Former U.S. Navy SEAL and Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tx) was met by a sea of students from all political backgrounds to discuss current political issues at Palo Verde Beach on the Tempe campus Friday afternoon.
The event, titled “Prove Me Wrong feat. Congressman Dan Crenshaw,” held by the Turning Point USA chapter at ASU, provided students an opportunity for a question and answer session with the congressman.
The forum focused primarily on the benefits of capitalism and why Crenshaw believes the country’s current economic system is functioning more effectively than those of others, although it was disrupted by protests from members of the alt-right.
When Crenshaw failed to fully answer a question or gave a more unexpected response, he was met by shouts and insults from some members of the crowd.
Maxi Mertens, a graduate law student affiliated with Turning Point USA, said the group encourages dialogue about free markets and capitalism, and that at the event, "a lot of the questions people were asking were regarding socialism and what impacts their daily life.”
Mertens acknowledged that while the event was a success overall, it was met with some expected protest. Ultimately, Mertens said she was happy to contribute to an event that fostered an open dialogue between students with different political opinions and ideologies.
“We had a lot of protesters who were really heated, but for the most part it was good,” she said. “It’s always kind of a risk whenever we come to a university.”
Liam Huggins, a member of ASU Young Democrats and a sophomore majoring in political science, believes that the offensive comments and inappropriate behavior that came from some of the audience might have been motivated by Nick Fuentes, a self-proclaimed nationalist behind the 'America First' series on YouTube.
Huggins said he felt threatened by Fuentes’s online presence but wanted to witness the reality of his following at Crenshaw's event.
“The Q&A went poorly because there are alt-right forces online who are trying to connect themselves with the establishment-right and Donald Trump to legitimize anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and nationalism with a large, established political organization,” Huggins said.
Ty Hakes, a sophomore majoring in counseling, celebrated Crenshaw's return to campus.
“I will definitely condemn all these racist, garbage human beings here. The 'America First' Nick Fuentes minions who ruined this event are racist, anti-Semitic garbage people and I want nothing to do with them," Hakes said. "They’re not Christians. They’re not conservatives. They’re awful people."
Christian Merante, a freshman studying political science, was also disappointed by the disruptions from the unruly audience.
Merante said he had never experienced a protest or backlash of this magnitude before, and wasn't sure how to handle it.
“Dan Crenshaw is my biggest political idol,” Merante said. “There were all these far-right anti-Semites, and I didn’t even get to ask the question I really wanted to ask because there were cameras facing me, there were people shoving, people screaming … it was just crazy. It destroyed my moment with Dan Crenshaw, and I started crying.”
The congressman called out some members of the crowd who were yelling offensive slurs and criticisms.
“You operate exactly like the far left,” Crenshaw called out to a crowd of protesters. “You engage in victim identity politics. It’s pathetic.”
This stop at ASU is one of many for Crenshaw as he has spent the past few months touring the country on behalf of Turning Point to speak to students.
The Q&A session also enabled Crenshaw to answer controversial questions, and many were unrelated to the idea of economic systems altogether.
The congressman was urged by a long line of supporters and protesters to answer an abundance of questions related to foreign trade, immigration and U.S. relations with Israel.
Crenshaw explained to one student that the U.S. gives aid to Israel because it is one of the country’s allies, and that the majority of the money is spent on American goods and technological exchanges that protect the U.S. military on the battlefield.
He also addressed the “proper” implementation of red flag laws at the state level, the merits of the First Amendment and rights in general.
“One of the fundamental purposes of government is to prevent you from infringing the life, liberty and property of somebody else,” Crenshaw said. “If you’re threatening somebody else, you’re infringing on their rights, which means your rights are no longer protected.”
Crenshaw's seat in Texas will be up for re-election in 2020, where he will be competing against another Navy veteran for the office.