Protesters Set Off Smoke Bombs, Burn Effigy Of Conservative Speaker In Street


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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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  • Protesters set off smoke bombs and fireworks and burned a cut-out of conservative commentator Michael Knowles outside of his debate at the University of Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening, The Pitt News reported.
  • The university closed multiple buildings and sent an emergency notice warning of a “public safety emergency” where the protesters were located.
  • “But the protestors who tried to shout down the event and set off fires clearly crossed the line. Free speech and open debate should be welcomed, not viciously condemned, at a university of all places—yes, even on sensitive topics like transgender rights,” Brad Polumbo told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Protesters set off smoke bombs and burned an effigy of a conservative speaker on Tuesday evening at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) to protest a debate on transgenderism, the student newspaper The Pitt News reported.

The Pitt College Republicans partnered with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute to host an on-campus debate between conservative commentator Michael Knowles and BASEDPolitics co-founder Brad Polumbo about whether “transgenderism” should “be regulated by law,” according to the event webpage. More than 250 protesters rallied outside the venue where they set off smoke bombs and fireworks and burned a cut-out of Knowles in the street, The Pitt News reported. (RELATED: One Arrested At Campus Protest Against Conservative Speaker Who Called To ‘Eradicate’ Transgenderism)

“Peaceful protests and disagreement are welcome. But the protestors who tried to shout down the event and set off fires clearly crossed the line. Free speech and open debate should be welcomed, not viciously condemned, at a university of all places—yes, even on sensitive topics like transgender rights,” Polumbo told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The debate over these issues nationally is happening whether angry student activists like it or not. They should grow up and participate like adults, not throw temper tantrums like spoiled children.”

Police detained multiple individuals but made no arrests, Pitt spokesperson Jared Stonesifer told The Pitt News. An investigation is currently ongoing.

“The university administration encouraged students to protest, and those protests turned violent—threatening the safety of students, speakers, and staff. Radical activists threw smoke bombs at students making their way into the event venue, three officers were assaulted, and an explosive device blew up outside the building the moment I took the stage to welcome the attendees,” John Burtka, ISI president and CEO, told the DCNF. “Security for the event, both for Pitt. Police and private security, cost over $20,000, and the protection provided was inadequate to ensure a peaceful environment for the exercise of free speech. Now that Pitt. has abandoned its historic commitment to the pursuit of truth and virtue, as their motto states, and kowtowed to rioting anarchists, why would any reasonable parent consider spending $24,962 to send their child into harm’s way, all while being indoctrinated in the most radical views about what it means to be human and an American?”

Pitt sent out an emergency notice service (ENS) at 7:35 p.m. on Tuesday evening warning the campus that there was a “public safety emergency” on the street where the protesters were stationed, according to its Twitter account. The university called in medics as a “precautionary measure,” closed several buildings and warned people to stay away from the protest area.

“There were several groups gathering, including guests arriving for a speaker event and counter demonstrators in the vicinity. In addition to several devices which produced significant smoke, an incendiary device was thrown in the direction of officers, triggering the message,” an emergency update sent Tuesday night read. “As the situation evolved, several buildings were temporarily closed and visitors to residence halls restricted as a safety precaution. Throughout this, these details and additional information were regularly posted on throughout the evening, until such time as an all clear could be issued.”

Pitt’s LGBTQIA+ Task Force listed several demands for the university ahead of a walk-out scheduled for Tuesday evening, according to its Instagram. The demands included three resource centers for LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC),”trans-inclusive healthcare and housing,” swapping police presence for mental health workers to respond to “mental health crises” and a $20 minimum wage for university workers.

“I thought the event was a productive exchange of ideas and am glad it went on despite the disruption,” Polumbo told the DCNF. “However we were all on edge the whole time in anticipation of escalation from the protesters. It’s an absolute disgrace that such an event can’t occur on a public campus these days without fearing a disruption, or worse.”

Knowles was originally scheduled to debate Deirdre McCloskey, a transgender University of Illinois at Chicago professor, about transgenderism and womanhood. McCloskey reportedly canceled the debate and alleged Knowles “stir[s] up hatred and violence.”

The Daily Wire commentator made headlines after his speech at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference when it was falsely reported by the liberal news site the Daily Beast that he called for the transgender community to be “eradicated.” Knowles had said during his speech that transgenderism should be “eradicated from public life entirely.”

The April debate was the third event at Pitt in a list of speeches deemed by the student body to be “anti-trans” and occurred after Daily Wire editor Cabot Phillips and former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines spoke to the Turning Point USA chapter. More than 11,600 people signed a petition demanding the university cancel the events and several Pennsylvania lawmakers pushed for the events to be shut down.

Gaines said during her speech, held on March 27 about efforts to “Save Women’s Sports,” that the attempts to censor her are “much scarier” than competing against a biological male.

“We have representatives (whose job it is to uphold the law and the constitution) who are abusing their power by advocating for the cancellation of the event because they don’t agree with it,” she previously told the DCNF. “Hate speech is not defined as speech you hate. It’s not just in regard to this specific event, the silencing is happening at a much bigger level than that.”

Pitt, Knowles and the College Republican chapter did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment. The LGBTQIA+ Task Force could not be reached for comment.

This story has been updated with comment from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

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