On the night of Thursday February 2nd, I walked with two fellow graduate students over to NYU’s Kimmel Center where Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice and leader of the alt-right hipster Nazis called the Proud Boys, was scheduled to speak at an event organized by NYU College Republicans and sanctioned by the university administration. The previous night, antifascists shut down a Milo speech at UC Berkeley, setting fires, throwing barricades and fireworks into the building where he was supposed to speak, and even smashing up a Starbucks. Gavin’s Proud Boys previously served as a security force at the alt-right “Daddy Will Save Us” art show, so we were prepared for a violent confrontation with fascists. Still, we wondered if he would even show his face. In December, McInnes threatened to crash a punk show in Brooklyn with his Proud Boys, but in the end, a large contingent of antifa defended the venue and none of the Proud Boys showed up.
Then, suddenly, there he was with his ridiculous hipster mustache and a gaggle of Proud Boys, many wearing MAGA hats, all singing some dumb hymn. A huge police presence protected the Proud Boys from protesters, but some of them got shoved anyway and we yelled at them, calling them Nazi scum. We went inside the building, while the Proud Boys who accompanied Gavin on his march to campus were kept outside by campus security, since they were not NYU students and did not have IDs. As we took the elevator up to the tenth floor, where the speech was taking place, we were confronted both by a liberal, who told us, “Violence is never the answer” and a Trump supporter, who called antifa cowards because they wear masks. Of course, he waited until he was sitting at a table with other Trumpists to put on his MAGA hat. We waited for about a half hour in line to get into the room where the event was taking place. MAGA-hatted Trump supporters made up a small minority. Most of the students who were there came to protest.
Gavin McInnes arrived on stage to a chorus of boos. He semi-ironically began his speech by saying he came to discuss the Jew, the black and the Mexican. Beneath his ironic exterior, we knew that his rhetoric about political correctness is only a cover for white supremacy. NYC Antifa reported on Twitter that outside, Proud Boys “sieg heiled the crowd while protected by police.” Protesters continually heckled McInnes as he rambled incoherently about Margaret Thatcher and Argentina. He then told the crowd that he was pepper sprayed with a water gun. “When I was sprayed I thought, ‘maybe it was acid,’ but then I remembered this isn’t Islam.” That was the breaking point. Many of our classmates and friends who are Muslim have been directly affected by Trump’s Islamophobic travel ban. Chants of “Fuck you” and “Whose campus? Our campus!” drowned out McInnes’s speech. The dean repeatedly took the mic from McInnes, telling protesters to quiet down because we need to “respect free speech.” We yelled at the dean too, telling him there is no free speech for Nazis. The last time this happened, McInnes said to the dean, “You are ridiculous sir. You are a dumb liberal asshole. You’re a beta male cuck.” That was it. The dean tolerated and even supported McInnes’s racist hate speech, but would not stand for his personal insult and humiliation. Security escorted McInnes out of the room.
We shut Gavin McInnes down Thursday night, but this is an ongoing battle that we will have to fight not just against Neo Nazis (however they choose to label themselves), but also against the police who protect them, and neoliberal institutions like NYU that invite them to spread their hateful message and recruit new members. It is worth noting that earlier on Thursday, NYU invited ICE agents to come speak to students at a job fair. Rather than face off against protesters, the ICE agents left the fair. NYU has so far refused to call themselves a “sanctuary campus,” even as administrators have sent emails pledging their support to immigrant and Muslim students. The events of Thursday proved how hollow this rhetoric is. Still, we can take inspiration from Thursday’s action, as NYU students and the New York City community came together to shut down the alt-right.