Blue TV screens at the South Burlington DoubleTree Conference Center listed two events taking place in the ballrooms on Monday: one was a Covid-19 vaccination clinic, which was also advertised with several posters in the parking lot.
The other was labeled “Campus Tour Event”.
This event was the “Exposing Critical Racism Tour”, led by conservative activist Charlie Kirk. Kirk is the founder and CEO of Turning Point USA, a conservative section-based organizing group that its website says aims to “organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government.” Kirk also became president of Students for Trump in 2019.
The location of Monday’s event was not announced until that morning. The event website first advertised the Hilton hotel as a location, before changing it to “to be confirmed”. Kirk said on Monday that the first location was canceled after receiving an influx of calls from people opposed to the event.
Pete Engard, general manager of the Hilton Burlington Lake Champlain, previously told VTDigger that the hotel never had a contract with Turning Point USA and asked Turning Point USA to remove the hotel’s name from the website. Ticketing.
A spokesperson for UVM and the president of the UVM College Republicans Club also previously told VTDigger that their organizations had no involvement in the Turning Point event.
The South Burlington DoubleTree Ballroom was nearly full Monday night, accommodating over a hundred people. While Turning Point describes itself as a student movement and includes sections in high schools and colleges across the country, most of Monday’s crowd appeared to be middle-aged or older adults.
Although state officials – including Social Services Agency Secretary Mike Smith and Governor Phil Scott – suggested at the governor’s weekly Covid press conference on Tuesday that attendees in Kirk may have protested Against the vaccination clinic that stood outside the DoubleTree, South Burlington Police Chief Shawn Burke said it was a “misunderstanding regarding the small group of activists” at the exterior of the hotel.
Burke said activists were protesting against Kirk.
About a dozen student protesters came from the Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter at the UVM, which was founded there a few weeks ago. They marched from the UVM campus with a few drummers and several held homemade cardboard signs outside the entrance before the doors opened for the event.
The student demonstrators were seated in two rows in the front right side of the ballroom, many wearing red Young Democratic Socialists of America masks stating, “A better world is possible.” Some students heckled Kirk at times during the event – one shouted, “Praise be to God trans! – but the event generally continued undisturbed.
Just before Kirk took the stage, giant screens played a high-energy video showing crowds of students, the pop music narration included, “It’s time for our generation to rise up and take America back.”
Kirk opened the event by addressing the question, “Why am I here? Why am I in Burlington, VT, of all places? “
Kirk said many of his beliefs fit with the state’s overall political culture: “I think there is something special about Vermont that we shouldn’t forget, that we as a conservatives, should focus, and that’s the idea of preserving the small against the big. . “
The event, which Kirk is touring in college towns across the country, echoes the recent conservative backlash around Critical Race Theory, a legal framework that seeks to analyze how systemic racism is ingrained in society. America, including its laws, education system, and housing, among other areas.
A report published in August by the Brookings Institution found that eight states had passed legislation limiting how teachers can discuss race or racism in the classroom, although Idaho was the only state to explicitly name the critical theory of race in law.
Vermont teachers and school administrators rebuffed these efforts, saying critical race theory is not taught in K-12 schools.
Much of Kirk’s speech was not so much about critical race theory as it was about promoting moral values, faith, and the two-parent nuclear family.
“Freedom can only be managed by moral and virtuous people,” Kirk said.
Signage in the conference center lobby encouraged “all guests (whether vaccinated or not) to wear a mask in public hotel areas,” but the vast majority of attendees were not masked.
Veronica Salber, 39, who attended Monday’s event, said she first encountered Kirk’s work on Facebook during lockdowns last year. She said she was brought up in a predominantly Democratic family and has long seen herself as independent.
She is educating three of her children in Milton after removing them from public schools this year. She said that “CRT and sex education was the icing on the cake” in her decision to attend homeschooling, but she was also concerned that one of her sons, who is disabled, would not receive the support. that he needed in public school.
Participant John Amory, who works in childcare services in Bristol, described himself as politically leftist, but said he wanted to appear on Monday to hear different points of view.
“I am a strong supporter of free speech,” Amory said. “I don’t think this sort of thing is going to go away, and in a way you have to be able to commit to it and make a voice heard from an opposing opinion.”
Missing the latest scoop? Sign up here to receive a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s political reporting. And in case you can’t get enough of the Statehouse, sign up for Final Reading for a preview of the day’s news in the Legislature.