VIDEO: Punches thrown outside Shapiro event in Utah
Hundreds of demonstrators came out to protest conservative commentator Ben Shapiro before and during his appearance at the University of Utah Wednesday.
The sizable crowd gathered about an hour before the event, shouting slogans in opposition of Shapiro, President Donald Trump, and the alt-right.
Some protesters brought placards and signs that accused Shapiro of hate speech while others flew the flag of Antifa—a radical activist organization that has previously organized violent protests against prominent conservative speakers.
Following the peaceful demonstrations, however, several activists appeared to get into a violent scuffle outside of the venue where Shapiro was speaking.
Video footage obtained by Campus Reform shows two individuals engage in a heated verbal exchange that soon erupts into a brawl when a male wearing a red hat is punched in the face by a female protester, after which the pair begin fighting in the street as the crowd quickly rushes to the scene.
Earlier on Wednesday, the university emphasized that it was prepared for the event and that the campus police department was ready to ensure a “safe environment” for everyone on campus.
“Like other schools, we have worked to secure the immediate area around where Mr. Shapiro will be speaking,” university spokesman Chris Nelson told Campus Reform. “Police will be on hand to secure the venue and ensure only ticketed attendees can gain access. In addition, we will have police monitoring the protests and working to intervene in the case of any violence.”
The university’s Students for a Democratic Society group, however, had pledged to “shut down” Shapiro’s event, though it insisted that the effort would not be violent.
“To pretend that Shapiro does not spew racist and transphobic pseudoscience with the desire to justify and encourage violence is idealistic, ahistorical, and wrong,” SDS member Ian Decker wrote in an open letter published in The Salt Lake Tribune.
“This will not be a violent protest, but we intend to exercise our free speech in the boldest and most unapologetic way we can, even if Shapiro, his fans, and the University police would have it otherwise,” he added.
Despite such assurances, Nelson told Campus Reform that police officers arrested at least one individual and temporarily detained several others for engaging in physical altercations.
“One individual was arrested and booked on suspicion of disorderly conduct and assault, one other person was cited and released, and three other people were briefly detained for fighting but later released,” Nelson confirmed, though he also implied that the situation could have turned out far worse if not for the actions of the police.
“Overall, the University of Utah is pleased with how yesterday’s event on campus turned out,” he said. “We had passionate people, with opposing viewpoints, nonviolently expressing their opinions. While there were some incidents that required police intervention, we believe the preparation that went into making the evening safe for all attendees was effective.”
Nelson also reiterated that there is “no place on our campus for violence, or intimidation of any kind” and that “academic freedom, diversity, equity, and respect” remain the “core values” for the institution.
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