Conservative provocateur Charlie Kirk arrives in Burlington.
And his October 18 speech is already causing controversy – and confusion – among residents of Queen City. The location originally announced for the event no longer accommodates Kirk. And its appearance is not sponsored by the University of Vermont, although the list of online events includes the institution’s name in its title.
Kirk comes to Burlington as part of his Exposing Critical Racism Tour, a lecture tour he organizes in college towns across the country. He is the founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit organization which, according to its website, aims to “organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government.”
A political agitator, Kirk has drawn criticism for promoting inflammatory politics and distorting the truth, particularly around the Covid-19 pandemic. He has close ties to the Trump family and has been hailed by former President Donald Trump as “a great warrior”.
Kirk anchors his event on recent conservative outrage against Critical Race Theory, a framework that seeks to understand and critique how systemic racism is ingrained in American society through, but not limited to, its legal systems, education, housing and employment.
The Conservatives recently challenged the concept. They argue that critical race theory is racist towards whites and that the framework promotes division.
A nationwide push among conservatives aims to ban public school theory – an effort teachers have pushed back, including in Vermont. Many educators have said that the high-level theoretical concept is not explicitly taught in schools, but that it is essential to teach students about inequalities and racism.
In a video uploaded to Kirk’s YouTube channel in December 2020, he told an audience in Atlanta, Georgia that Critical Race Theory represents “this ridiculous lie that America is systematically racist until its bone”. He said it is a dangerous school of thought that convinces black Americans that they will never progress through the racist systems of the country.
Some students in UVM political clubs say Kirk deliberately misunderstands critical race theory to drive reactionary politics among conservatives.
“Besides the fact that Charlie Kirk has based his career on incorrect and inflammatory remarks in order to foster an ‘us versus them’ feeling, he’s coming to Burlington… reprehensible,” UVM senior Sinéad Murray told VTDigger. , vice-president of the progressive club of the UVM, in an e-mail.
“The best teachers I’ve learned from have used critical breed theory as a cornerstone of their teaching,” Murray added. “[Turning Points USA] Openly likens this theory to Jim Crow, and Kirk has no place to talk about CRT in a higher education institution like it’s the truth.
UVM junior Michael Gutterman, who is president of the UVM Democrats’ Club, told VTDigger he doesn’t think Kirk or his supporters fully understand critical race theory.
“They only look at very limited aspects instead of the overall lens,” he said, “which tries to give people an honest look at racial history.”
Left-wing activist group BTV Copwatch ran an article asking people to reserve free seats for the event and not to show up. They also asked people to call the Hilton in downtown Burlington and ask them to stop hosting Kirk’s tour.
The event listing originally included the Hilton Hotel as the venue for the event, but site location details have since been changed to “to be determined.” Hotel general manager Pete Engard told VTDigger the hotel had never contracted with Turning Point USA and had asked the group to remove the hotel from the event list .
Turning Point did not respond to VTDigger’s requests for comment. Turning Point USA organizer Savannah Coelho told the Vermont Daily Chronicle that the tour has multiple backup plans for a location and the event will take place at the same time and date.
Although Kirk’s appearance is titled “Exposing Critical Racism Tour at University of Vermont,” the event does not take place at the university and is not a university-affiliated event, according to the spokesperson for UVM, Enrique Corredera.
It is not known if a varsity club was involved in organizing the event.
Delaney Courcelle, president of the Republicans Club at UVM College, told VTDigger her organization was not involved in the event. There is a Turning Point USA Facebook page at the University of Vermont that was active in March, but no chapters are registered on the university’s club website.
Courcelle said she recognizes Kirk is controversial and understands why people don’t want him to talk in town. She said she agreed with some of Turning Point USA’s positions and disagreed with others.
“But I think it doesn’t matter whether you like him or not, you can’t stop him from speaking at an event,” Courcelle said.
“I think it’s just a good thing to encourage people to come forward,” she added. “If you want to ask him questions or if you want to disagree respectfully, this is the type of place to be able to do it.”
Gutterman, of UVM Democrats, said he believes people just shouldn’t attend the event.
“I don’t mind that the city of Burlington welcomes people with different perspectives. I think it’s important, ”Gutterman said. “I just think they have to be in good faith and I don’t think this organization has divergent views in good faith.”
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