enough to necessitate self-defense.
Having the good fortune to be stuck several vehicles behind mine, Winey was eventually able to turn his truck around. With North Madison Street still blocked by protesters, he and several other eventgoers drove along a sidewalk in search of a way to leave. Eventually, Winey exited his vehicle to lift the barrier arm at the entrance of a restricted parking lot so his and several other vehicles could leave through that lot.
The actions of the protesters had the same effect on Winey and his companions that they did on me. They took Walsh’s words about the lengths to which gender ideology activists will go to silence or punish their opposition and made them ring truer than Walsh could ever hope to accomplish himself.
What did the protesters actually accomplish? Did they inspire a message of transgender acceptance? Hardly. Did they punish the eventgoers for being “fascists?” They might want to look up the word. Did they congratulate themselves for their own awesomeness and party with their Antifa pals? Like, totally. Local activist Oliver Weilein posted a video on social media of the “scene of joy and celebration after protesters made life hell for all who attended the Matt Walsh event.” He sounds like a swell guy.
In the end, their act of making “life hell” for us yielded some results they might not have been expecting. They made the supposedly evil person they disagreed with seem agreeable to everyone else. They reminded those of us who are brave enough to speak (or write) about the consequences of ignoring biological realities why we must continue to do so. For if we don’t, no one will. Matt Walsh was correct. His loudest opponents are the ones who proved it.
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Disclaimer: Caleb Winey is an employee of an organization for which the author has volunteered in the past. Winey and the author were not acquainted prior to speaking for this article.
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