MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Hundreds of chanting protesters cut short a far-right activist’s remarks at a Columbia speaking series Tuesday and have vowed to do so again later this month when Herman Cain and Mike Cernovich are due to speak.
They drowned out Tommy Robinson, who’d called in via Skype to the Columbia College Republicans event at Lerner Hall, loudly criticizing his conservative stances on immigration and nationalism in Europe.
Robinson was unable to give his prepared remarks and instead shifted to a Q&A session before cutting the event short, according to the club's president Ari Boosalis.
My full speech I had prepared before antifa tried to prevent it will be uploaded in the coming days pic.twitter.com/33bg2T684O— Tommy Robinson 🇬🇧 (@TRobinsonNewEra) October 11, 2017
"They berated our club, they called me a white supremacist, and the worst part was that this event was held hostage," Boosalis told DNAinfo New York.
Demonstrators argued that Robinson and his controversial ideas shouldn't be allowed a platform to speak at the university.
"If we were to allow him to speak without any opposition, then his position is legitimized and it encourages and invites people to believe that certain groups are less than or should not be represented on the campus," said Ilea Franklin, one of the protest organizers with the Liberation Coalition.
Franklin pointed out that Robinson showed up for his Skype call late and didn't seem to have any prepared remarks. When presented with the opportunity for a Q&A, the students promptly challenged his anti-immigration and Islamophobic stances.
Boosalis said that Robinson was continually interrupted to the point where he had to end his Skype call. He added there are no plans to reschedule the event.
For Boosalis, the disruption was a serious suppression of the speaker's freedom of speech.
But Aryn Davis, another protest organizer with the Liberation Coalition, argued the same right that allows Robinson to speak at the event, offers the students the ability to protest.
"If you're going to allow [Robinson] to have his free speech, we're also going to exercise our free speech," Davis said.
Boosalis countered, "If you want to have freedom of speech, you got to allow both sides to speak. And when you silence someone who's supposed to talk for 20 minutes, you're really silencing his ideas."
Boosalis said he asked Columbia administrators to discipline students who were particularly disruptive, but has not heard back about his request.
In a statement sent to students on Tuesday, Columbia's executive vice president for university life, Suzanne Goldberg, wrote that while the university allowed contentious speakers onto the campus, the point was to open a conversation that would express the university's values in the face of "ideas that are deeply unpopular, offensive to many in our community."
"It is foundational to Columbia’s learning and teaching missions that we allow for the contestation of ideas," Goldberg wrote.
The Columbia College Republicans' next event is on Oct. 17, with former presidential candidate Herman Cain. Alt-right media personality Mike Cernovich will appear on Oct. 30.
Protesters will be at those events as well, they said.