Maine’s largest college Republican group is claiming free-speech martyrdom after a hotel in South Portland canceled a speaking event they organized for far-right commentator Michelle Malkin. Students affiliated with the University of Maine College Republicans first moved the event to the Franco American Heritage Center, in Lewiston, where it was also subsequently cancelled, then booked the Martindale Country Club, in Auburn, which was also cancelled on Friday morning.
The speaking engagement has been promoted heavily by Republican Congressional candidate Adrienne Bennett, whose campaign helped pay the costs of Malkin’s appearance, as well as Maine Republican Party Vice Chairman and Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, who planned to livestream Malkin’s speech. Now, in a last-ditch effort to save the event, Bennett’s far-right Congressional competitor, Eric Brakey, has offered to host the event at his campaign headquarters.
“In the interest of protecting our First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, I have offered the @umaineCR access tonight for their event w/ @michellemalkin one venue the SJW [social justice warrior] outrage mob can’t cancel — our campaign HQ in Lewiston, Maine,” Brakey posted on Twitter today.
As Mainer reported last month, the UMaine College Republicans lost their status as an officially recognized student group in November, right after they first invited Malkin to speak in Maine. The former Fox News contributor had recently been dropped by a conservative campus speakers’ bureau, apparently due to her support for white nationalist Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and his rambunctious followers, known as Groypers. The UMaine group’s faculty advisor, Amy Fried, resigned when her concerns about the students’ invite to Malkin were ignored. Without a faculty advisor, the UMaine Republicans ceased to be recognized by the university or eligible for university funding and other benefits.
When word spread about the Malkin event, originally scheduled for Jan. 17 at the Portland Sheraton at Sable Oaks, numerous people called the hotel to express their concern. Among them was a Twitter activist in Maine who uses the handle Support Maine’s Future.
“I called the hotel to let them know the [College Republicans] weren’t affiliated with UMaine. Sheraton was not aware of that,” said the activist, who spoke to Mainer on condition of anonymity due to threats of violence they have received as a result of this activism. “There were going to be a bunch of Groypers running around the hotel unsupervised. It was about security.”
Event organizer Jeremiah Childs, the college Republican group’s vice president, told the Portland Press Herald that a UMaine official “called and threatened the hotel” to force the cancellation of Malkin’s talk. Malkin also blamed the university, in addition to local anti-racism activists.
In a Jan. 14 tweet responding to Support Maine’s Future, Malkin wrote, “Mission accomplished, cowardly free speech hater. I hear you got an assist from Univ. of Maine officials, too. Taxpayers should know their $ is being used for cancel culture campaigns against #AmericaFirst students and speakers.”
According to Dan Demeritt, Director of Public Affairs for the University of Maine System, UMaine “did not suggest that the event be cancelled.” Demeritt told Mainer the university also received calls from people concerned about the event, including a caller who thought UMaine “would be billed for the event.”
In response to those calls, Demeritt said a “member of the student life team at UMaine called the hotel … [and] made it clear that the function was not a university sponsored event.” The administrator also “answered questions about the student organization status of the UMaine College Republicans.”
Hotel management has been mum regarding their decision to pull the plug on Malkin’s appearance, but it appears they did so after realizing the college Republican group is no longer officially affiliated with the university.
Childs, who also failed to respond to Mainer’s request for comment, may have expected — or even hoped — this would happen. This incident follows a pattern that’s become part of the far-right’s playbook: announce an appearance by a controversial figure who espouses hateful views, then cry foul when the event is cancelled due to controversy, painting those who object to hate speech as enemies of “free speech.”
“Whenever these cancelations happen, organizers and their allies in conservative press will often attempt to deepen the conflict on campus, which they then use to feed their existing message that American universities are unfriendly to conservatives,” Jared Holt, a reporter for Right Wing Watch, told Mainer. “It is a very lucrative fundraising mechanism for the conservative movement.”
UMaine has actually been remarkably tolerant of the college Republican group’s behavior, despite the students’ embrace of notoriously intolerant figures like Malkin and Fuentes, their blatant anti-Semitism, and their brazen disregard for university policy.
Taylor Cray, UMaine’s Vice President of Student Organizations, recently sent the group a message to “remind” them “that use of the name ‘University of Maine’ in the title or advertising of your organization is permitted only if your organization is recognized” by the university. The UMaine administration also asked them to stop promoting the Malkin event as being sponsored by the UMaine College Republicans.
In response, Childs and his cohort have begun placing a red stamp-style graphic that reads “CENSORED” over the UMaine College Republicans logo on materials promoting Malkin’s talk, framing the university’s action as an attack on free speech.
The student group has also continued to post on Facebook as the UMaine College Republicans. They typically post conservative and far-right memes, including images like a recent picture depicting financier George Soros as a puppeteer controlling Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. References to Soros are a common form of shorthand for the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that wealthy Jews manipulate the world for nefarious ends. Similar images appeared in publications during the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s.
Asked why UMaine has tolerated the Republican student group’s continued use of the university’s name on its Facebook page, which has over 4,600 followers, Demeritt said, “As would be the case with any student political organization on campus, students who have been leading the UMaine College Republicans have been asked to make it clear that their events and their message are not sponsored by or endorsed by the University of Maine. They have also been asked to be forthright with the community about their organizational status.”
The group’s refusal to do either of those things apparently carries no penalty. To the contrary, UMaine is eager to help Childs and his associates regain official status and all its attendant benefits.
“Our efforts are focused on supporting the students and their success and helping the UMaine College Republicans regain recognized status by the University’s Student Government Association,” Demeritt wrote in an e-mail to Mainer.
The list of student groups on UMaine’s website indicates that the UMaine College Republicans are “inactive,” and the link to the group’s page on the university’s site has been removed. But the page itself is still up, and the group, or course, is still very active indeed.