Note: The original version of this article mistakenly stated that John Tanton, founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is deceased. He is not and I regret the error.
Protests broke out at the International Affairs Symposium at Portland's Lewis & Clark College Tuesday when radicals outside, frustrated at being stymied, started pounding on the door of a debate on immigration, as if trying to break in. But the true hero of the event was a black Muslim student from Sudan, a country included in Trump's travel ban, who heroically grabbed the bullhorn from one of the screaming yahoos and lambasted them for disrupting the event.
He told them that because of them, the event ended abruptly, robbing him of an opportunity to ask his question. He pointed out that if they want change and reform, they are going about it the wrong way if they won't even let people talk—showing that, ironically, a foreigner, has a better grasp of free speech, tolerance, pluralism, and open dialogue than the protesters speaking on his behalf.
I had been invited to the country's oldest student-run symposium along with former Michigan Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra to kick off the three-day event with a debate on open borders and immigration. But last night things got "interesting"—as the Chinese would say.
That's because the student organizers had invited Center for Immigration Studies' Jessica Vaughan to debate Northwestern University's Gayla Ruffer on the international community's obligations towards refugees. The Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes CIS as a hate group, which may be debatable. But what is not is that it is a crappy outfit and countering its steady stream of misinformation and half-truths accusing immigrants of everything—including raising global greenhouse gas emissions — could keep an army of fact-checkers gainfully employed for a long time. (Its latest scrape with the truth occurred just last week when Harvard University's Robert Putnam accused CIS head Mark Krikorian of "cherry-picking" his work in an anti-immigration piece for The Wall Street Journal.)
As I wrote last year, CIS is a spinoff of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a racist organization. Indeed, FAIR founder John Tanton, a tireless anti-immigration crusader, worked to create CIS (along with NumbersUSA, another awful outfit) because his many eye-popping comments over the years had put FAIR on the losing side of the "battle of ideas." For example, he's on record regretting that Hitler had given eugenics a bad name. Tanton was also a member of Zero Population Growth and his broader aim was a planet inhabited by fewer and whiter humans. (He once quipped that the high Latino fertility rates meant that "those with their pants up [whites] are going to get caught by those with their pants down!")
Krikorian (whom I have debated) cut his intellectual teeth at FAIR and has been spectacularly successful in whitewashing (so to speak) its link with FAIR. (This is partly because of the writing perch he and other CIS writers have acquired at the National Review which, incidenatlly, suggests that NR's staunchly pro-life editors love the unborn less than they hate immigrants.) So successful in fact that the rather progressive-minded student committee that organized the conference was simply not aware of CIS's nefarious connections and history when it invited Vaughan.
However, having extended the invitation, it wanted to go ahead with it. But Lewis & Clark history professor Elliott Young, a campus firebrand, wrote a scathing piece earlier in the week in the Huffington Post chastising the student organizers for providing a "safe space" for those with the radical right. His piece mobilized the local Portland Resistance, a far-left outfit that began planning a protest on Facebook.
Campus authorities caught wind of this and, wishing to avoid a Berkley-like situation where outside groups violently stopped Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking, changed the venue of the speech at the last minute from the main auditorium to the campus chapel and limited admission to students with IDs—while live streaming the event for the public at another venue.
Vaughan was escorted through the chapel backdoor by two security officers along with the rest of us attendees after dinner.
About a dozen on so Portland Resistance protesters gathered outside and screamed and shouted and blared police sirens as the debate proceeded inside. As they raised their decibel level, the organizers raised the volume of the speakers inside allowing the speakers to be heard. The students inside were the opposite of the hoodlums in Middlebury College who wouldn't let Charles Murray speak. Not only did they allow her to do so, but were extremely respectful— applauding Vaughan for being there—even though they disagreed with her vehemently. Vaughan went out of her way to thank them for all the courtesies and care they had extended her.
But after she spoke, the moderator of the event, Associate Professor Heather Smith-Cannoy, confronted Vaughan with all misinformation that she and CIS constantly emit on the alleged criminality of immigrants. Armed with studies and data, she questioned Vaughan's previous assertions that the Obama administration released 36,000 undocumented immigrants from detention in 2013 and that 72 individuals from countries listed in President Trump's original executive order had been linked to terrorist activity. (When Trump spokesman Stephen Miller repeated that statement, he earned three Pinocchios from The Washington Post. Also, Ronald Bailey and I have both separately written about how not a single refugee has ever been convicted of terrorism on American soil.)
After that, two professors (including Young) and many students, who'd clearly done their homework, interrogated Vaughan about her many questionable assertions and dubious statments.
And then, at the tail end of the event, the confrontation began. One of the protesters (as the video that I took shows) removed her black mask and confronted the student organizer, Samuel Perszyk, about "normalizing a white supremacist" outfit. Perszyk, maintiaining his cool, responded that he had done no such thing. "Did you see what happened tonight?" he asked. As he turned around, his female interrogator spat on the ground, hissing something in a fit of self-righteous narcissism.
Security officials quickly swooped in and whisked Vaughan away before opening the doors for all the other attendees to leave. At that point, two or three black-hooded Portland Resistance yahoos stormed the stage, fists raised, screaming "shame, shame."
Vaughan, who commendably remained poised during what were admittedly tough circumstances, nevertheless engaged in the usual doublespeak that CIS has developed into a high art. When questioned, she dissolved, claiming that she had never said—and did not believe—that immigrants contributed to higher crime rates, which, it seems, has still not stopped her from tweeting constantly about crimes committed by immigrants. She shed crocodile tears for Middle Eastern refugees claiming that most of them are better off warehoused in camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon and really just want to go back to their own countries—which is arguably true for some but not many, many whom America is denying admission.
But Lewis & Clark students were a model of how to engage your intellectual opponents—even odious and hateful ones—in a free society.