On Feb. 24, the Georgetown University College Republicans hosted Eric Trump (MSB ’06) and Charlie Kirk on Georgetown University’s campus. Our organization, Georgetown University College Democrats, responded with a boycott of the event and a social media campaign to educate Georgetown’s community about the speakers’ associations with hate groups. We stand firmly behind our decision to respond in this manner, and we reject the misleading arguments proffered by the conservative community on campus in defense of the event.
In addition to the speakers’ connections to the administration of President Donald Trump and the hateful policies implemented under this presidency, both Eric Trump and Kirk are closely tied to the organization Turning Point USA, an official co-sponsor of this event. TPUSA has well-documented ties to white nationalism, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other hateful speech. Documentation of these significant ties can be found in GUCD’s official statement or from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. These ties are corroborated by a substantial body of reliable journalism, calling into question GUCR’s accusations of “slander.”
GUCR did not try to justify the event by defending these people and their ties to hate groups. The evidence of bigotry is credible and damning, and the quotes are obviously indefensible. These speakers are indefensible. Instead, GUCR and those who promoted the event have fallen back on two weak counterarguments to justify these speakers’ presence: that their speech has been limited and that they deserve freedom from accountability.
The first argument is the easiest to debunk: Neither GUCR nor their speakers have had their speech limited. No one in GUCD nor any of our statement’s co-signatories called for the cancellation of the event, and no other liberal organizations on campus attempted to disrupt the speakers. The closest thing to a true protest that occurred was a silent walkout that did not interrupt the event. Freedom of speech simply has not been infringed upon in any way over the course of this event — though, ironically, our organization’s own volunteers were asked to leave the line area of the event for distributing information we compiled on the speakers.
Supporters of the event have also contended that people should not be prohibited from speaking simply over problematic associations and that the hosts should not be held responsible for the associations of their speakers. GUCD recognizes that passing associations are different than a person’s own behavior; however, we argue that these speakers’ ties to bigotry far exceed a passing association, as both Kirk and Trump regularly elevate entities promoting hateful speech. GUCR cannot defend this event by minimizing the significance of these speakers’ connections.
Even the individual decision to give a speaker a platform matters. Kirk’s repeated use of his platform to elevate Holocaust deniers like Bryan Sharpe or homophobic organizations like the ADF reflects poorly on him. Even if platforming a speaker is not indicative of an endorsement of those views, it reflects a belief about what perspectives are valuable to our discourse and worthy of engagement. That platform also legitimizes such figures, providing their bigoted views an avenue into the political mainstream. Thus, irrespective of what he may argue about his own personal prejudices, Kirk’s partnership with, employment of and support for such people is an indictment of his values.
Likewise, GUCR’s decision to give TPUSA a platform inherently matters. The Georgetown community can look to the events that dedicate their resources to and can infer something about the perspectives they think constructively add to our conversations, the arguments they consider worthy of engagement and the behaviors they believe do not even necessitate acknowledgment, much less condemnation. GUCD does not believe Kirk’s perspective advances substantive discourse on our campus; on the contrary, hosting him without any organizational critique of the behaviors he engages in constitutes tacit approval of his lengthy history of mainstreaming bigoted figures. Organizations cannot escape accountability for the figures they offer a platform by simply decrying the concept of “guilt by association.”
It is certainly possible to engage with speakers who have objectionable views in productive dialogue. Doing so, however, requires a proactive acknowledgment of their previous problematic statements and clarity on your own stances, especially in response to concerns expressed by the public. GUCR has offered neither. We implore other student groups on campus to carefully consider the message sent when deciding to host a speaker. Our values are on display, our legitimacy is at stake and our community is watching.
AJ Williamson is a junior in the College and is chair of the Georgetown University College Democrats. Jordan Westendorf is a freshman in the College and is director of communications of GUCD.