It was a question about racism in modern America that erupted into an argument in the Michigan Union Ballroom yesterday, as controversial conservative author David Horowitz lectured on slave reparations and the faults of leftist society.
The event began with a reading from the University’s Statement of Students Rights and Responsibilities and Horowitz commenting on the importance of being respectful. But after Horowitz’ lecture and the floor was opened for questions, the event quickly digressed into accusations of racism that crossed in both directions.
Armed security guards escorted Horowitz around the building and controlled entrances to the ballroom. Flanked by guards, Horowitz expressed regret that open dialogue was not more encouraged at the University.
“You ought to be embarrassed that an event like this must be guarded by police,” Horowitz said.
The event, sponsored by the Michigan Review and YAF, brought more than 600 students to the ballroom to listen to Horowitz. Many were turned away due to maximum occupancy and a lack of chairs. As Horowitz began speaking, they could be heard outside the doors chanting for an “open meeting.”
Much of the room was filled by members of the Black Student Union. LSA senior Panther McAllister said “black people and people in general need to know what is being said.”
The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary protested the event and earlier in the day tied his presence to racist comments written on the Diag early Monday morning.
Horowitz blasted the Defend Affirmative Action Party in a press release and went so far as to call them a “hate group.” He said leftists were likely responsible for writing the slur.
Horowitz described the left as “people that believe in a socialist revolution. They are people who think corporations are the enemies and al-Qaida could be our friend.”
YAF chairman Peter Apel said the sponsors were “pleased that a conservative speaker would come and give an intelligent perspective on the issues that are historically spun by left wing activists and professors.” He said the last conservative speaker on campus was in 1998 when Ward Connerly, the man credited with dismantling the University of California’s affirmative action policy, was booed off stage.
Horowitz said he believes this was a sign of increasing leftist tendency in the university system across the nation, and he has started an attack on university administrations. He said that hiring policies have pushed conservative professors from faculties and blamed a lack of political inventiveness on these actions.
“The left is intellectually bankrupt. All of the innovative policies are coming out of conservatives,” Horowitz said.
“Our universities are intellectually dead, and that is a direct result of having purged conservatives from them.”
Horowitz also attacked leftists for “everything that is wrong in inner cities,” and said that they have monopolized local positions.
Horowitz is noted for placing advertisements in several college newspapers last spring which declared 10 reasons why slave reparations would be bad for “black people and racists.” The ad created controversy about free speech and several papers were condemned for running it. Angry students removed papers from circulation at several schools.
The Michigan Daily did run not the ad but later offered Horowitz an editorial viewpoint to express his opinion.
Horowitz’s most recent book, “Uncivil Wars,” follows the debate over his views on reparations. Horowitz said he is in support of reparations, but that the people it should be paid to are no longer living.
Many students in attendance expressed their distaste for Horowitz through their emotional responses to his comments and frequent interruptions. Horowitz appeared to be annoyed as he raised his voice and fidgeted with the microphone, sometimes making terse comments. Horowitz commented that several questions were “smart-assed.”
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown, worried that the event was getting out of hand, said that either the Young Americans for Freedom members needed to end it, or she would.
Some students were disappointed that the discussion was not more constructive.
“There was too much yelling and too much rhetoric,” said LSA sophomore Eli Segall.
LSA freshman Larnell Collins said he agreed with several of Horowitz’ points.
“I don’t think he is a racist. Slavery is in the past and we have got to move on,” he said.
LSA junior David Post said he “didn’t agree with a lot of what he had to say, but this showed there was a real need to open a dialogue in an intellectual and academic manner to come to some type of understanding.”
Horowitz’ parents were active in the Communist Party and he has been active in fighting for civil rights since 1948. He was once a leader of the “New Left.”
For several years, Horowitz worked with the Black Panther Party and was an associate of Huey Newton. But in 1974, his bookkeeper disappeared and her body was later found. He blamed the death on the Black Panthers and as a result avoided politics for seven years. He said he did not vote Republican until 1984. He detailed this shift to conservative politics in his book “Radical Son.”
Horowitz said he is liberal on most issues, including abortion. He also said he is a defender of homosexuality.