An event featuring conservative media icon Ben Shapiro was so packed on Tuesday that many lined up outside UCSB’s Campbell Hall live streaming the feed on their iPhones: “Ben Shapiro Takes on the College Left.” But most questions lobbed at the fast-talking commentator were softballs smothered in praise.
The talk, formally titled “Lies, Prejudice, and Division: The Legacy of the #BLM Movement,” was put on by the UCSB College Republicans. It drew outrage from Black Student Union members last year when the Student Senate voted to contribute $5,000 to the event. But on Tuesday evening, protesters were nowhere to be found; UC police officers chatted in a casual huddle outside the large lecture hall for the entire two-hour talk.
Republican club president Andrew Gates sarcastically introduced himself as “the bigot responsible for this huge crowd.” He described conservatives on campus as minorities, while noting the club board is made up of all Latinos. But, he said, they would not be silenced. “We do not want to censor different opinions,” he said.
The crowd, though, was mostly college-aged men, some from out of the area, who praised Shapiro. After deciding his former outlet Breitbart News was merely propaganda for Donald Trump, Shapiro had founded The Daily Wire in 2015.
The missing opposition could likely be attributed to the fact that several other events — such as the Social Justice Awards — were held on campus Tuesday night as a call to boycott. Shapiro gleefully noted this as he pulled out an award shaped like a gold toilet, snarling, “Social justice is a bunch of crap.”
Shapiro rejected the notion of white privilege, which he called being a “victim inherently if you are not a white person.” He said, “Injustice does not solve injustice. We can’t fix where we start in life.” He championed “personal responsibility,” declaring, “Capitalism is consensual sex and socialism is rape.”
Such statements are not quite as provocative as those by his conservative nemesis Milo Yiannopoulos, who has grabbed headlines for the past three days because of comments he made on video apparently condoning pedophilia. The Conservative Political Action Conference canceled his upcoming performance, and publisher Simon & Schuster withdrew his book deal. Shapiro, undeniably über-conservative, sounded a bit like many liberals who have expressed total shock that right-wingers had waited so long to condemn the provocateur, known for his deliberately offensive rhetoric.
When Shapiro’s second child was born, Yiannopoulos sent him a meme of a black baby, which was supposed to say Shapiro’s wife had had sex with a black man. The alt-right community responded by hurling at Shapiro the word “cuck,” short for “cuckold.” In the white supremacist blogosphere, the word is meant to convey weakness. That was just one example of their sour relationship. “I am not a Milo fan,” he said.
The first audience questions were posed by a few liberals, per Shapiro’s request. A young black man asked, “How can you say there is no institutional racism when these institutions themselves are confessing these things?” He gave a few examples, including FBI director James Comey’s statements about a history of minorities being targeted by police and the 2006 FBI report on white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement. The two engaged in a relatively civil back and forth, with Shapiro contending individuals in agencies could certainly be racists but that is separate from “institutional racism,” which he said “inherently” sets people up to fail.
He later took a much more controversial stance on Black Lives Matter, saying, “The issue is not based on race. It’s based on culture.” He blamed high percentages of single motherhood in black communities — which “is growing in white communities” — and high school drop-out rates.
He laughed off the idea women in America are oppressed, pointing to women physically suffering all over the world. He is unapologetic about his stance against abortion, saying he could care less about a woman’s body — like her kidneys — but rather about the human being inside of her.
He falls into the Republican camp that is either skeptical or downright hostile toward President Trump. “I like to call it balls and strikes with him,” he said. “His approach to truth is scanty,” adding later he would characterize it as “leftist.”
As a conservative news outlet editor, Shapiro has the access to influence those on the right in ways liberal media newspapers simply can’t. He expressed concern many conservatives fall into a dangerous pattern of defending Trump simply for the sake of defending him. He called on them to support Trump’s positive actions while distancing themselves from his “silly” remarks. He said he appreciated Trump’s scorn for the media because “the media don’t tell the truth. But if you are going to do that, you have to replace the non-truth with truths. You can’t replace the not truths with more not truths.”
Passionate Trump supporter Celine Delfer, who is the treasurer of Santa Barbara County Young Republicans, said she tuned out most of the Trump-themed questions because “no matter what Trump does, there are people too eager to spout off an opinion … and most people speak without having historical context on which to base their opinions.” But she enjoyed that the largely supportive crowd “all seemed pleased and gracious after having their semi-combative question(s) answered.”
After the event, Kathy Swift, a local activist and graduate student, found herself to be one of the only people there who found his remarks “appalling.” She specifically objected to the notion people in poverty should simply try harder to do better. “It’s ugly,” she said, noting that logic certainly bolsters his own position as a white man.
Looking around at the young people pouring out of the lecture hall, she expressed surprise so many attendees were there to support him. But she felt encouraged by recent progressive activism on campus. Undergrads, she said, are “confused and trying to understand what is going on.” She described it as symptoms of an illness. “It will take a lot of work to heal,” she said.