The BLOG: Campaign 2016

Intolerance from Brown students, progressive religious leaders and the Trumpian strongman

The spectacle of Brown University students’ shouting down a peaceful press conference expressing concern about admitting too many Syrian refugees was a brief incident on a relatively minor issue in Rhode Island and would not, on the basis of scale, merit multiple posts (or a forthcoming parody song), but it has the feel of a snapshot of where America is and a warning of where it’s headed.

In my recent post, I focused on the Brown Students who strolled over to the State House because they didn’t want to hear what some speakers there had to say. But another part of Karen Lee Ziner’s article on the event ought to catch our attention:

The Rev. Donald B. Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, recounted joining an airport welcoming party last week to greet the first Syrian refugee family to arrive in Rhode Island. “They came here to breathe free,” he said. “… And if ever there was a time for us to stand for religious freedom, it is now.”

I don’t know whether Rev. Anderson was present for the mob scene that preceded his comments, but if his notion of religious tolerance is as a two-way street, his allies clearly do not share his vision. In the following video of the Brown students’ shout-down, note the moments at which the crowd coalesces from rude, disruptive shouts into sustained booing.

At around the 1:30 mark, the speaker mentions a coalition of “pastors, priests, rabbis, other clergy, and members of the faith community,” and the crowd boos. Another wave of boos arises when he describes the group’s mission as to “advocate for policies that are consistent with our nation’s unique expression of a historic tradition of Judeo-Christian beliefs.” One cannot interpret the mob’s disapproval any other way than that they want policies that are inconsistent with the beliefs of the people mentioned.

When the video pans from the clearly agitated speaker, flanked by police for his protection, to the giggling college kids so overtly contemptuous of his rights, Tyler O’Neil’s explanation of “What Kind of Evangelicals Are Backing Trump” comes to mind:

The Federalist‘s Ben Domenech presents another key to understanding Trump’s evangelical support: they think they’ve already lost the culture war, and want the strongest possible champion of their values to fight back. Following the legalization of gay marriage last year, the indictment of Planned Parenthood videographer David Daleiden, and the $135,000 fine on bakers for declining to cater a same-sex wedding, Domenech notes the despair and rage of many people who are considered “on the wrong side of history.”

“In this post-apocalyptic environment, it becomes increasingly clear why southern evangelicals would drop their requirements that a political leader who seeks their backing be one of them, ideologically or faithfully.” These voters, Domenech argues, “have no illusions about [Trump’s] unbelief. The difference is that while they believe Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be one more round of good soldiers for their cause, they think Donald Trump would be a tank.”

That is, they imagine that if Trump were present at the State House on that day, his brashness and imposing presence would cow the gleefully hateful kids and their progressive adult enablers into allowing those who believe in the American tradition to speak, at least. Trump’s supporters are dangerously wrong in that assessment, I’d say; he’ll will have their back only insofar as they are marching in the direction that he wants them to march, for his own reasons.

But weak leadership from the Right and encouragement of totalitarianism from the Left have led to a very large number of Americans’ feeling that helpless.

Justin Katz

Justin Katz

Justin Katz is research director for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and managing editor of