This article is the first of a two-part series formulating an intersectional feminist portrayal and response to the Dartmouth College Republicans’ host panel on October 24th, 2021. In this article we describe what happened before and during the event with a corresponding analysis. In our second article, “Unpacking the Republican Panel,” we craft a reaction that displays the merits of protesting and critiques Dartmouth’s complacency.
Maanasi Shyno ’23, Ana Noriega Olazábal ’24, Sophie Williams ’23
Before the Event
About two weeks ago, flyers for a “The Future of the Republican Party” event featuring U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn, congressional candidate Karoline Leavitt, and political media advisor Alex Bruesewitz began to appear around campus. Flyers were seen all around campus, including in the library, on common room walls,, and slipped under dorm room doors.
Soon after, parody flyers titled “Facist Faces in the Republican Party” were put up by an anonymous individual.
Cawthorn’s conduct of unrepentant white supremacy, his decisions to align himself with the Jan. 6 insurrection, his voting against the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and against ending the United States’ role in the genocide in Yemen, and his reputation of predatory behavior display his goals in advancing nativism and fasicsm. Leavitt’s anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, pro-carceral-state policies and Bruesewitz’s campaign and consulting work with X Strategies also further these goals.
On Oct. 17, the Dartmouth Democrats released a statement attributing the upcoming panel to the Dartmouth College Republicans (whose name did not appear on the original event flyers). They denounced Cawthorn’s invitation to campus, stating, “Any benefit these speakers’ words could bring to the diversity of thought and pool of intellectual ideas at Dartmouth would be more than exceeded by the damage of their fear mongering and lies.”
On Oct. 21, the College Republicans released a statement in response, claiming that the Democrats follow a “dangerous” trend of intolerance for “controversial” positions (a claim that consistently neglects to acknowledge that these positions enforce, not contradict, existing systems). They stated that freedom of speech is meant to “protect dissenting ideas” and allow people to express their beliefs “even if those opinions are controversial or hurt someone else's feelings.” The Republicans invited the Dartmouth Democrats to attend the event to listen and challenge the speakers instead of petitioning for its cancellation (although the Democrats did not call for cancelation or silencing, but simply expressed their disapproval of the panelists).
On Oct. 22, Leavitt tweeted out about the spoof flyer, falsely attributing it to the Dartmouth Democrats. In a later tweet she claimed this to be unsurprising given the “Radical Left’s mission to turn colleges into breeding grounds for socialism and groupthink.” This falls in line with the theatrical conservative tradition of “owning the libs.”
The same day, the Dartmouth Radical published the “Statement on the College Republicans Event” on behalf of Dartmouth United Against Hate, a coalition including the Dartmouth Young Democratic Socialists of America, CoFIRED, Sunrise Movement Dartmouth, the Afro-American Society, Black Praxis, the Dartmouth Student Union, and the Radical itself. The statement argued that the Republicans “bastardize this principle and make it into a tool of censor itself, while they defame, doxx and jail activists fighting for justice at home and abroad.” This tactic vilifies the (equally free, in theory) practices of protest and dissent. The coalition asked supporters to sign the statement and join their protest in front of Moore Hall, for which they had obtained a permit from Dartmouth College.
The protest began at 6:30 p.m., and the panel took place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 in Filene Auditorium in Moore Hall.
Outside the Event
Around 6 p.m., the coalition organized a pre-protest meeting for coalition members to coordinate prior to the event at the LALACS House. Members of the YDSA, the Radical, the DSU, CoFIRED, and Spare Rib were present, with some crossover membership between the groups. After designating people to speak and lead chants, the group congregated at Moore at 6:30 p.m. as other protesters began to arrive, numbering around 60 or 70 throughout the night.
A stanchion crowd divider split the small courtyard outside Moore in half, with protesters relegated behind it. The sidewalk was chalked by Dartmouth Democrat members earlier in the day with messages like “freedom of speech, not freedom from responsibility,” and one officer from each SNS and the Hanover Police were stationed outside.
Throughout the event Kaya Ço (YDSA, the Radical) and Ian Scott (YDSA, Black Praxis, and the Afro-American Society) spoke out against the speakers’ facism, noting their organizations’ dedication to workers, a decolonial future, and Upper Valley issues. They described alternative futures, not blighted by the harmful views of the speakers. Other speakers included Melissa Barales-Lopez ‘22 (CoFIRED) who detailed the speaker’s racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Katherine Arrington (YDSA, Spare Rib) and Hayden El Rafei (the Radical, Spare Rib), shared their perspectives as well, bringing up the speakers’ anti-abortion stances and Cawthorn’s predatory behavior which 150 of his former peers attested to.
Between speeches, protestors led each other in chants including “Whose campus? Our campus!” “Fascists go home!” and “These racist cops have got to go!” (Conservatives were confused about this one, failing to see any relevance to the continued struggles against systemic brutality in policing.) Two men in semi-formal clothing filmed protestors on their phones.
The protest crowd and the line of attendees grew, with some students in line joining in with protest chants, others looking concerned or amused. A few minutes before 7 p.m., the line of event attendees was quickly ushered into Moore.
The protest continued outside, beginning to disperse around 7:20 p.m.. Some individual students who attended the panel to listen and ask questions returned to outside, leaving early out of boredom or irritation.
A first-year student who walked out of the event following an impassioned speech by Cawthorn commented on his dog whistling tactics. “One thing that stood out to me was the coded language,” the student said. “They’re taking our culture’ — well, who’s ‘they,’ what’s ‘our culture’ — it’s coded for ‘white culture’ and… it looks like racism, sexism, homophobia.”
The student described her involvement inside: “We left loudly, saying ‘this is lame’… I yelled out that it’s college policy to wear masks inside; why doesn’t that apply to them?” In reference to the protest the coordinator at the door told her that he hoped that “rules can be followed.” The student continued, “There’s a room full of maskless people — this protest has a permit — how is that not following rules?”
At 7:37 PM, CoFIRED members who had gone inside emerged from the building together and headed out, signaling the protest’s conclusion. Others followed, due to the cold, weariness, and other obligations. Around 7:45 p.m., about 30 people went to the LALACs house for a space to debrief and recollect.
At past 8:30 p.m., the last panel attendees were leaving Moore. Jack Cocchiarella ‘25 (student and digital director for congressional candidate Marcus Flowers attended the event with friends because they felt that it was their “responsibility to show up… and ask [the panelists] questions that hold them accountable.” A video of Cocchiarella questioning Cawthorn’s “undemocratic” support for the Jan.6 insurrection and stolen election rhetoric garnered over fifty thousand likes on Twitter.
Inside the Event
Early on Oct. 26, The Dartmouth released an article recounting the topics covered and ideology spread during the panel, as well as a few student statements.
Vice president of the College Republicans, Chloe Ezzo ‘22, moderated the event, pointedly asking the audience to remain “polite, respectful, and mature throughout the event” and show a “proper Dartmouth welcome.”
The temperature inside the auditorium was mixed. Much of the audience met the panel with muted disapproval. At least half of the 150 or so attendees seemed to sit with a skeptical eye, murmur with discontent, or laugh in disbelief when certain points were made.
Many supporters were also in attendance: there was appreciative clapping and generous acceptance from the remaining forty percent or so, who generally sat towards the front, some wearing masks partially or not at all, and laughed along with the panelists.
The first question asked for the panelists’ positions on whether Dr. Anthony Fauci committed perjury, and led to a discussion about Fauci’s involvement with “tax-payer-funded research that allows African flies to eat away the faces of beagles and puppies.”
The panelists referred to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan China Virus” and insinuated that the pandemic was an intentional plot by China, or at the least that China was responsible for every cause and effect. Cawthorn said, “The only reason you would want to make a pig virus or a bat virus more transmissible by manipulating the spike protein in the mutation… is to use it as a bioweapon. Whether or not it was intentionally or accidentally released by China, I believe they need to be held accountable. I believe we should seize every Chinese asset on American soil as a downpayment on the reparations that they owe us.”
These remarks play on a history of racist fearmongering that links Asians with disease. They are also nativist proclamations, creating a frame where any treatment of groups characterized as “non-national” can be deemed acceptable — no matter how senseless, misguided, or dangerous. They also shift any blame for pandemic hardships felt in America — scapegoating another country (and by extension, all people painted as “non-American”) in lieu of their own government, politicians and ruling class.
Cawthorn and Leavitt spoke of their plans to begin an investigation following Leavitt’s hopeful election to congress. The topic ended jovially, with Bruesewitz calling Anthony Fauci “indisputably… the sexiest man alive — GQ said so.” These exchanges — questionable facts, colored with nativist or fascist ideology, followed with offhand jokes — were repeated throughout the event.
When the panelists spoke about Afghanistan, it was with the narrative that they supported the withdrawal, but that it was done wrong by Biden. Cawthorn said that “any 15 year old that played Call of Duty for a number of days” could’ve pulled the US military out of Afghanistan more effectively. Besides the fact that opposing the withdrawal method is nothing like opposing the invasion, this type of brash, matter-of-fact statement is a blood-chillingly casual and playful way to approach war. Each speaker mentioned the 13 marines who “gave the ultimate sacrifice” at least once. Focusing so strongly on the loss of thirteen lives equates the intentional occupation and suffering of an entire country with the death of 13 Americans who chose to help occupy. When Cawthorn did mention other casualties, it was in the phrase “thousands of ours” dead, clearly demarcating the difference between the value of American and Afghan lives to the Republican (and, judging by their actions, Democratic) party.
People who left/spoke out:
After Cawthorn delivered a building speech riddled with reactionary dog whistles, CoFIRED got up from where they filled the back row of the auditorium and left together, sharing verbal dissent and criticizing the panelists and participants for failing to wear masks. One of the coordinators responded with,“Thank you for coming. God bless you.” Cawthorn turned back to his support in the front to announce, “Man, what inspiring people! Seriously, they just tore down the patriarchy.” Still, these belittling comments only undercut the impact of CoFIRED’s disruption to people who already scoff along with Cawthron.
Bruesewitz said of the Democrats, “Apparently they want child brides in their communities, apparently they want rapists in their communities” in reference to the United States accepting refugees from Afghanistan. While Leavitt began to speak about the “crisis at the Southern border” and “illegal immigrants flooding through on our dime,” a student stood up and booed.
Another student stood up and left while calling to Cawthorn, “You’re accused of sexual assault 150 times!” As if the student was already out of hearing range, Cawthron responded, “Huh? How many times are you accused of sexual assault?” When the student responded “150,” he jabbed with, “You are? 150?” and said to the audience, “He should be kicked off campus, that’s a lot of times!”
Leavitt chimed in with, “We should pray for him.”
“Or her,” interjected Alex Bruesewitz, apparently making another “new genders” jab at the student’s longer hairstyle, leading Leavitt to laugh and agree.
“You never know these days,” she said.
Leavitt continued with the anti-immigration tirade: “Your tax dollars are going to go to flying these people into our communities! We are letting millions of undocumented, untested, unvaccinated [people] … come over our borders, [in the middle of] what Joe Biden says is a public health crisis.” Here Leavitt signaled that immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere are unwanted and unhealthy for “our” culture, before connecting immigration to the opioid epidemic, to suffering small businesses, and the pandemic.
Another student sitting in the mid-front spoke aloud, telling Cawthorn he barely won the election and nobody in his district likes him. However, media consultant Bruesewitz responded with Cawthorn’s electoral success, winning by thousands of votes and 12% in a R1 district, where he was projected to win by only one percent. The student was from Cawthorn’s district, and the exchange ended with thorny but diffused pleasantries about hometown rivalries.
These disruptive departures aren’t exactly unsuccessful. The trouble is, as the auditorium door closes, Madison Cawthorn can crack a joke and immediately control the room again.
Generally, speaker events hosted at Dartmouth are about evenly split between presentation and a question and answer period. When Chloe Ezzo took the microphone to announce that there was no time for questions, since it was 8:00 PM, the purposeful refusal to engage with the audience on a more level footing — even in the smallest expected manner — became glaringly obvious. The noise level rose with discontent, leading Ezzo to reluctantly allow questions “for ten minutes” and go slightly overtime.
Several people moved to fill a line behind the microphone, but barely three questions were answered before the event was formally disbanded. Even during this time, the most pointed question was only an invitation to the speaker to reiterate previous points. There was no debate; there was no broad exposure. Furthermore, any kind of disruption was met with personal, ad-hominem attacks that were ultimately meant to make the Republican side appear to be the most witty, logical, and collected side. There was no way to meaningfully challenge the Republicans — and it was designed to be this way by the organizers, despite running entirely on the high of being a “free speech” event.
Ultimately, the entire panel was extremely disconcerting, not just because of the content, but the format. The range of student group reactions to the event were varied and interesting, stemming from different political ideologies. However, we claim that student protest was necessary and highlighted Dartmouth’s complicity in emboldening bigotry.
Read “Unpacking the Republican Panel” to learn more.