UNC administrators acknowledged that they were unprepared for disruptive protesters a year ago when former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado brought a message to the campus that was against illegal immigration and in favor of a pro-Western civilization curriculum.
This time around, Tancredo appeared to be the University’s first order of business. Most of the audience walked out in a mostly silent protest of Tancredo’s views Monday night just 10 minutes into his talk in the Great Hall of the Student Union, and the evening’s event proceeded peacefully.
The University had set out a seven-point set of ground rules designed to limit protesters’ ability to disrupt, including the threat of arrest. UNC police set up a mobile command center outside the auditorium, and two newspapers counted about three dozen UNC and Chapel Hill officers in attendance.
Students snapped up all the 390 free tickets, though there were some empty seats for the speech and question-and-answer session that lasted about 90 minutes. The Daily Tar Heel reported attendance of 255, and UNC and newspaper counts agreed that fewer than 100 remained after the walkout.
The News & Observer reported that Tancredo responded to the walkout by stating that the protesters were afraid to debate. One protester yelled, “No one is afraid of you.”
No one displayed signs at the event, though signs were not completely disallowed in the ground rules, according to UNC News Services. One UNC student was arrested on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon in the lobby outside the auditorium, according to University police, but the student’s name was not released.
All was in stark contrast to April 2009, when protesters interrupted Tancredo’s attempt to speak, forcing him to leave without finishing. Police intervened after someone broke a window from outside the Bingham Hall room where the speech took place. Haley Koch, a Morehead-Cain scholar, was arrested after the event but charges later were dropped. Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 apologized to Tancredo for the protesters’ behavior, and the incident drew national media attention.
This time, Thorp said, “I am glad that Tom Tancredo made his presentation and could take questions from the audience. I also applaud the protesters, including students and members of the campus community, who expressed themselves peacefully, in keeping with the University’s traditions.”
Tancredo was invited to campus by Youth for Western Civilization, an officially recognized student group.
The newspapers reported that Tancredo spoke on the subject of whether Western civilization was “worth saving.” He said intolerance of opposing views made this difficult, at one point asking, “What’s the difference between what they were doing and what happened in Nazi Germany?”
Tancredo received applause when he called President Barack Obama the most radical and left-wing president in U.S. history. He disputed the views of some protesters who have linked his stance against illegal immigration to racism.
Tancredo said he would have been happy to debate his detractors.
Some students held a pro-immigration rally in the Pit during the speech.