Cracking sounds pierced the air in an otherwise calm Carleton Auditorium on Thursday night.
A series of bangs and pings coming from a bathroom door put the crowd of about 300 on edge, as conservative political commentator Dinesh D’Souza wrapped up his speech about what he believed to be the untold origins of fascism and racism in America.
“What’s going on?” some people asked, turning and looking around.
Two students, who were making the sounds to disrupt the event, were escorted out by University Police. Lt. Matt Davis said the students were trying to flush or clog a toilet.
Aside from the sounds and one heckler, the event ran smoothly, with the audience nodding in agreement or chuckling occasionally.
D’Souza was invited by UF’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative student activist group, to talk about his newest book “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left.” In his book, D’Souza argues the Democratic left has an ideology virtually identical with fascism and uses intimidation tactics.
“I’m going to talk about fake history and fake scholarship,” said D’Souza about his radical ideas and how they made him a “more dangerous American.”
Sharon Purser, a small business owner, drove from Jacksonville to see D’Souza, who she considers a rising star in conservative rhetoric, she said.
“He appreciates the core values of what America stands for,” Purser said. “We take it for granted, really, so much.”
Just one heckler yelled “Are you saying that America caused the Holocaust?” at D’Souza during the speech.
Connor Courtney, a UF aerospace engineering junior, was also among the few in the crowd who strongly disagreed with the speaker’s message.
“I don’t think he has good views,” the 20-year-old said. “I find him foolish, and he himself is a joke.”
UF Senate passed a resolution Jan. 23, allotting $5,100 of Student Government funding to cover D’Souza’s visit, according to Alligator archives. D’Souza’s speaking fee was about $15,000, and the rest of the money was paid for by Young Americans for Freedom, said the vice president elect for UF’s chapter of the organization, Victor Santos.
“Overall, I feel like they have been giving us the runaround,” said Santos of UF’s administration, which he felt had impeded his organization in advertising the event.
An early version of the event’s flyer was denied for its content, which featured D’Souza sitting at table with a sign that read “Nazis are Leftists” and “CHANGE MY MIND.” The group didn’t get to start promoting the event until one week ago, Santos said.
The event’s location was also recently changed from McCarty Hall to the Carleton Auditorium for security reasons, and the time was moved an hour earlier, Santos said.
Sophia Ahmed, a UF psychology and materials science and engineering sophomore, tried to lead students in protest of D’Souza’s visit with her Facebook group, “The Resistance UF.” She said her efforts had caused the event’s location and time to be changed.
Part of the resistance was Ahmed’s 3-year-old pitbull, Banshee, who wore a red, white and blue bandana around her neck and mini-posters strapped to her sides that read “#NeverAgain” and “Pooches against Conspiracy Theorists.”
Ahmed said she respected D’Souza’s right to speak freely but his inflammatory tweets in February about the Parkland shooting had pinched a nerve, prompting her to organize the protest.
D’Souza tweeted one survivor looked “coached and also a bit deranged” while speaking with the media. Following a failed bill aimed at banning assault-style weapons in Florida, he wrote, “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”
“You shouldn’t use somebody’s fatal tragedy for your own ulterior motives to benefit your own image,” the 20-year-old said.
Ahmed’s plan was for people to meet on Turlington Plaza at 4:30 p.m. to make signs and garner support, but after an hour of waiting no more than a handful of curious students had showed. Ahmed and others attended the speech and observed.
“They wanted a show, but we didn’t give them a show.” she said. “In order to be effective, you can’t be what they expect you to be.”