Students protest outside of Michael Johns' lecture on Tuesday.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Students protest outside of Michael Johns' lecture on Tuesday.

February 15, 2017

Students Protest Private Lecture, Calling It a ‘Safe Space for White Supremacy’

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Barred from entry, about 15 students gathered outside Rockefeller Hall on Tuesday to protest a private lecture by Tea Party leader and former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, Michael Johns.

Cornell Political Union announced on Monday that the event — titled “Trumpism Can Make America Great Again” — would be closed to the public after Cornell Police told the union it either had to pay $2,000 in security fees, cancel the event or make it private because of security concerns, according to Troy LeCaire ’17, the group’s president.

Hours before the event, with its location still unknown, Johns said in a Twitter post, “‘The forgotten man and woman will be forgotten no longer,” adding, “I’ll explain tonight, 7:30pm.”

As Johns spoke to the political union about “ominous forces” penetrating U.S. borders, student protesters outside chanted “open that door,” at times drowning out the Tea Party leader as at least one Cornell Police officer stood at the building’s entrance. A Student Assembly representative and at least two other students stirred up controversy by recording several protesters and asking them for their names.

The lecture began with eight minutes of Johns speaking uninterrupted, after which the protesters’ chants could be heard from within Rockefeller Hall, prompting acknowledgement from the former speechwriter.

“The University’s mission to challenge conventional norms is not being fulfilled if certain people on campus can cause a change in location or can shut down debate,” Johns told the crowd.

Protesters said the private event — which ultimately had 75 participants in attendance — excluded dissenting voices and gave Johns a platform for “hate speech” and a “safe space for white supremacy.”

“The conservative Tea Party speaker and CPU ultimately decided to create a safe space … where Johns could have an echo-chamber of saying what he wants while knowing he wouldn’t be held accountable,” said Allison Lapehn ’17.

Michael Johns, a Tea Party leader, spoke in Rockefeller Hall on Tuesday evening, saying there were "ominous forces" at the U.S. border

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Michael Johns, a Tea Party leader, spoke in Rockefeller Hall on Tuesday evening, saying there were “ominous forces” at the U.S. border.

Toting handmade signs with slogans like “Hate speech behind closed doors is still hate speech” and “This is a safe space for white supremacy,” protesters said they wanted to keep CPU from legitimizing Johns’ rhetoric.

“By giving these people a voice, you’re justifying them, you’re saying this is a legitimate perspective and it’s not,” said Xavier Eddy ’19. “Speakers like this and people with these beliefs should not feel comfortable sharing these beliefs.”

CPU President LeCaire told The Sun he appreciated “the enthusiasm and passion of the protestors” and regretted that CPU was not able to let more people in because of the security concerns.

“The behavior exhibited by the protesters tonight at times made it difficult for the audience to hear Mr. Johns,” LeCaire said. “We hope that the next time we host a conservative speaker, we will be able to accommodate all who wish to attend, and those who feel strongly about the issues discussed will make their views clear during the student-led debate, and not in a disruptive manner.”

At several points, students not involved in the protest videotaped the protesters and demanded their names. Mitch McBride ’17, who is also the S.A. vice president of internal operations, recorded students with his cellphone and told them that protesting could result in judicial action by the University.

Protesters at Michael Johns' speech in Rockefeller Hall on Tuesday evening.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Students protested an event hosted by Cornell Political Union on Tuesday, arguing that it should be open to the public.

“As the chair of the University Assembly Codes and Judicial Committee, I believe it is my duty to assist in making sure all members of the community properly adhere to the Code of Conduct,” McBride said in an email after the event. “I took video from inside the event and outside the event, including the protestors. I believe this is the best manner to collect evidence so the Code of Conduct is properly enforced.”

The assemblyman’s threat of campus judicial action made several students hesitant about providing their last names to The Sun, and Eddy said McBride’s recording of protesters was “horrifying.”

“As much as Cornell likes to say that they’re a progressive and active and liberal university, they consistently side with the side of the oppressor,” he said.

A Cornell Police officer stood outside of Michael Johns' lecture on Tuesday and monitored protests outside

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

A Cornell Police officer stood outside of Michael Johns’ lecture on Tuesday and monitored protests outside

Inside the event, Johns falsely claimed the economy had worsened “by every metric” during President Barack Obama’s two terms. The unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in October 2009 and was just under 5 percent in January of this year.

“Even with the introduction of Obamacare, there were tens of millions for whom the plan was not sufficient,” Johns said. “For the forgotten man and woman, it did not address the issues of uninsurance and it did not address the spiraling healthcare costs.”

After the event, the attendees voted on a resolution concerning the statement, “Trumpism can make America great again.” The final tally showed that 14 of the attendees supported the statement while 40 disagreed.

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  • Chief Lazy Eye

    Sounds like Cornell Police tried to get the event cancelled by demanding an obscene amount of money.


    Cornell Police should be ashamed of themselves: it is their job to protect students on campus and instead they demanded thousands of dollars to do their job??? Sounds like they’re a bunch of Leftist pigs who didn’t want to defend students interested in hearing this speaker.

  • Chief Lazy Eye

    Cornell was doing all it could to guarantee funding for students who are illegals or impacted by Trump’s travel ban while demanding a King’s ransom to provide security for an on-campus event??? DISGRACEFUL

    The universities have shown their true colors: everything for the foreigners and for non-whites and nothing but hatred and disdain for Americans, particularly White Americans.

    This is why Trump will be president for 8 years 😛

  • Hoover

    I served as the Chair of the Cornell University Assembly (UA) in 1999-2000.  I am happy to see in this article that the student who is serving as the Chair of the Campus Code of Conduct on the Student Assembly (a constituent part of the UA) was video recording the protest to ensure that students were complying with the Code of Conduct.  Self policing is the best for compliance and keeps the campus safe for speakers of all political ideas and for protesters as well.

  • Jason

    When America was great.

    I just read article on CNBC about America’s first Female Millionaire. She was Black! Madam C.J. Walker

    She said of her success, “I got my start by giving myself a start.” This is Ben Franklin talk. American’s like myself grew up with this saying from Franklin: “God helps those who help themselves.”

    The left has skewered American culture, the one Franklin gave us:

    1. God helps those who help themselves.
    2. Penny saved is a penny earned.
    3. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. .. countless others.

    It’s about taking responsibility for your own success and failure.

    America needs to restore her cultural values that have been lost.

  • Bill

    This is a disturbingly ideological article that borders on slander of Mr. Johns.

    Contrary to the sentiments of the protesters, Mr. Johns spoke sincerely about what could be done to lift Americans– including predominantly African-American urban communities– out of poverty. There were large portions of the speech dedicated to how the government has failed them on crime and education, among other issues.

    This article claims he’s a “white supremacist” with no quotes from people who actually heard his remarks. Nothing he said in that room was remotely close to that label and the Daily Sun should be ashamed of reporting these statements of protesters as facts even though they never heard what he said.

    • Sandy Chiellini

      Your statement is absolutely correct and what is wrong with the Liberal media. A “reported” judgement is being passed without all the facts which only perpetrates bias. It is an absolute shame that “free speech” is only one sided.

  • Tarek


    Suggesting everyone you disagree with is a fascist only shows you have zero understanding of history and is frankly offensive to those who lived through true fascism.

    • Semper Why

      Under the classical definition of racism, you will find nothing of the sort. The idea that people should be judged upon their skin color is *old* definition. The protesters use the new definition of racism.

      The new definition of a racist is: Someone who disagrees with Democrats.

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  • borris batanov

    First the Orwellian Cornellians shut down Rick Santorum’s free speech, now the hypocrite, Progressive fascists insist their rights are being abrogated because they’re being shut out of a Conservative meeting, which they no doubt intend to disrupt as well. Heil!

    What an intolerant lynch mob, led, of course, by the Cornell Administration and Daily Sun. When will the student body stand up to this fascism?

    Don’t you students think you have a right to intellectual freedom after paying $53,000 to the Cornell Big Brother (no longer the Big Red)?

  • Mr. Muffins

    Oh boy. A whole 15 people!

  • One cannot truly support free speech unless that includes speech that is abhorrent to you. “The Left” is no longer Liberal, it is totalitarian. Stating that “Speakers like this and people with these beliefs should not feel comfortable sharing these beliefs.” is not a statement challenging any particular belief, but is a call to silence beliefs with which the speaker disagrees. I was not at the lecture, but this kind of delusional, post modern critique of free speech should not be honored by silencing speakers, especially in a University. Everyone is the “oppressor” to these individuals who I am sure disdain even the notions of truth, reason or dialogue. Don’t allow protestors to silence contrary opinions.

  • borris batanov

    The “supremacists” are the doofuses holding the signs. It’s always their way or the highway. Someone should protest them, but then that would be ridiculous and a waste of time. They aren’t worth it. So why do the troublemaker Leftists of the Daily Sun bother? Why do they daily, prominently feature the slightest, most ridiculous demonstration of Progressive peeve and bias? Don’t they have enough homework? Do any of them take STEM courses? I doubt it. This culture of stupidity and annoyance, unfortunately, shows no sign of abating. The Sun lives on tempests in a teapot.

  • DD

    This is exactly the reason that Trump got elected, because more and mroe people are becoming sick and tired of the ridiculous shit the lefties try to impose on everyone.

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  • Cornell sun reader

    I voted liberal but please allow freedom of speech!
    This is not good!
    Protest if you may but without disruption.
    There are always two sides to a story and it makes political sense to know and learn what the other side is thinking to come up with effective arguments!

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