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What really happened at the Columbia protest
Setting the record straight

October 13, 2006 | Page 5

THE COLUMBIA Protesters' Defense Committee has released the fact sheet below to dispel the myths and lies that have spread about the demonstration against the Minutemen.

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VARIOUS MISREPRESENTATIONS of events at Columbia on October 4 are circulating in the media. The Columbia Protesters' Defense Committee would like to correct some of them.

The planning of the protest. Columbia College Republicans President Chris Kulawik told Fox News that the protest was carried out by "everything from the Chicano Caucus to the International Socialist Organization." No student club organized, endorsed or provided any resources for the protest inside the event, although individual members of numerous clubs participated. Student clubs sponsored the protest outside the event and were not involved with events inside.

Who committed violence? The New York Post claimed that protesters "physically attack[ed] the speaker, forcing him to flee and sparking a brawl."

In fact, as several videos indicate, the Minutemen and their supporters assaulted the protesters. Minutemen supporters kicked protesters approaching the stage, and then initiated a tug-of-war to destroy the protesters' banners, shoving, punching and kicking them in the process. One protester who was kicked in the face has filed a complaint. His attacker is clearly identifiable from Univision's video coverage.

Yet according to the Los Angeles Times, "the lectern was knocked over and Gilchrist fell back, smashing his reading glasses." This is false. Even Gilchrist has implicitly denied it, saying on Fox News, "I have to tell you, I was about ready to deliver the very first Minuteman knuckle sandwich to whoever tried to attack me and do bodily harm to me. I was not going to remove myself."

Fortunately, as he suggests, he did not have the opportunity. As the videos plainly show, no protesters ever got near him.

Absurd allegations. Minuteman speaker Marvin Stewart claimed on the O'Reilly Factor that the Arabic text on the first banner unfurled by protesters denied the Holocaust. In fact, as pictures from the event show, the Arabic text on the banner read, "No human being is illegal," as the English and Spanish read, "No one is illegal." Stewart's interpretation seems to be based on nothing more than a bigoted assumption that Arabs are anti-Semites.

This was only one of Stewart's absurd claims; he also asserted that protesters had, while unfurling a banner in protest of racism, used racial epithets and made Nazi salutes. These lies are not even defended in the Minuteman Project press releases.

According to the hate-group watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center, the Holocaust-denying neo-Nazi National Alliance actively supports and recruits for the Minutemen.

Who stopped Gilchrist's speech? According to Columbia President Lee Bollinger, protesters "use[d] the cover of protest to silence speakers." In fact, protesters did not silence Gilchrist. Minutemen speakers disrespected and ridiculed students for over 45 minutes--and students expressed their displeasure verbally and visibly throughout.

By the time Gilchrist began to speak, the Minutemen's bigotry had already isolated them from the vast majority of the audience, as the videos show clearly. When protesters climbed on the stage with banners in a peaceful act of opposition, Minutemen supporters responded by assaulting them.

The Minutemen's own violence and isolation led them and Columbia security to decide to shut down the event.

Free speech at Columbia. According to Bollinger, "We must speak out to deplore a disruption that threatens the central principle to which we are institutionally dedicated, namely to respect the rights of others to express their views." His statement attacks the protest as "one of the most serious breaches of academic faith that can occur."

In 2004, however, when Middle Eastern Studies professors were under attack for their political views, Bollinger came to a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and said, "The First Amendment does not apply to the university, because it is a private institution. It can choose its policies for how to treat faculty utterances."

To be clear, the Columbia Protesters' Defense Committee has not called for Columbia to bar speakers based on their political views. We believe that students have the right to protest offensive speakers, and that our protest was an exercise of our free speech. We call on Columbia to protect the free speech of all of its students and professors, rather than bending to right-wing media pressure.

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