Letter to the Editor | Response to TPUSA Benny Johnson event

Former UI faculty member, Bruce Fehn, responds to the Benny Johnson event hosted by UI Turning Point USA chapter.


Benny Johnson, sporting a T-Shirt featuring Tucker Carlson – who now calls the deadly Jan. 6 2022 coup attempt to overthrow our democracy, an “election justice protest” – began his presentation in the University of Iowa Memorial Union’s North Room. And immediately I felt uncomfortable, then appalled, as Johnson happily used the plight of Venezuelan migrants, who were fleeing desperate circumstances, as the backdrop for his “comedy.”

An audience member interrupted to ask a question: Johnson ignored him. He next projected a “meme” that shocked me: it was vile and racist. And that’s when it happened: the same man, whose question Johnson refused to take, marched to the front, kicked the projector to the floor and stormed out. The same night, police arrested Travell Wright, a UI student, for “disorderly conduct and disturbing a lawful assembly . . . [as well as] criminal mischief in the 5th degree.”

Where lies the responsibility lie for the Wright’s angry and aggressive outburst? This is a very important question. If Mr. Wright proves to be the person who attacked the projector, he, of course, bears responsibility for his actions.

But what about Benny Johnson’s responsibility? It is significant that Johnson’s presentation contained racist content built around the plight of people fleeing economic and political oppression. It is noteworthy that Johnson was deliberate and purposeful in assembling vile content for his slideshow. In contrast, Travell Wright reacted viscerally to material he, too, recognized as racist.

I believe that Benny Johnson must be challenged for his irresponsibility. And what about the Turning Point USA’s national office, which sends its leadership to university chapters to implement its far-right agenda? And make no mistake, TPUSA is not “conservative”: it is a radical right-wing organization and part of a massive, well-organized far right movement which has taken hold of the Republican Party.

The TPUSA party chapters are extensions and tools of the national organization’s determination to undermine democracy. Local chapter members, like those in the UI, work within the trenches of universities, college, and secondary schools to chill free speech and inquiry

As such, TPUSA’s student chapters raise vital questions of free speech and academic freedom. UI administrators, faculty, alumni, and friends must recognize and discuss the unique challenges to democracy, and the UI’s core values, presented by the TPUSA and its roughly 2500 chapters across the United States. Let’s begin and sustain the discussion now. Eager to know your thoughts.

  • Bruce Fehn, Iowa City, IA. Former UI faculty and UI alumnus

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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