Politics, protestors and pie throwing

Central Indiana has been host to a string of conservative speakers in recent weeks. Not all received hospitable welcomes, however, as politics, protestors and pie throwing disrupted many of the events. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer signed autographs for his new book 'Taking Heat: The President, The Press, and My Years at the White House' at Borders last week.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and frequent Fox News political commentator, made an appearance at Earlham College in Richmond on March 29.

Earlham President Doug Bennett invited Kristol to speak at the behest of a group called DIALOGUE-Diverse Individuals Actively Listening to Others for Greater Understanding and Education.

About 30 minutes after Kristol began speaking to the crowd of students and faculty, Josh Medlin, a second-year student at Earlham, approached the stage and threw a pie made of ice cream, hitting Kristol in the face. Kristol finished his speech after he was hit by the pie and then took questions from the audience before spending 30 minutes talking with students and others who gathered at the edge of the stage.

Medlin, who is not speaking to media, has been suspended. A police investigation is underway, but no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Bennett issued a statement the day after the event, affirming the importance of letting speakers address their audiences. The statement said that "any student who shows by word or deed that he or she will act to deny such rights to speakers and their potential audiences will forfeit the privilege of continuing to be a student at the college."

A week later, on April 6, Butler University hosted conservative author and activist David Horowitz at the invitation of the campus Young Republicans. As he began to speak, Horowitz was hit in the face with a chocolate cream pie by masked protestors dressed in black. Though reports say there were three accomplices, none have been identified or arrested.

Horowitz was at Butler as part of his campaign to encourage state Legislatures to adopt the "Academic Bill of Rights," which Horowitz says will encourage a diversity of views in higher education, but that critics say is an attack on academic freedom.

Horowitz is the president of Students for Academic Freedom, an organization with chapters on 150 college campuses that is leading the charge for an Academic Bill of Rights to protect intellectual diversity and academic freedom on America's college campuses. Legislation inspired by the Academic Bill of Rights has been introduced in over 20 states, including Indiana.

In a statement on the incident at Butler, Horowitz said, "It is ironic that these assailants tried to prevent me from delivering a lecture on the need for greater tolerance and respect for dissenting opinions in the academic community."

Later the same night, Horowitz had recovered enough from the violent attack to post the following on his blog: "There's a wave of leftist violence against conservative speakers on college campuses, and tonight I was a target. Four juvenile delinquents at Butler University doused me with a chocolate cream pie at the beginning of my speech on academic freedom (as if to make my point!). This kind of thuggish behavior is of course encouraged by a radical faculty which regularly derides conservatives and conservative students and by an administration which tolerates all this.

"I was lucky my glasses weren't broken, since the pie was slammed into my face at eye level," Horowitz continued. "After drying off, I went on with my speech to a mostly left-wing audience. I will press charges if the opportunity is provided."

Butler University President Bobby Fong released a statement following the pie throwing supporting the right of Horowitz and others to express their views.

"A university is at its best a forum for the open exchange of ideas and opinions. Mr. Horowitz's right to express his opinions was violated by those who disrupted his speech. We support the constitutional rights of free speech granted to Mr. Horowitz as well as to those who disagree with his opinions. The university does not support this inappropriate behavior," Fong said.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer comes to town frequently. His wife Becky is from Indianapolis and the couple and their new daughter regularly visit family here. Last week, however, Fleischer was in town on business.

Taking Heat: The President, The Press, and My Years at the White House is Fleischer's first book and he and Gov. Mitch Daniels spent more than two hours signing autographs and shaking hands with the nearly 300 Hoosiers who waited in line to meet them at the downtown Borders bookstore. Daniels was signing copies of his book Notes from the Road that details his campaign experience.

Fleischer laughed when told about the recent pie incidents.

"Are you serious?" he asked with a grin. "Oh well, at least I'll be sitting next to the governor. I'll just duck if I see a pie headed my direction."

Daniels and Fleischer were not hit with any pies, nor were there any disruptions at the booksigning.

In general, Fleischer views protestors with a degree of annoyance. "I just don't think it's an effective way to generate change or get your point across."

But conservative writer Anne Coulter feels differently. Coulter, who was smacked with a pie during an appearance at a college campus in Arizona last fall, considers the pie throwers "thugs" and "criminals."

In a recent column, Coulter writes, "These Rhodes-scholar geniuses with a taste for 'fact-driven debate' can't even achieve the level of argument practiced by the average juvenile delinquent. They're still stuck at the intellectual level of 2-year-olds in high chairs throwing food."

She went on to express her outrage that the pie throwing criminals haven't been prosecuted for the "violent attacks" of pie throwing against her, Horowitz and Kristol.

"If there had been that many attacks on Muslims in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attack, we'd still be watching Showtime specials about it. But, to the contrary, when conservative speakers are physically attacked on college campuses, university administrators ignore the attacks [and] Democrat prosecutors somehow manage to get the charges dismissed."