Last time Jim Gilchrist set foot on campus, mayhem ensued. Six years later, the Columbia University College Republicans want to bring him back.
CUCR hopes to bring the controversial founder of the Minuteman Project—which calls itself “a citizens’ vigilance operation monitoring immigration, business, and government” on its website—back to campus as a speaker.
According to CUCR president William Prasifka, CC ’12, “Gilchrist is willing to do it, it’s a question of expense and whether people will allow free speech on campus.”
Gilchrist, whose last visit to the University in fall 2006 ended in a violent and controversial brawl, had said in 2007 that he wanted to return to campus.
Prasifka said that the event is intended to promote free speech, not to push a political agenda. “The sole reason for the purpose of the event would not be to discuss immigration policy but to discuss academic freedom and the freedom of the University.”
The Minuteman Project claims to provide legitimate aid to U.S. law enforcement by patrolling the Mexican border for illegal immigrants. Critics have accused the group of being a thinly veiled racist organization that practices vigilante law.
On the evening of Oct. 4, 2006, Gilchrist visited campus, also at the request of CUCR. Several minutes into his speech, protesters mounted the stage with a banner reading “No one is illegal” in three languages.
The clash that ensued between protesters and supporters of Gilchrist led to several people being kicked, hit, and tackled. Gilchrist’s appearance received national media attention and sparked debate over the limits of free speech and protests on college campuses.
Prasifka acknowledged that Gilchrist’s last visit to campus caused protests, but insisted that CUCR does “not want to be seen as trying to do something stupid to get attention or relive past glories of the organization.”
Emily Tamkin, CC ’12, general manager of Columbia Political Union and a former Spectator editorial page editor, said, “We absolutely support CUCR and any other organization’s right to bring any speaker to campus that they feel would further political and civic engagement.”
Columbia University College Democrats media director Sarah Gitlin, CC ’13, said that the Democrats were not opposed to the visit, despite opposing Gilchrist’s ideology.
“The Minutemen are obviously a group of very hateful vigilantes and we object strongly to any of their actions,” she said, “but we do support free speech on campus and are not opposed to CU Republicans’ right to bring them on campus.”
“We do hope that many people will show up to question them on their actions,” she added.
The event would take place this semester, Prasifka said.
Gilchrist’s visit would require a large expenditure from CUCR—Prasifka estimated security would cost a minimum of $1000, while travel and living expenses for Gilchrist’s stay could cost up to $1500.