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Beloit YAF chair discusses past, upcoming speakers

The Round Table sat down with Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) Chair Andrew Collins’20 to discuss the speakers they have brought and are planning to bring to campus. There has been disagreement in the campus community about whether or not some of these speakers should be given a platform at Beloit due to their controversial nature.

When asked about the type of speakers YAF brings to campus Collins said the group aims to “bring people who are consistent with the Sharon Statement,” which is the founding document of YAF that places a high priority on limited government, national defense, anti-communism and economic freedom. Collins also says that YAF strives to bring “responsible and engaging individuals that would enhance dialogue on campus.” The past three speakers brought to Beloit have touched on topics such as freedom of speech, national security and culture. Prince, who is slated to be the next speaker, will be speaking about the “market economy” and possible “market solutions” to complicated issues.

A question on several students’ minds is how YAF chooses its speakers. Andrew pointed to the “speakers bureau” on the Young America’s Foundation’s (the national organization for YAF) website. Two of the speakers have been from that bureau while the two others, including Prince, are not. Collins says to have “reached out to [Prince] of [his] own initiative.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, another YAF speaker that sparked controversy on campus, was chosen from the speakers bureau. When speaking in broad terms YAF hopes that all the speakers “advance conservative and free market ideas.”

Many students were concerned when Ashcroft was invited to campus citing the former Attorney General’s endorsement of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on high profile Al Qaeda suspects while in office. According to ABC News these techniques included prisoners being “slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep, or subject to simulated drowning, known as waterboarding.” Similar articles appear in news sources such as CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian and PBS. The articles from ABC News, The Guardian, CNN and others directly mention Ashcroft in support of these methods.

Prince, YAF’s next speaker, was CEO of a private security company known as Blackwater that was contracted by the Bush administration to operate in Iraq as security detail for important US officials as well as perform other assignments. In one such operation in Baghdad a security detail from Blackwater opened fire into a busy traffic square, Nisour Square, shooting 31 unarmed civilians, killing 14 in 2007. Several Blackwater security guards were sentenced in federal court in 2014 to 30 years in prison for their participation in the incident that prosecutors described as a “civilian massacre.” One security guard was sentenced to life imprisonment for instigating the incident. Prince is widely believed to have overlooked such behavior while CEO of the company. The Supreme Court later rejected the appeals made by the security guards. When asked if YAF was aware of these allegations Collins said that “If [Prince] was in fact a war criminal, we wouldn’t invite him to campus.”

There is a disparity between the speakers that YAF has invited to campus. For example neither Andrew Klavan nor Peter Berkowitz were especially controversial in that neither had been suspected of violating or overseeing the violation of human rights, whereas for both Ashcroft and Prince this is the case. The fact that YAF also went out of its way to invite Prince instead of utilizing the speakers bureau generates questions on whether or not YAF is attempting to provoke a response from other students. Collins said that “our purpose is not to provoke” but instead want “people who disagree with our speakers to just come out and ask questions.” This is where many students believe YAF falls short, as when Ashcroft spoke he only answered 3 questions after speaking for the good portion of the hour leaving many raised hands in the air as the session came to an abrupt end.

Questions still remain as to why YAF chooses speakers who have potentially overseen the abuse of human rights. In regards to expected student reactions Collins stated that YAF has and is “certainly not planning for [a protest]” but at the same time did not deny that they “do the best to prepare for and manage the risk.” These contradictory statements make students wonder if these speakers really are intended to simply advance conservative ideas or to actually elicit a response from the campus community. When asked if he believes if Prince or Ashcroft embody the Sharon Statement Collins answered, “I don’t know about embody, you’d have to ask them. I don’t know if Prince would agree with every single point or if Ashcroft would agree with every single point but, presumably, they’re conservatives and would find some broad common ground [in the statement].” Though Prince has spoken many times in support of the free market he technically “considers himself a libertarian” according to an article from Business Insider published in 2017.

Sources: ABC News, Business Insider, CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times, PBS, Washington Post

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