Conservative radio host Dennis Prager debates with UC Berkeley students on free speech

Xiaoye Yan/Staff

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Conservative radio host Dennis Prager debated with two UC Berkeley students, aiming to challenge audience members to think critically about free speech as part of his “No Safe Spaces” event Tuesday.

The event started at 6:30 p.m., ran until about 8 p.m. and was organized by the student organization Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR. As students walked out of their evening classes, many looked confused at the people lined up in the hallway of Dwinelle Hall, sporting “Make America Great Again” and National Rifle Association hats.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were (protests) but nothing like Milo (Yiannopoulos) or Ben Shapiro,” said attendee Tony Caballeros. “(Prager is) not quite as strong in his language, not a newcomer around the scene (and is) pretty experienced when it comes to touring universities.”

Justin Mickanen, CEO of The Scoop, a conservative-leaning media outlet, said he has been a fan of Prager for about two years.

The talk was part of Prager’s “No Safe Spaces” tour, which involves him traveling to college campuses nationwide to discuss topics such as free speech on college campuses, sex and gender identity, and the nature of humanity. Three of these shows have sold out, according to BCR Internal Vice President Matt Ronnau, and although he said at the event that Tuesday’s event sold 300 tickets, the lecture hall was half-empty.

Joining Prager were campus sophomores John Rider and David Lewins, writers at the Berkeley Political Review and members of BridgeUSA — a nonpartisan political organization that facilitates discussion between partisan opposites.

Prager disagreed with Rider and Lewins on the topic of the gender binary, claiming that there are only two genders. He argued that “obliterat(ing) the male-female distinction” does not make society better, adding that if you have a uterus, vagina and breasts, there is no debate that you are female.

“I think it’s a form of child abuse,” Prager said. “If society has come to the point where … we are going to abolish the joyful division of the human species into male and female, we have lost our minds.”

Prager also said “riots” and violent protests on college campuses create a threat to free speech, noting that fellow conservative speaker Ann Coulter needs armed bodyguards when she visits colleges.

Rider responded that the threat does not come from the campus community itself but from off-campus provocateurs. He referenced the Feb. 1 protests in response to Yiannopoulos’ speaking event, when 150 masked agitators entered an originally peaceful crowd of more than 1,500 protesters and incited violence.

“To the extent that it exists, it is an anti-right thing,” Prager said, answering a question about the threat to free speech on campus.

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.