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U. braces for controversial speaker Ben Shapiro but encourages more like him

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SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial speaker who drew protests before his speech at the University of California, Berkeley is speaking Wednesday night at the University of Utah.

A group of students is organizing on campus in hopes of "shutting him down," but the school's administration doesn’t want that to happen.

Two weeks ago, protestors came out in force at Berkeley, chanting "racists, go home" before a capacity crowd speech from the conservative commentator and former editor-at-large of Breitbart Ben Shapiro.

"This is how the left works: if you don't agree with them everyone's a white supremacist, you’re a Nazi — Nazis should be punched and therefore it's totally fine to stand outside and try to shut down an event if you can get away with it," he told a crowd at Berkeley.

His comments have been seen as controversial by many.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Shapiro will speak at the University of Utah at the invitation of student group Young Americans for Freedom. When asked if she will attend, U. junior Christina Giardinelli said she will go nowhere near Shapiro.

"Absolutely not,” she said. “I am not super enthusiastic about his views."

Neither will junior Christian Iheanacho, who wished the student group had better helped the campus brace for Shapiro.

"(I wish) that they would have consulted with us before they would bring someone of his inflammatory nature," he said.

Another student group, the UofU Students for a Democratic Society, tweeted it wants to "shut down Ben Shapiro," whom they say "comes from a growing right-wing bigoted movement." But Iheanacho disagrees with a shutdown.

"The idea of freedom of speech is that everyone can say what they need to say, regardless of how inflammatory or revolutionary it may be,” he said.

Giardinelli believes the same but wants the U. to ensure safety and legality.

"Everything needs to be looked at in legal terms, and in terms of the university’s rules and regulations," she said.

Lori Henderson, the university's dean of students, said the U. is doing just that and bracing for all sorts of reactions.

"(We want) ideas shared in ways that are supported, for them to be heard, but also, for students to be supported who are offended, repulsed and frightened,” Henderson said.

She added that the U. will provide counselors following the lecture, but that the university welcomes more Ben Shapiros — and his opposites.

"For our students especially to consume what those ideas are and think about them critically and formulate their own (opinions) — that’s what we’re all about as a university," Henderson said.

But what about instances that lead to criminal acts?

"They usually require a specific intent by the speaker to harm someone, and not in a general way, but to intimidate someone, or something that is an imminent risk of violence," First Amendment lawyer David Reymann with Parr, Brown, Gee and Loveless said.

Responding with violence, he added, even if you’re deeply offended, is criminal.

"You make martyrs out of people if you try and shut them down based on the specific ideas that they’re conveying," Reymann said. "You draw more people to their cause."

Instead, Reymann encourages people to use their own First Amendment rights to combat bad ideas with good ideas.

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Peter Samore


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