More than 100 Northwestern University students gathered outside Swift Hall on the Evanston campus Tuesday evening as James Lindsay, a popular figure on social media among far-right extremists, spoke to members of the student groups Northwestern College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Lindsay as “a leading voice in the reactionary anti-student inclusion, anti-LGBTQ, and conspiracy propaganda movements.”

“He regularly shares conspiracy theories about the supposed communist takeover of the world (especially the United States), promotes ‘groomer’ rhetoric against the LGBTQ community and spreads the ‘white genocide’ theory that Marxists want to eradicate the white race,” the civil rights nonprofit said on its website.

A transgender Pride flag waves in front of Swift Hall on Northwestern’s campus Tuesday night. Credit: Duncan Agnew

Lindsay has also referred to the LGBTQ Pride flag as the “flag of a hostile enemy,” and the College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom distributed flyers advertising the event with a skull and crossbones imposed over the Pride flag. One protester referred to the flyer as “an intentionally threatening message.”

According to posts shared on social media, a number of students asked Northwestern President Michael Schill to step in and not allow a speaker like Lindsay to feel welcome on campus, but the event went on as planned.

“As an institute of higher education that upholds the principles of academic freedom and open discourse, we believe that universities serve a vital role as venues for rigorous debate and discourse,” Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates told the RoundTable in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Although the speaker’s views do not align with Northwestern’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, they are protected by free speech and free expression.”

Although Northwestern Police Department officers were not present inside or outside Lindsay’s speech Tuesday night, several university officials were present around the protest and inside Swift Hall. Guards from Luna Security, a private firm the university contracts with for events, were stationed at the doors to the room where Lindsay was speaking.

Protesters gather outside Swift Hall to condemn a speech by James Lindsay on Tuesday night. Credit: Duncan Agnew

As the event began, protesters waved Pride flags and erupted in chants of “We are here, we are queer, we’re not going back” and “Whose campus? Our campus.” Later in the evening, protesters decided to enter the room where the speech was happening, with one saying he wanted to look Lindsay in the eye just so Lindsay would know he existed as a queer person.

The night ended with speech attendees exiting Swift to boos from the protesters, but the situation remained peaceful.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I think the NU community came together to show impressive solidarity for queer people, for people of color, for anyone and everyone attacked by the harmful rhetoric of James Lindsay and others like him,” one protester, who asked to remain anonymous, told the RoundTable. “I’m especially proud of those who went inside the space and confronted him, speaking their truth and standing up for what’s right. To the Northwestern and Evanston community, hate has no place on our campus, and where it crops up, we will shut it down.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. The ACLU, or American Civil Liberty Union says it best:
    “The First Amendment to the Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Restrictions on speech by public colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. Such restrictions deprive students of their right to invite speech they wish to hear, debate speech with which they disagree, and protest speech they find bigoted or offensive. An open society depends on liberal education, and the whole enterprise of liberal education is founded on the principle of free speech.
    How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When we grant the government the power to suppress controversial ideas, we are all subject to censorship by the state.”
    Those raucous and intolerant NU students should stop depriving other people of their rights and use their time at Northwestern to learn the laws of their own country.

  2. My question for the NU students protesting Mr Lindsay would be: “What are you afraid of? The speaker’s ideas? Why don’t you confront him intellectually, peacefully, in a civilized manner…? I thought that in this country People are allowed to have different ideas and give speeches whatever the subject without fear of intimidation! Because freedom of speech is the FOUNDATION of this country! If I remember well, our high school has a “DEBATE”class. and debate teams that compete nationally! Are they only allowed to debate certain issues but not others?
    It would seem that today, if you are not gay, or black or some other minority, free speech is NOT FOR YOU! Different ideas and beliefs are not allowed!

    Take Israel. It has only 8 million people and yet it is called the “STARTUP NATION,” the “INNOVATION HUB” of the world. How is this possible? It is possible because they are constantly challenging the status quo. Because their many different cultures share their different thinking, which promotes an EXCHANGE OF IDEAS! Which brings innovation!

    The US was always also known for its innovations. Take DARPA, or Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. It was created after the Soviets succeeded sending SPUTNIK into space. The US worried that it was going to be left behind and DARPA was created. People at DARPA were encouraged to think the impossible and then make it possible! There were no limits to what they could think and do! No crazy idea was off limits! Everything had to be innovative and revolutionary! Thanks to them we have a myriad of innovations such as the Internet, the stealth airplane, laser, unmanned combat vehicle, and so many other innovations! Because they were encouraged to think differently and do the impossible.
    But today there is a new tyranny of thought and speech that unfortunately is respected and supported even by our once prestigious universities. And which will ultimately destroy our country.

  3. Decades ago, I was active in my school’s College Republican Club. I can say confidently that we would have NEVER, EVER, invited someone like James Lindsay to speak at one of our functions. There were actually plenty of people like him around then, but they didn’t have social media platforms that could have furnished them with ready-made hordes of gullible followers in those days. A big reason why we wouldn’t have invited someone like Lindsay, is that we had concern and consideration for our fellow students who belonged to the marginalized groups that such extremists have always targeted. Apparently the young Republicans at Northwestern have no empathy for their fellow students, which says a lot about their personal character. And while I’m not sure shutting down the lecture would have been the right thing to do, I find the school’s response incredibly weak.

    As to those who say Duncan Agnew’s reporting regarding this event was “one-sided”, well, when you can find a way to present the “other side” of fact-free, unhinged conspiracy theories, let us know.

  4. Good on students for standing up to fascism. “I hate trans people and think they should be killed or driven to suicide” is not free speech or political opinion, it’s hate speech.

  5. Ideally, a college (or any) education should provide you the chance to “get out of your comfort zone” by listening to ideas other than your own. Listening to “the opposite side” is intended to hone one’s critical thinking skills. Instead of trying to shut the opposition down, they should be listened to, and everyone’s points can then be honestly debated…

    If one goes through life expecting everyone to hew to one’s preconceived notions, then there is little opportunity to learn and grow…

    You should be asking, “Why do others think the way that they do?”, *especially* if you disagree with them…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  6. What’s Duncan’s definition of a “far-right extremist”? Perhaps someone at the publication should teach Duncan how to write unbiased news articles…

    1. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Lindsey, and the organizations he represents, as extremist. As stated in the article.

      1. The Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) is considered by many to be too quick and too eager to label organizations it disagrees with as “extremist.”

        The SPLC’s labeling process is well known – just Goggle it – for harming innocent organizations and individuals who hold conservative or traditional views on social issues. The SPLC’s broad definition of “hate group” and its tendency to label organizations based on their beliefs rather than their actions can lead to unfair and unfounded accusations. Frankly, it may exist on the other side of its judgemental coin.

        I would never rely on the SPLC as a backstop for labeling any group as extremist. Duncan should know better if he wants to be a professional journalist.

        Facts should be sourced from first principles, not from political organizations.

        1. If you think the SPLC is too extreme you share views with people who wanted segregation & slavery to be legal so like, think about what side of history you want to be on.

  7. Seems like a very one-sided story. I’m not a fan of James Lindsay – his speech seems hateful – but he does have 350k plus Twitter followers.

    He was invited to speak by the Northwestern College Republicans. No quotes from them?

    This type of unbalanced reporting is becoming typical of the RoundTable. I would expect Duncan Agnew, a Northwestern Medill student (my alma mater), to be a better journalist. It’s easy to write a one-sided article. Please take the harder, twisting road. After all, the journey is the reward.

    1. Great analogy, I was thinking the very same thing. As a reporter he should speak on both sides of the story. Seemed a little biased to me.

      1. First, I don’t necessary agree that this type of presentation is good. Not from the perspective of open thought, nor keeping the world safe from craziness nor of anything else like that.

        To be clear, I don’t like Trump or Republicans in general or the stuff that crawls out from under to climb on the authoritarian gangster wagon. But.

        Guys, IMHO, what this speaker did is what anybody with an agenda, a belief position, a crusade or just something to sell MUST DO. If you give a damn about your cause and you want to gain followers, strengthen your side and sway the direction of things, you go talk with your adversaries, your opponents, your enemies. What you have seen hear is somebody willing to do the work. To go to the opposition. Anybody remember the word bi-partisan? You all think that’s a “virtue word”, right? Well, it doesn’t flourish when we demonize each other. Lindsay is talking to his opposition. Whether anybody “here” can get anything from it, who knows.

        And yes, where were the quotes from the those who invited this speaker and where is the info on the group or groups those people are members of? Eg. were there several thousand people in the group that invited him and is this a rising tide at NU? What, ridiculous you say? Certainly nothing in this article gives the slightest hint – no context, overview, perspective, nada. And, what do people on the decision path have to say about this? Are there guide lines? Was protocol followed? What protocol? Did _anybody_ besides eager promoters review this event? Is this a suggestion that came down from one of NU’s board members or trustees? Who thought this up? What else is in the pipe line here? Are we going to get to listen to left wing fanatics as well as right wing fanatics? Ya-di-ya-di-dah. Maybe it’s too much to expect an in depth analysis, but really, how about something more than a long head line?