Protesters amassed outside and inside the Ohio Union as those quick enough to get tickets filed in to the Performance Center on Tuesday night.
Midterm elections have passed, but political energy captured campus as a large crowd — one that far outpaced the size of an appearance by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren a few weeks earlier — descended on the Union.
With supporters and dissenters looking on, Ben Shapiro delivered his conservative message to a full house while those opposed to his message — and those outright opposed to him being allowed to speak — protested outside.
“Thanks to the university for standing up for free speech and allowing this event to go on as planned and thanks to law enforcement for protecting our rights day in and day out,” Shapiro opened while also chiding the Council on Student Affairs for requiring multiple appeals for funding to be approved for a student organization to host him.
Shapiro, a popular conservative commentator formerly of Breitbart and now editor-in-chief of his own website, The Daily Wire, is known for speaking on campuses across the country and bringing controversy with him.
Shapiro — who spoke before a crowd of 500 with countless others outside and filling the US Bank Conference Theater where a livestream was playing — was hosted by the Ohio State chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, an organization that, according to its website, “introduces young people to conservative ideas through conservative conferences, speakers, campus lectures and initiatives.”
Elle Lamb, president of Ohio State’s YAF chapter, said she wanted to bring Shapiro to Ohio State so it could spark conversation on a campus she views as politically apathetic.
“He gets the attention of students who are more lethargic in their political beliefs,” Lamb said in an interview prior to the event.
Shapiro spoke on the topic of the “lie” politicians tell Americans: that government can solve all their problems. Shapiro argued that the government is, other than in extreme cases, only meant to protect life, liberty and property.
“They promise you that if you have a problem they can fix your problem,” he said. “The true threat to our liberties is not from other individuals but instead comes from government.”
But what followed the discussion is what Shapiro is known for: his question-and-answer sessions. Shapiro devoted an hour and fifteen minutes of his two-hour appearance to taking questions from supporters and opposition alike.
Shapiro has generated much of his popularity from refuting the questions and opinions of liberal students at his events with supporters posting viral videos of him “owning the libs” or “destroying snowflakes.”
The YAF official livestream carried the description, “Shapiro is partnering with YAF to trigger leftist snowflakes on campuses nationwide in the fight against political correctness safe spaces run amok.”
While Shapiro asked for those with dissenting opinions to be moved to the front of the line, no one with strong opposition to his views came forward.The closest to a contentious moment was a student that challenged his ranking of Star Wars movies.
Those who disagreed with Shapiro were instead found outside the performance hall — some promoted opposing ideals, while others outright opposed his right to speak at Ohio State.
Jack Wagner, a second-year in political science and history, was volunteering for the Young Democratic Socialists of America outside Shapiro’s speech where they tried to rally support for a $15 minimum wage for campus workers.
“We thought that we wanted to have a presence at the event and we had a lot of time deliberating on what we wanted to do and we thought the best thing to do was have a table for ‘Fight for 15,’” Wagner said. “We thought it’d be a way to get a positive cause at an event that a lot of people would label as negative, especially if you see all the anti-Ben Shapiro posters up about his bigotry.”
Lamb was aware of those planning to protest the event, but wanted a speaker like Shapiro to spark discussion not violence.
“That’s my frustration with protests,” she said. “You have the opportunity to get up and ask him your questions and be able to debate someone. Why do you just want to scream and shout him down and shut him down?”
Wagner said that, overall, he was disappointed Shapiro got a platform at Ohio State.
“I’m not really one to say that one should have their free speech suppressed, but I think it presents somewhat of a danger to a lot of the people at the school who feel that his messages are typically targeted at them and targets violence and harassment at them,” Wagner said.
Shapiro is aware of the protesters that pop up wherever he goes and frequently addresses it on his podcast, The Ben Shapiro Show, and addressed the ongoing protests during his speech Tuesday.
“I live near the California wildfires and this makes me seem more dangerous than those,” Shapiro said in reference to the many flyers and letters that sent out “warnings” leading up to his appearance.
Lamb also wanted to bring Shapiro because while he sparks debate and protest, he also has a keen ability to connect with young conservatives, something in which Lamb readily admits conservatives could be better. Part of Shapiro’s appeal, Lamb said, is his ability to connect the typical conservative faith-based ideals with facts.
“You have to be able to defend what you believe both in a Christian standpoint and a facts and logic standpoint,” she said.
Shapiro put his weaving of faith and facts on display Tuesday when asked to provide a secular argument for support of Israel by responding that Israel is “the only liberal democracy in the entire region.”
“It’s been the most consistent and solid American ally throughout the region,” Shapiro said.
Ultimately, the night went off with the speech completing and protests not getting out of hand. Ohio State’s campus was left unscathed by Shapiro’s appearance despite the fears of some groups.
Tensions rose in the days leading up, but that was to be expected with a speaker like Shapiro.
“He’s not afraid. He says what he means and means what he says,” Lamb said. “He backs it up with facts and that’s really important for conservative students.”