This article contains explicit language.
By: Caitlyn Freeman, Jake Shindel and Courtney Ott
Around 60 people protested an event held on campus Monday night, at which two Republican candidates for office in Maryland were invited to speak by a conservative student activist group.
Towson University’s chapter of Turning Point USA invited Gordana Schifanelli, Maryland’s Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor and running mate to candidate Dan Cox, and Republican Attorney General of Maryland nominee and former League of the South member Michael Peroutka to lead a conversation about the U.S. Constitution.
Members of TU’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America marched in the rain from the College of Liberal Arts down the West Village bridge. With signs in hand, the group chanted “no justice, no peace” as they headed towards West Village Commons.
“This is what democracy looks like,” the protestors chanted.
In response to Peroutka’s previous association with a pro-confederate organization, the protesters sang Union marching songs, including “John Brown’s Body,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Union Dixie.”
According to an article by the Washington Post, from 2014-18, Peroutka, endorsed by Cox, was a member of the League of the South, an American and white nationalist organization.
The League of the South, according to its website, seeks to “return to a more traditional, conservative Christian-oriented Southern culture.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled The League of the South as a hate group.
Upon hearing Peroutka’s background, Freshman Avery Misterka decided to protest.
“This is really a problem, and it’s going to continue not only to erode national rights, living conditions of people, the way that people in certain groups are treated but ultimately to erode the very democratic rights that we have.”
Additionally, Peroutka served on the Anne Arundel County Council and is a practicing Lawyer.
The protest saw members of YDSA asserting their distaste for Peroutka and their beliefs. At one point, an event attendee began antagonizing the protesters, which led to a brief, verbal altercation.
“Fuck these fascists,” the protestors chanted. “No Cox on our campus.”
YDSA Outreach Coordinator Dalila Ives said the protest symbolized their intolerance toward Peroutka’s political affiliations.
“I hope that we show them that their regressive politics are not welcome here, that their racism will not go unnoticed and unanswered, and that we can protest them in a peaceful manner,” Ives, a sophomore, said.
Similarly, Senior Angelina Spirito said she feels people with conservative ideals don’t face enough opposition.
“I think people like this are disgusting and ruining our country, and the fact that it’s being tolerated by a good amount of people is terrible,” Spirito said.
Alongside the YDSA members, four Goucher University students and several TU faculty members attended the protest. Nicole Fabricant, an anthropology professor, said she attended to support the YDSA members.
“Standing up against fascism has become urgent, and so today is the first organization against Turning Point,” Fabricant said.
While the protest was going on outside, Peroutka led a conversation on the U.S. Constitution inside the West Village Ballrooms, while Schifanelli joined via Zoom. The Towerlight inquired about Schifanelli’s absence, and Peroutka’s campaign manager, Macky Stafford, said that she had a scheduling conflict.
Nearly half of the events attendees were members of the public and not TU affiliated as the event was open to the public. Over 100 people attended the event.
Schifanelli’s speech mainly focused on her background and how her past influenced her beliefs. After Schifanelli, Peroutka gave a presentation on the U.S. Constitution.
He was interrupted multiple times by protesters AirDropping meme images to the laptop that was presenting the event’s PowerPoint slides. Once the presentations were finished, students and members of the public had the chance to ask Peroutka and Schifanelli questions.
Tempers rose in the room as the questions about Peroutka’s former affiliation with the League of the South came in. His views regarding same-sex marriage and the prison system were also questioned.
“I believe marriage is between a man and woman, as defined by God,” Peroutka told the crowd.
Part of Peroutka’s presentation included a discussion about the undeniable presence of God and Pagan beliefs.
Brendan Hegberg, president of TU’s chapter of TPUSA told The Towerlight, he was “honored” to host the event.
“Events like these are designed to promote civil discussion in times of severe polarization,” Hegberg said.
As the sun set, the protesters began marching again around the West Village lawn, chanting through a bullhorn. Sophomore Stephen E. said he attended the protest because he’s upset with how the University allowed TPUSA to host the event.
“I’m here because it’s still baffling to me that people that support these racists, bigoted ideas and the fact that this campus is allowing it and not doing much about it,” Stephen, who declined to give his last name, said. “How long does it have to take before we have to start taking matters into our own hands because we have been almost fighting this battle for 100 years.”
Additionally, many protesters expressed concern regarding the use of their tuition dollars given to Student Government Association affiliated groups, like TU’s chapter of TPUSA.
According to President Jordan Colquitt, the SGA provided no funding for the event. He said he believes that even if the group requested funding, the SGA senate probably wouldn’t have approved it due to TPUSA not being eligible to request funding based on not completing required benchmarks.
In response to the event and protesting, a TU spokesperson told The Towerlight that the University supports the expression of free speech among its students.
“TU values freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas,” the University said. “The free exchange of ideas and information is central to higher education’s foremost obligation of fostering both intellectual development and the discovery and dissemination of knowledge.”
Further, the University said as a public institution, they strive to protect students’ free speech rights, regardless of political affiliation.
“As a public institution, TU endeavors to protect each student’s free speech rights, and may not limit speech or expression, based solely on the content or the views being expressed.”
Editors note: this article has been amended to clarify SGA’s role in funding approval for events. Colquitt clarified his statement Tuesday morning by explaining SGA does not have the jurisdiction to deny or grant funding based on ideology. The article has been updated to correct the error.