A group of students walked out of a sparsely attended lecture by Corey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, on Wednesday afternoon in protest.
BSM President Chris Suggs said the group planned its protest as a silent walkout because of action taken by the General Assembly and the UNC System in 2017 to prevent protesters from disrupting speakers on campus.
Audio equipment and cameras were not allowed at the event, which was organized by the UNC College Republicans. Admission was free for students and $50 for members of the public.
The protest was organized by the Political Action Committee of UNC’s Black Student Movement in response to Lewandowski’s visit.
“When UNC College Republicans invited Lewandowski to come and speak, they clearly undermined the values that this university represents and disregarded communities and students of color,” first-year student Julia Clark, co-chairperson of BSM’s Political Action Committee, said in a statement.
Lewandowski has been accused of mocking a child with Down syndrome, physically grabbing a reporter and appearing drunk on Fox Business Network. He also said during a testimony before a House committee that he had "no obligation to be honest to the media."
The event began with an announcement that any person who obstructed the audience from hearing the talk would be asked to leave. If they refused to leave, the announcer said, obstructers could be subject to arrest.
Though the students could not disrupt the event with their demonstration, Suggs said he thinks they sent a clear message to UNC College Republicans and Lewandowski.
“Statements can be made in a variety of ways and our style of statement spoke volumes,” he said.
Joseph Buckner, chairperson of UNC College Republicans, said he respected the students' right to protest during the event.
"I love that BSM came and used their free-speech rights to demonstrate their beliefs, but I wish they would have stayed till the open question section of the event to ask Mr. Lewandowski questions," Buckner said in an emailed statement.
Lewandowski began the lecture by saying Trump was uniquely suited for the presidency because his status as an independently wealthy businessman meant that he was not in it for the money.
He also mentioned what he sees to be misrepresentation of the Trump presidency by the media.
“When you turn on the television you would think we’re in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, but the truth is, more people are working today than at any point in our nation’s history,” he said.
Deregulation of the environment, tax cuts and opportunities for small business owners have been central to this economic growth, Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski said the area where he sees the most opportunity for the Trump 2020 campaign lies in the Black vote. He said the percentage of Black voters who voted for Trump in 2016 was more than the percentage that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and he expects to see higher numbers in 2020.
“If those numbers come anywhere close to fruition, if Donald Trump receives 10 percent of the African-American vote or higher going into the 2020 election, it’s almost mathematically impossible for Democrats to win the election," he said.
Lewandowski said he thinks Black voters are likely to vote for Trump because of the economic opportunities he has provided with the First Step Act and tax cuts.
UNC’s BSM said in a statement that the 2016 Trump campaign showed bigoted sentiments toward minority groups, leading them to oppose Lewandowski’s presence on campus.
“As manager of this campaign, Lewandowski played a significant role in the amplification of such dangerous rhetoric and should be held accountable,” BSM said in the statement.
UNC College Republicans chose to invite Lewandowski to campus because he is a big name in the Republican party, Buckner said.
Alana Edwards, president of UNC Young Democrats, said UNC College Republicans' decision to host Lewandowski showed disrespect to the principles of truth and justice, because of his history of "misinformation and obfuscation."
Both UNC College Republicans and Young Democrats invite speakers to campus as part of their mission. Edwards said the purpose of inviting speakers is to increase students' understanding of the political process.
"I hope that College Republicans will prioritize substance over spectacle in the future by inviting higher-quality speakers in the future," she said in a statement.
As one of the largest chapters in the state, Buckner said UNC College Republicans’ goal is to elect Republicans across North Carolina.
“From Dan Bishop and Greg Murphy to President Trump’s reelection in 2020, UNC’s College Republicans will have a crucial role in the operation here in North Carolina,” Buckner said.
Sponsors of Wednesday's event included N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, N.C. Representative Kyle Hall, the North Carolina Republican Party and the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans, Buckner said.
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