Over 1,000 people stood outside in the snow and frigid November temperatures Thursday evening, waiting to listen to conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro’s talk at the Rackham Auditorium. The event was hosted by the University of Michigan chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. Shapiro will continue his lecture tour at other campuses throughout the fall. 

Controversy seized campus as Shapiro — known for his mantra “Facts don’t care about your feelings” — kicked off his “Exposing the Great Reset” lecture tour at the University. While Shapiro spoke Wednesday evening, over a dozen protestors also stood on the steps outside of Rackham, chanting “Ben’s a mouthpiece of the state. No sense, just hate” and holding signs such as “No to Shapiro. No to Bigotry.” 

Charles Hilu, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) Chairman, introduced Shapiro by crediting YAF’s dedication to putting on public speaking events like the lecture on Tuesday. 

“Throughout this great history, we’ve relied on the presence of great spokesmen, people who can make the case to the public for the ideology of freedom,” Hilu said. “People like Barry Goldwater, like Ronald Reagan, like William F. Buckley, Jr — and now, thanks to the generous support of (YAF), one of those great spokesmen comes to Michigan tonight.” 

Shapiro spoke about the idea of a “Great Reset” in the global economy following the COVID-19 pandemic. Shapiro said he does not think corporations should be working with national governments to enact policy changes such as those involving climate change and mental health. 

“The fact that corporations are working hand in glove with the government right now should be a very scary thing to all of us,” Shapiro said. “What’s scary about our current economic moment, is that the leaders in the ‘Great Reset’ are not actually governmental actors who would be answerable to you.”

Shapiro then transitioned into a Q&A session during which he invited audience members to ask questions about his views on any topic of interest.

When asked about the results of the 2020 election, Shapiro said he does not think voter fraud contributed to former President Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden. Still, Shapiro said he is opposed to mail-in voting. 

“Fraud wasn’t the cause of Donald Trump losing the 2020 election,” Shapiro said. “Donald Trump was the cause of Donald Trump losing the 2020 election. I don’t like the changeable rules to allow for vast mail-in balloting. I, on principle, oppose it. I think that people should go on the day of the election and vote on the day of the election.”

He was also asked about Chinese companies that operate in the U.S., like social media platform TikTok — which he believes should be banned entirely. 

“TikTok should be shut down in the United States,” Shapiro said. “It’s an operation on behalf of the Chinese government and a giant mind virus on American soil.”

When asked about his opinion on gender identity and abortion — one of the major issues from this year’s midterm election — Shapiro said he believes that male and female are the only viable gender identities and human life begins at conception. 

“I’m the most pro-life person that I know,” Shapiro said. “I’m a clear and obvious believer in the idea that a human being has rights literally at the moment of conception.”

Over the last couple of weeks, members of the campus community have shared a variety of opinions in anticipation of Shapiro’s visit. The Ethical Investment Front — a group of activists and community organizers from the Students of Color Liberation Frontpublicly voiced concerns with Shapiro’s visit. 

One of the protesters outside the event, who requested anonymity due to safety concerns, spoke with The Daily and will be referred to as Doe in this article. Doe and other protestors chanted “End white supremacy in our University.” Doe told The Daily they opposed Shapiro’s campus visit because of his views on gender identity and race. 

“Very simply, Shapiro is a racist, transphobic, hateful mouthpiece for the conservative media state,” Doe said. 

Prior to Shapiro’s visit, the University’s chapter of Young Democratic-Socialists of America (YDSA) expressed dislike for Shapiro’s presence on campus by tweeting a picture of the ground reading in chalk “Ben Shapiro Exposing the Great Reset,” along with the caption: 

On the night of the event, Doe added that Shapiro’s presence can be  harmful to marginalized communities in Ann Arbor. 

“What I saw was hateful people and groups coming to Ann Arbor — a place with a lot of Black people, Indigenous people, people of Color and people in the LGBTQIA+ community who could be targeted and put in danger because of his presence,” Doe said. “I felt like somebody needed to tell (Shapiro) that he and his hateful messages and groups were not welcome.”

Hilu told The Daily he supports most of Shapiro’s political platform and was grateful to see the pro-life perspective represented on campus. 

“With the passing of Proposal 3, I think the pro-life movement has a lot of work to do in Michigan,” he said. “(Shapiro) helping to espouse the pro-life position is very helpful for the pro-life movement on campus, which is something the conservative movement really holds dear.”

Some community members said they attended the event in support of the right to free speech. LSA sophomore Kurt Beyer was one of these students and said he supports Shapiro’s visit as a way of providing an array of political viewpoints on campus. 

“I don’t necessarily support Ben Shapiro,” Beyer said. “But I do think that the First Amendment is what holds this country together. I believe that it’s really important to see people speak that have a vastly different perspective than yours because that’s how you help to build dialogue. I feel if people refuse to listen to each other, then that’s how a country breaks apart.”

Hope College junior Therese Joffre said she traveled to Ann Arbor to volunteer for YAF at the event. Though an admirer of Shapiro, Joffre said she appreciated seeing the protestors and progressive audience members expressing their opposing views about Shapiro’s visit.

“Everybody has the ability to be wrong —  Shapiro could be wrong, I could be wrong. You could be wrong,” Joffre said. “If you’re hearing somebody’s different opinion, that helps facilitate your own understanding of what you believe is to be true. If you’re only surrounded by the same ideas, there’s no personal growth.” 

Daily Staff Reporters Emily Blumberg and Martha Lewand can be reached at emilybl@umich.edu and mlewand@umich.edu.