USC student group Uncensored America hosted Laura Loomer, a Conservative speaker, to talk about her experience with political censorship on Tuesday in Russell House.
Loomer is a Conservative investigative journalist and activist, according to her "About" page with Uncensored America.
Students could attend Loomer's event for free. Her speech focused on censorship and how Loomer felt she has been censored in the past. Loomer spent a large part of her time talking about cancel culture and her political history and responding to questions from audience members about fascism.
"(Fascism is) not far right and the theological inconsistencies that are shouted by radicals, including many of these individuals here tonight, who call people Nazis and fascists which are actually radical leftists," Loomer said.
Some students attended the event to protest against Loomer's past actions and ideology. She was previously banned from ride-share apps in 2017 for complaining that her drivers were Muslim, and was banned from Twitter in 2018 for hateful comments against Rep. Ilhan Omar and calling herself a "proud Islamophobe."
Organize Against Transphobia released a message stating their intent to protest Loomer's speech on their Instagram before the event.
"Many who promote Loomer’s narrative are unlikely to be swayed, but we hope our response may sway others with less stake in the situation, and demonstrate support for those threatened by Loomer’s presence on campus. Regardless of who the mouthpiece is, speakers who spout fascist talking points will not be welcome on campus, and we will always be there to oppose them," the organization said.
The event was scheduled for 8 p.m., but Loomer did not arrive until 8:30 p.m. As she began to give her speech, student protesters inside chanted slogans such as “Fascist Free USC." Protesters could also be heard from the hallway — playing music, dancing and chanting.
Loomer could barely be heard over the protesters, so university officials tried repeatedly to get them to quiet down by threatening arrest. Supporters of Loomer also exchanged insults with protesters during the event.
Olivia McKinney, a student protester and member of the Carolina Socialists, said she saw Loomer's presence at USC as an attempt by organizations on the right side of the political spectrum to reach college students and said it was wrong that USC was contributing.
“It's pretty shameful that USC claims to care about diversity and bigotry and hosts speakers that call themselves 'proud Islamophobes,'" McKinney said. "If USC actually wanted to put its money where its mouth is, they would say ‘Laura Loomer can’t come here.”
Adrian Hayden, a second-year computer science student, said it is beneficial when politicians come to campus and interact with students.
“I don't have a problem with people protesting, but I do take issue with active disruption of events. I would never say that I don't want anybody to come and speak on campus, because in my mind, it's a public place," Hayden said. "If I had this candidate that I don't like, I would actually rather that they show up because I believe in open discourse, and it's easier to change minds when you can show what somebody actually believes."
The event was originally scheduled to take place in Capstone House but was moved to the Graduate Hotel in Columbia. When the hotel canceled, the event was rescheduled for Russell House 315.
Brendan Connors, the president of Uncensored America at USC and a second-year political science student said these changes were made because of safety concerns but that the original room was reserved almost two months ago.
“We had a lot of setbacks with the university putting up roadblocks and giving us reasons for not allowing us to organize, which was a violation of our First Amendment right to organize on campus," Connors said.
According to Connors, USC's chapter of Uncensored America worked with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression to write a letter to USC in order to organize the event. Connors said that after all the changes and safety concerns, the organization secured a room in Russell House with help from Kim McMahon, the director of Russell House, Marc Shook, the dean of students, and Ryan Gross, the associate director of Russell House.
Marc Shook, the dean of students at USC, entered the room with USCPD around 8:45, asked to see people's CarolinaCards and told students that they could potentially be arrested for disrupting the event because of the heckler's veto, which, according to Shook, means that it is illegal to behave in a manner that prohibits a speaker from sharing their views.
“We had the right to arrest those individuals. We're never going to want to do that. We don't want to really do anything that stifles free speech. I was very appreciative those individuals chose voluntarily to leave the audience," Shook said. "We also don't want the lasting picture of an event of students engaging in free speech to be someone being hauled out by police because that's not the image that we want."
Loomer did not officially begin her speech until 8:50 p.m., and she could only speak until 9:30 p.m., when the reservation for the room ended. In the question-and-answer portion of the event she blamed the protesters for cutting down the time.
“I am aware of the fact that the reason I was late tonight is because trans-radicals like yourself may threat the violence against the attendees of tonight's event,” Loomer said.
After her speech, Loomer was ushered outside of Russell House by police, founder of Uncensored America Sean Semanko and Safely Engaging in Expression Delegates — a group of administrators who work to ensure that the First Amendment and Constitution is respected on campus, according to Shook.
According to Connors, this was Loomer's first visit to a college campus but Loomer said she hopes to return in the future.
"You know, it's unfortunate, it's unfortunate that the students are protesting tonight disrespecting other people's right to hear a speech," Loomer said. "So hopefully I'll, you know, come back in the future, and I'll be able to begin my speech on time, and there won't have to be so many police officers."
University Spokesperson Jeff Stensland said that while the Carolinian Creed urges students on campus to engage in civil discussion and debate, USC does not prohibit constitutionally protected speech.
“Student groups at the University of South Carolina bring a variety of speakers to campus, representing a broad range of cultural and political perspectives ... providing space for events does not represent the university’s endorsement of the views shared, but as a public institution we uphold the constitutional right of free expression," Stensland said in an email to The Daily Gamecock. "While disrupting planned events is not permitted, members of our community who disagree with the views of a particular speaker are welcome to engage in peaceful protest and to make their voices heard.”