On a campus of 44,000, you have to get creative to get people to show up to your club activities. Students rely on everything from dancing to tunes on Bruin Walk to channeling their inner meme expertise on social media to get turnout at their events.
What you don’t see most student groups doing, however, is inviting to campus a misogynistic, transphobic, pedophilia-supporting, alt-right Islamophobe whose only claim to fame is hurling insults at others and making a fool of himself.
Not unless, of course, it’s the Bruin Republicans.
Earlier this month, the Bruin Republicans proudly announced on social media it would host alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos for its Feb. 26 fundraiser event titled “10 Things I Hate About Mexico.” Less than 24 hours later, the club canceled the event because of objections from some of its student leaders.
While the campus was spared once again from having to fight the legitimization of white supremacist ideologies, the Bruin Republicans has a history of turning to tone-deaf shock tactics to generate commotion.
The student group held an event in 2016 where its outreach director insinuated that undocumented immigrants are rampant criminals disrupting the fabric of American society. Earlier that year, it brought Yiannopoulos to campus to delegitimize women’s rights and gender equality efforts. And just last week – only a week after the horrific Parkland, Florida shooting – it invited the California Pistol and Rifle Association to talk about how students could get involved in the association.
Propagating conservative ideologies on college campuses is no easy feat, but it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – entail dragging the movement’s most deplorable elements to the fore. The Bruin Republicans needs to get over its publicity-at-all-costs mentality if it wants to move the dial on divides that prevent our political leaders from even doing things like passing bipartisan-sponsored immigration bills. UCLA isn’t a boxing ring for conservative students to test out how much of the alt-right they can legitimize; it’s a space for measured political and ideological debate.
When Yiannopoulos came to campus for the group’s “Feminism is Cancer” event two years ago, the club pinned the talk as an attempt to spur conversation around the argument that feminism is a zero-sum game that entails demeaning men at the expense promoting women’s rights – a severely mistaken, albeit discussion-worthy topic. Yet the event devolved into a tasteless attack on gender equality efforts as a whole, though it was probably too much to expect Yiannopoulos would present anything insightful in the first place.
As if bringing Yiannopoulos to campus once wasn’t bad enough, the group arranged to bring him last year, only to cancel last minute because of logistical concerns. Almost a year later, it tried to bring him to campus again, this time to raise funds at the expense of alienating numerous fellow Bruins.
The Bruin Republicans’ how-low-can-you-go mindset has even extended to programs aimed at eliciting debate on important political topics.
Its “An Illegal Immigrant Killed My Child” event in 2016 featured a mother grieving over the death of her son, who was killed by a drunk undocumented immigrant in a car accident. Immigration reform is a critical point of discussion, but it’s hard to call the event constructive when it operated on the false claim that undocumented immigrants are habitual, violent criminals.
And its recent, co-programmed event titled “Exposing the Fascist Roots of the American Left,” involved bringing in a felon who concocted the image that Democrats are somehow controlling the minds of immigrants, minority communities and even comedians. It’s hard to see how conspiracy theorist mentalities somehow foster conversation about First Amendment rights.
These events seem to just be in the spirit of bringing in larger crowds to the Bruin Republicans’ activities. And that’s a shame, given other college Republican organizations don’t stoop to petty tactics to participate in the political debates on campus. The College Republicans at the University of Michigan, for example, hosts women in politics events and a number of speakers – senators, Republican party members and university administrators, to name a few – who aren’t alt-right fanatics or campfire story-tellers.
This isn’t to say that every event the Bruin Republicans holds is instigatory. The club clearly cares for limited government, free speech and other mainstream conservative points, and regardless of how you stand on those viewpoints, the group has the the right to hold those valid stances. By bringing in speakers to argue the case for why fossil fuels should continue to be burned or what it means to be a conservative, the student group does host events that stimulate discussion and debate.
But it’s becoming increasingly hard to believe the group wants to be a productive force on campus – especially when its leadership said it wanted the club to dissociate from the alt-right movement, only to have a change of heart two weeks later and announce that the literal face of the alt-right movement would be coming to campus. The club’s actions perpetuate the image of a browbeaten student group that so desperately wants attention on a big, largely left-leaning campus that it would even give credence to individuals who associate with neo-Nazis. That kind of thinking only helps to validate deplorable ideas such as transphobia and white supremacy.
Conservatism is more than just Yiannopoulos and criticizing Mexico. But if UCLA is to be reminded of the red side of the political spectrum, Bruin Republicans needs to show its political worth, not give grace to provocateurs and lament about how it’s an ideological minority.