MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Students and faculty at Columbia University are protesting a speaking series hosted by college Republicans that will bring conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain to the Ivy League school later this month.
But the head of the group defended their choice of guests Thursday, saying the school needed more exposure to "people that represent middle America."
"This is an opportunity for students to figure out why people are following people like Mike Cernovich, like Matt Drudge," Ari Boosalis, president of the Columbia Republicans, told DNAinfo New York. "A lot of people that represent middle America and those types of voters, they're not represented at this school at all, and this is an opportunity for students to confront those views."
Tommy Robinson, the former leader of a far-right protest movement in the United Kingdom, is slated to speak on October 10, and Cain is scheduled for the October 17. Cernovich, an alt-right media personality who fueled the Pizzagate conspiracy — the debunked narrative that members of the Democratic Party were involved in a child-sex ring — is set to appear on October 30.
Boosalis, a junior studying finance at the college, said the format will give speakers 30 minutes to express their views, to be followed by a 45-minute Q&A session. He declined to say how much the speakers are being paid.
On Thursday night at 6 p.m., students are holding a rally outside the university's Low Library to demand that the events featuring Cernovich and Robinson be cancelled. A press release from those opposing some of the speakers referred to Robinson as "a violent Islamophobe who founded the English Defense League."
"[Columbia] President [Lee] Bollinger recently said in a New York Times article that the University was interested in addressing 'current injustices' after Columbia published a report revealing the role that wealthy slave merchants played in founding the University," the statement read. "If Columbia is serious about breaking from its historic complicity in the slavery, then it can start by refusing to give a platform to white supremacists."
While Boosalis said he agrees with demonstrators' right to protest, he encouraged them to grill the guests during their Q&A sessions.
When asked about Cernovich's controversial past the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, Boosalis said the series would provide an opportunity for students to challenge him directly on the matter.
"I don't agree with all my speakers on every point, but it's important for that conversation to happen," the student said. "And for students to point those things out, I think it's a fair criticism."
Boosalis said the club is working on its November schedule, which currently includes conservative radio host Dennis Prager, on a date to be determined, as well as Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, on November 18.