Guest Opinion | Challenging the Extremism of Lt. Colonel Allen West

UI undergraduate student, Kabedi Mutamba, on Lt. Colonel Allen West lecture.


Should University of Iowa students be required to take a diversity and inclusion course? Should teachers be prohibited from teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT)? Lt. Colonel Allen West, who lectured last Wednesday to a packed auditorium in Trowbridge Hall, answered both questions with a resounding NO.

Lt. Col. West is a prominent Republican politician and popular lecturer. He identifies as African American, Christian, and ardent nationalist. He came to campus at the invitation of the UI Chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), an organization of conservative students.

Among the 105 audience members were admirers of West’s views, students holding placards accusing him of war crimes and indicting what they regard as his dangerously extreme “alt right” views, and a substantial number of those who challenged West’s views on CRT, diversity and inclusion, and other topics.

In my opinion, West’s initial presentation mostly contained simple platitudes about the importance of service to one’s country; devotion to the military; and the dangers to the security of the U.S. His responses during the Q&A, moreover, contained false assertions about the purposes and meanings of diversity and inclusion and CRT. Many in the audience were having none of it.

One audience member told West that CRT was “a valuable lens through which to analyze the workings and structures of racial and other forms of inequality.” He then asked if West agreed with the audience member’s view of CRT. West replied “no,” claiming CRT was “cultural Marxism.” Like many Republicans, West reduced a powerful theory to a cliché intended to rally troops of the far right.

In my opinion, Lt. Colonel West used mischaracterizations, oversimplifications, fearmongering, and racist tropes while discussing serious issues. For example, he claimed dangerous elements crossing the southern border do not come to “cut your grass” (a racist caricature) but to do harm to America (a fearmongering oversimplification).

I find it troubling that YAF brought West, a far-right ideologue, to campus rather than a conservative intellectual who could engage with audience members’ serious concerns about free speech and democracy. In my opinion, the UI and academic departments should bring to campus those who want to preserve and expand democracy but have different arguments for how to do so.

  • Kabedi Mutamba, UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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