The latest chapter in UNC’s recent free speech debate started with a touch of the bizarre but, for the most part, was as quiet as an 8 o’clock math class.
In the minutes before a speech by former U.S. Treasurer Bay Buchanan Thursday night, senior Haley Koch walked into the lobby of the Carolina Union auditorium, a picture of collegiate innocence in a spaghetti-strapped sun dress. She was seized by mock thought police, handcuffed as she struggled and forced to listen to excerpts from the hate mail she’s received over the months since she participated in a protest of another speaker in April.
The 10-minute pageant included a whipping with a rider’s crop at the hand of one of her fellow protesters as others scribbled on her arms with markers. About 15 people looked on as photographers and cell phone videographers circled the scene. Koch then was dragged “reluctantly” into the auditorium, where an audience of about 65 people and nine campus police officers heard a 40-minute speech by Buchanan.
Koch, a Morehead-Cain Scholar, was arrested in April after a raucous protest shut down an attempted anti-immigration speech by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo. Others, none of them students, were arrested a week later as they protested another conservative speaker on the campus. The Tancredo incident ignited a furious public outcry that the University was not protecting the free speech rights of speakers invited to the campus. Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86, who apologized to Tancredo, has spent time talking to Koch and others involved in the incidents, but he would not drop the charges against those arrested. Another protest was anticipated when the student group Youth for Western Civilization, which sponsored the talks last spring, brought Buchanan in to speak.
Buchanan, who has chaired a political action committee founded by Tancredo and appeared as a TV commentator on issues such as illegal immigration, talked longer about free speech than immigration.
She told the mostly student audience that they had to condition themselves to listen to all sides of an issue before engaging in debate. “Free speech forces the government to come more in line with the will of the people,” she said.
She spoke for about 10 minutes on her stand against illegal immigration, telling stories of American laborers and business owners who had lost their jobs to lower-paid immigrants.
“What country in their right mind keeps bringing in workers when we don’t have jobs?” she asked.
Several people from the audience took on Buchanan in a vigorous debate after she began taking questions. She went toe-to-toe with those who challenged her views, at times raising her voice to make her points.
Koch, who had her April charges dismissed by a judge in September, wore a gag over her mouth during Buchanan’s talk, and she and her three colleagues left quietly 15 minutes into the speech.
One audience member spoke out loudly several times during the speech, but Buchanan did not acknowledge him. There was no other protest in the auditorium or afterward.