College Republicans panel featuring Rep. Madison Cawthorn draws student protests

The panelists covered topics including the prosecution of Democratic officials, withdrawal from Afghanistan, immigration and the future of the Republican Party.

by Jacob Strier and Soleil Gaylord | 10/26/21 5:10am

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Bruesewitz, Cawthorn and Leavitt address audience questions in the Q&A portion of the event. 

by Oliver De Jonghe / The Dartmouth Staff

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.; Karoline Leavitt, a Republican candidate for New Hampshire’s first congressional district and Republican campaign strategist Alex Bruesewitz spoke to a crowd of roughly 150 students and community members in Filene Auditorium in an event that was characterized by fiery rhetoric and misinformation.

The Sunday evening event covered a wide range of topics, including the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, school prayer and the future of the Republican Party. Students walked out in protest throughout the panel, and additional protesters gathered outside in a rally organized by the Dartmouth chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. 

Dartmouth College Republicans president Griffin Mackey ’21 opened the event and DCR vice president Chloe Ezzo ’22 led questioning, beginning by asking the panelists about whether National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci should be prosecuted — with which all three speakers agreed, accusing him of lying to Congress about the funding of gain-of-function research and other offenses.

“What he did with the Wuhan Chinese virus should get him a lot more [jail time], so I do think he committed a lot of crimes with his handling of [COVID-19], and all that fun stuff,” Bruesewitz said, using a term for the pathogen that the American Medical Association has condemned as “racially-charged and xenophobic.”

Cawthorn stated that if  “communism [were] ever to come to America, it would come in the name of Anthony Fauci.” He added that “the Chinese” need to be held accountable for the spread of the virus and the U.S. should seize Chinese assets on American soil as “reparations” for the pandemic.

Leavitt advised students to exercise caution in digesting “mainstream media” and while listening to “professors here on a higher education campus.”

In response to a question regarding the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the three panelists aired their disappointment. Cawthorn cited the alleged “mental decline” of President Joe Biden as the cause of the chaotic withdrawal and the death of American troops in Afghanistan, adding that “any 15-year-old who has played Call of Duty for a number of days could pull us out of Afghanistan in a manner which made sense.”

The panelists also expressed opposition to offering asylum to refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border and Afghan migrants from overseas. Bruesewitz said falsely that “nobody knows who these [Afghan refugees] are” — however, according to reporting from The Wall Street Journal, those evacuated from Afghanistan face multiple rounds of background checks before they ever arrive on American soil — and accused Democrats of wanting “child brides” and “rapists” in their communities. 

Leavitt said that Biden should be impeached and removed from office for his handling of the “immigration crisis.” She argued that border patrol agents are “miserable” and criticized Biden for his failure to visit the U.S.-Mexico border since he took office.

“It's absolutely not fair that our tax dollars are going to supporting [undocumented immigrants] when we have homeless veterans on our streets, when we have an opioid epidemic that is raging in this state of New Hampshire alone,” Leavitt said. “When someone wants to talk about illegal immigration, they’re not a racist — they have common sense and they’re sticking up for American citizens first.”

The panelists also discussed the “deep state,” a group of “bureaucrats” that Cawthorn called a “bunch of nerds, a bunch of donors.” Cawthorn suggested moving federal agencies out of Washington, D.C. to “middle America” and limiting the power of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

In response to a question about the future of the Republican Party, Bruesewitz expressed his excitement about new “right-wing powerhouses,” such as Cawthorn and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — a Republican from Georgia who was stripped from committee assignments after it emerged that she had advocated for violence against Democratic members of Congress in 2018 and 2019. Both Cawthorn and Taylor Greene, according to Bruesewitz, share a support for “safe and secure” borders, “draining the swamp,” taking on the “fake news” media and advancing the “America First” agenda that former President Donald Trump “set in motion.”

“We’re in a war of ideas and [the Republican Party’s] ideas need to win — [Democrats] are anti-American, they brainwash our kids [and] it’s anti-science,” Bruesewitz said. “The Maldives were supposed to be underwater in 2005, acid rain was supposed to kill us in the ’90s — the temperatures only [rose] 1% in the last 250 years… So that’s why I don't believe the science, but [Democrats’] ideas are dangerous, they’re anti-American.”

The Maldives may be fully underwater by 2100, according to the country’s environment minister, and the Earth has warmed by, on average, about one degree Celsius since the 1850-1900 baseline used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

In response to audience member Jack Cocchiarella ’25 accusing Cawthorn of “lying to [his] constituents” about the 2020 presidential election results, Cawthorn alleged that election laws in several key states were unconstitutionally changed, a claim federal courts have dismissed. Cawthorn said in January, after Biden’s inauguration, that the election was “not fraudulent.”

Cawthorn also responded to an audience question about mandated prayer in schools — a policy that he supports.

“I don’t think it has to be a mandated Christian prayer — I believe there should be a time for prayer and you can pray to whatever God you choose,” Cawthorn said. “I do not believe that we should create an atheist culture — I think it leads to debauchery, and I think it leads to a spiritual poverty within the soul.”

James Eiler ’25, said that he did not think Cawthorn was a “good person,” but he thought the congressman “spoke well.”

Cocchiarella said he thought that Sunday’s event would be the “perfect setting” to hold the panelists “accountable.” He added that he thought the moderators asked “some pretty softball questions,” so he wanted to confront the panelists directly. 

Blake McGill ’22 said that she initially “advocated fervently” for the panelists’ right to speak but found Cawthorn’s statements to be “deflating.”

“It made me feel even more disenfranchised, from a party that I always thought I would be part of,” McGill said. “It is pretty frustrating to me, because I saw glimmers of hope in working across the political aisle, but it is pretty obvious to me that the future of the Republican Party is an anti-intellectual one.”

Outside of the event, a group of student protesters at least 50 strong wrote chalk slogans on the ground, held signs and shouted slogans, including “Fascists, go home,” and “Whose campus? Our campus.” During the event, multiple students walked out or shouted at the panelists. 

Dartmouth’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, alongside the Afro-American Society and CoFIRED student groups and the “Black Praxis” and “Dartmouth Radical” student publications, helped to organize the protest, according to co-chair Ian Scott ’24. 

He said that the protest had “good turnout,” and that its goal was to promote an alternative to the conservative ideology of the panelists. Scott added that the group decided not to attend the event itself. Instead, according to YDSA secretary Kaya Colakoglu ’24, the outdoor protest involved student speakers who aimed to reorient the conversation from “aloof” national politics to local issues. 

“We feel that these speakers, particularly Madison Cawthorn, bring hateful ideas to our campus that should not be spread,” Scott said. 

Antony Smith, a volunteer on Leavitt’s campaign, said that a roundtable campaign event last week at the University of New Hampshire did not see protests. 

In an interview after the event with The Dartmouth, Leavitt said that she appreciates that those who disagree with Cawthorn’s and her beliefs attended the event. 

“I think it’s great — we need to exercise our First Amendment rights,” she said. “I think civil discourse is great for our country — that’s what America is built on.” 

Leavitt, who, if elected, would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, added that Dartmouth students should know they are “never too young to run for office.”

Blake McGill is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.

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