Protesters clash with ‘America First’ group in Fresno State

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“No Hate in Fresno State!”

A deafening, near-continuous chanting of those five words caught the attention of unsuspecting students leaving class Friday afternoon at Fresno State.

The chant came from dozens of demonstrators — a mix of students, faculty and community members — gathered outside McClane Hall to protest Fresno State College Republicans’ “America’s Future.” The event featured three speakers who previously attended a recent event hosted by Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist internet personality.

Jose Solorio, a Fresno State graduate student who helped organize the protest, said the protesters wanted to show up for marginalized students on campus who feel targeted by white nationalist rhetoric, especially college students. color and LGBTQ students.

“We want them to know that just because the people – the vocal minority – are inviting these extremists and this hate speech onto our campus doesn’t mean there isn’t an overwhelming majority of us who support.”

John Doyle and Kai Schwemmer were featured on an AFPAC flyer as “special guests”, alongside other better-known right-wing figures Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos. The event received national attention because attendees were encouraged to sing “Putin” shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. Republican leaders also criticized Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul A. Gosar of Arizona for speaking at the event.

The three guests who were scheduled to speak at Friday’s event call themselves Christians and Conservatives. Doyle calls himself a “neo-gastonist,” an expression idealizing Gaston’s character in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Both Doyle and Schwemmer posted messages expressing their support for Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two people and injured another who was protesting police brutality.

Solorio said the protesters also wanted to send a message to the university administration that they were fed up with what he described as the university’s failure to protect these students from hate speech and discrimination.

Fresno State responded that the opinions of the three speakers “go against the core values ​​of the University.” At the same time, the university said it is committed to free speech and that College Republicans used the proper channels to get the event approved.

In an additional statement provided to The Bee on Friday afternoon, Fresno State spokeswoman Lisa Boyles Bell wrote that when the Office of Student Involvement learned that off-campus guests would be attending the College Republicans event, “they advised the club to attend an Events Review Committee meeting for any future events where the public is invited.

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Protesters chant ‘No hate at Fresno State’ as the Fresno State College Republican Club gathered for their ‘Future of America’ event featuring speakers with ties to white nationalists, at Fresno State on Friday, April 1 2022. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

A tense but peaceful exchange at Fresno State

Protesters did not plan to engage themselves with attendees at the “Future of America” ​​event on Thursday, according to Solorio.

It became hard to avoid, however, once attendees joined protesters outside McClane Hall.

The exchange between the two groups remained non-violent but also tense. For several minutes, each side exchanged chants, trying to drown out the other.

Protesters continued to shout “No Hate at Fresno State”, while attendees chanted “America First”, “USA” and “Putin”.

Two of the speakers at the event, Schwemmer and Doyle, took turns shouting lines into their megaphones, including “We’re not hateful people” – but were barely audible as protesters chanted.

Doyle did not respond to The Bee’s request for further comment.

A minute before the College Republicans-organized event was scheduled to begin, most attendees returned inside McClane Hall as protesters broke off chanting so individual speakers could introduce themselves.

Isla Dudley, a Fresno State junior who identifies as a trans woman, took the megaphone first, expressing fear of the discrimination she faces.

She was quickly interrupted by a man who had earlier been seen waving an American flag amid attendees at the College Republican event who refused to share his name with The Fresno Bee.

He shouted, “You are not a woman” and “Speak the truth.”

The protesters fired back at the man with chants of “F—that fascist” and stood shoulder to shoulder, forming a wall between the man and Dudley until the man left.

“It’s kind of a terrifying experience being a trans woman in the Central Valley,” Dudley told The Bee before the altercation. “Hate speech, white nationalism (and) anti-LGBT sentiment have no place on our campus.”

Last year, the club held another speaker event with white nationalist views. The speaker, Tyler Russell, hosts the live show called Canada First. The club have also been criticized for mocking an ex-army doctor online. The university released a statement highlighting its support for veterans. The club’s Twitter account was suspended after this incident.

The Education Lab is a grassroots journalism initiative that highlights education issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Learn more about The Bee’s Education Lab on their website.

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