A presentation to be given at the University of Alabama by professional contrarian and right-wing free speech advocate Milo Yiannopoulos was almost cancelled, due to a nearly-$7000 fee suddenly imposed by the University for Yiannopoulos’ security arrangements. Under heavy pressure, however, the University relented, and waived the fee. Sophomore Gerald Fraas, treasurer of the UA College Republicans, agreed to speak about this incident in an email interview.
Interview by JAMES NIILER | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Why and how was Yiannopoulos invited?
Mr. Milo Yiannopoulos reached out to the UA College Republicans offering to include the University of Alabama in his fall tour. Through serious deliberation over if we should extend the invitation to Mr. Yiannopoulos, we came to the conclusion that this was a prime opportunity to welcome a speaker who was culturally relevant and would create a discourse on campus. It’s safe to say there is not one of us who completely agrees with everything Milo says, but we recognized the merit of what he draws attention to. Mr. Yiannopoulos draws light to the unwillingness of his opponents to propose an actual argument, instead attempting to silence him via political buzzwords, disruptive protest, or preventing him from speaking entirely.
How much controversy did Yiannoupoulos’ outreach generate in the UA College Republicans, and other conservative groups at the University? How did the campus Left react to Yiannopoulos’ planned event?
Once the event was publicized by local blogs, the student body in opposition to Milo grew outraged. Individuals from a variety of political backgrounds, called for us to dis-invite him and reconsider our motives in inviting him. This outrage was understandable until several campus leaders decided to call upon the University to supersede our right to host this speaker and cancel the event by force, an act against our liberties. At that point, conservative groups on campus seemed to have supported our effort to host Milo, but still reserved the right to dislike his methods and message. Within the College Republicans, we saw an increase in membership due to hosting this event and turning our focus onto giving Republican students an opportunity to put their time into Republican victory efforts. The divide was never obviously present but the membership did have mixed opinions on hosting Milo.
Explain the security arrangements and costs that were initially agreed upon by the UA College Republicans and the University administration.
The security situation is a difficult one to comment upon. Initially, our internal estimates for security costs ranged at around $800-$1200. When meeting with campus officials to discuss the specifics of the event, we were not given a detailed breakdown of what the costs would be, but a verbal estimate of around $4600-$4800. On Wednesday, I received an email from UAPD detailing the full assignments needed for the event, a total bill of $6955.20. Our legal representation sent a cease and desist letter to the University Legal Counsel stating that this was usage of a Heckler’s Veto, where security costs in response to protests are used to put heavy financial pressure on groups to simply cancel the event, thereby suppressing their speech. Friday evening, after national media exposure, the University released a statement waiving all security fees for the event.
Who assisted you when the University imposed the unusually high speaking fee?
We utilized the Alliance Defending Freedom for legal representation. They assigned us a lawyer based out of Montgomery to draft the cease and desist letter and assisted us in drafting the press release. The College Republican Federation of Alabama also rose to our aid in rallying media support.
What has the University’s reaction traditionally been towards invitations to conservative speakers? How does it differ from its reaction towards invitations to liberal speakers?
If you look in recent years, student organizations have brought in few if any speakers who could be deemed as “controversial.” No matter liberal or conservative. Any assertions about what their reaction would be to such a speaker on the basis of political opinion are limited to sheer speculation. If this is due to policies in place governing such events, or due to student groups simply never felling the urge to bring in a “controversial” speaker, I can’t reasonably speculate.
What are your hopes for Yiannoupolos’ visit?
It’s my hope that Milo touches upon an issue in critical need of discussion. At Auburn, he spoke about feminism. At LSU, he spoke about suppression of speech on Twitter. It’s my hope that his speech leaves the student body having an open discussion on whatever the topic is instead of a lopsided conversation that leave no room for real discourse.
Yiannopoulos will deliver his presentation Oct. 10 at the University of Alabama as initially scheduled, as part of his nationwide ‘Return of the Faggot’ tour. The event has been sold out. Many thanks to Fraas for agreeing to this interview.