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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Andrew Breitbart condemns Occupy movement during speech on campus

Northwestern received its second dose of political controversy in a week Tuesday – this time without the formality and exclusiveness reserved for a Congressional leader.

Conservative pundit Andrew Breitbart assailed the Occupy movement and its liberal sympathizers in front of a packed auditorium in Swift Hall on Tuesday night. Campus Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation co-sponsored the 45-minute lecture.

The controversial commentator wove condemnations of the nationwide protests into the story of his own political transformation from an apathetic liberal to a center-right activist.

The speech’s audience of more than 80 – mostly non-students – often interrupted Breitbart to voice their agreement and add to his statements on everything from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination battle to an alleged rape among Occupy protesters in New York’s Zuccotti Park.

Breitbart’s address provided a notable contrast to Friday’s on-campus remarks by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The congressman’s lecture was more focused on domestic legislation and only Kellogg School of Management students were invited, while Breitbart repeatedly claimed to “not be a policy guy” in front of the open-attendance crowd.

Breitbart’s criticism of the Occupy demonstrations centered on what he considers protesters’ poor life choices that led them to their current economic situation. He specifically targeted Occupy Evanston, saying its younger participants have “paid for a degree that does not have them ready to compete in a global economy.”

“The people with the $200,000 loans for their women’s studies or Chicano studies or queer studies, they’re shit out of luck,” Breitbart said, pausing for isolated laughter in the audience. “They just are. They just are. I mean, you know, even Starbucks has standards. And that’s where we are right now.”

Campus Republicans president Alexander Riegler said the sponsoring organizations “basically filled every seat” in the Swift auditorium due to Breitbart’s popularity. He described the main takeaway message of Breitbart’s speech as “do not buy into the narratives” advanced by biased news outlets.

“I think he really shed some light on how different conservative movements are portrayed in the media,” added Riegler, a Weinberg junior.

Evanston retiree Blair Garber, 56, agreed Breitbart’s assertiveness was a main draw of the on-campus lecture. Garber added he first heard Breitbart speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010 and was instantly attracted to his liberal-to-conservative conversion story.

“He was really insightful,” Garber said. “He speaks with great authority and great experience.”

Breitbart’s trademark confrontational style was on full display Tuesday night. Four-letter words peppered his address. He jokingly referred to white people as “crackers” to criticize political correctness. And during the half-hour Q-and-A session at the end, he flicked through the index-card questions brought to him, tossing aside the ones he deemed undesirable.

When asked about police brutality during the Occupy Oakland protests, Breitbart said the involved protesters purposely prodded authorities to “get that moment and put it up on the Internet.”

“Occupy Oakland can suck my – I mean, I’m sorry,” he said as laughter erupted. “I don’t like them.”

One of the night’s first applause lines arrived as Breitbart explained his stance on multiculturalism after being brought up in a diverse adoptive family.

“I don’t give a flying f-ck – these people who believe my sister and I are separated by our color, and that’s exactly what multiculturalism is,” he said, then using the Latin term for “out of many, one.” “It’s the exact opposite of e pluribus unum. Instead of people coming here to become one, to become American, they pit people against each other.”

Not everyone was amused by Breitbart’s candor.

Although dozens of progressive protesters picketed Cantor’s speech, it remained unclear Tuesday night whether anti-Breitbart protesters had officially organized anything immediately outside Swift Hall.

Riegler said University Police requested a last-minute meeting with him and other Campus Republicans on Tuesday morning after hearing of planned protests by students from other universities and nearby high schools.

During that meeting, University Police decided “they were going to have police presence but not restrict attendance,” Riegler said.

UP Deputy Chief Daniel McAleer and Captain Darren Davis were not available for comment Tuesday night.

College Democrats president Josh Noah admitted he was “quite disturbed at times” by Breitbart’s rhetoric but nonetheless welcomes political discourse on campus.

“I agree with him that we shouldn’t try to stifle these voices,” said Noah, a Weinberg senior. “The American people are smart enough to figure out the right voices. It’s always good to hear from both sides.”

Following Breitbart’s 90-minute presentation, audience members crowded around his lectern to share their responses.

Weinberg sophomore Noah Collin partook in one of the lengthier post-speech exchanges, a back-and-forth he estimated at five to six minutes long.

Collin said he told Breitbart there is “not necessarily much of a difference” in how the Occupy and tea party movements were initially organized. In fact, the tea party may have more superficial roots given its ties to conservative fundraisers, Collin added.

“He obviously disagreed with that,” Collin said. “And that’s where the conversation took off from. I knew me and him just have fundamental differences in our worldview.”

In an interview with THE DAILY after the speech, Breitbart expanded on how he distinguishes the Occupy protests from the tea party movement.

He said Occupy demonstrators are being “lured” by a generic disdain for the banking industry and economic inequities in the “system,” sarcastically employing air quotes. Furthermore, Occupy participants are trying to “divert attention away from the government’s roles in the bank bailouts to the recipients of the bank bailouts,” Breitbart said.

He declined to comment on whether he agreed with statements Cantor made to the daily last week. In an interview with THE DAILY, the No. 2 Republican in the House said Occupy protesters may not be as focused on shaping domestic policy as tea party members are.

Regardless of political leanings, Breitbart ended his lecture with a universal challenge to NU students.

“You’re the one that chose this degree, and you’re going to have to live with it,” Breitbart said. “I know what I did with it. I’m fighting back.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Andrew Breitbart condemns Occupy movement during speech on campus