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News / Northwest

Charlie Kirk’s UW visit ends on tense note between fans, protesters

By Caitlyn Freeman, The Seattle Times
Published: May 8, 2024, 8:16am

SEATTLE — A tense standoff took place at the University of Washington Tuesday night between pro-Palestinian encampment protesters and fans of Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk after the conservative activist held an event on campus as part of his “Live Free Tour.”

Leading up to the event, people on both sides of the political spectrum feared the possibility of violence.

The UW Muslim Student Association called for support before the event, saying they expected Kirk’s event to draw a “large number of right-wing agitators,” pointing to an hours-long attack last week on an encampment at the University of California Los Angeles.

Barricades were set up in advance of the event and police officers were present throughout the day.

Protesters camped at UW have been calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war and for the university to “materially divest from Israel” and end its century-old relationship with Boeing, among other actions.

Little confrontation happened for much of the day, and violence appeared contained to a few brief scuffles.

“Our priority was to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, staff and visitors to our campus during what we anticipated could be a tense evening, and we took steps to maintain distance between opposing groups,” UW spokesperson Victor Balta said in an email Tuesday evening. “We have received some reports of altercations and are continuing to monitor and work toward a peaceful conclusion to the night.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Kirk held his typical “Debate Me” format near the Husky Union Building Tuesday afternoon, as a crowd of about 200 students and community members gathered to watch. A group of protesters nearby attempted to disrupt the event, shouting chants.

Supporters of the Popular University for Gaza liberated zone formed in the Liberal Arts Quadrangle, where well over 100 tents are set up, encouraged its members not to engage with Kirk. On the lawn, students chanted, but the encampment remained calm. One academic building was spray-painted with the words “How many dead in Gaza.”

In the evening, hundreds of people lined up outside the Husky Union Building to attend Kirk’s event, while a group of protesters gathered at the University of Washington light rail station, leading Sound Transit to temporarily shut it down.

While the event was underway, the group at the light rail station marched to the encampment. People dressed in all black wielding shields of cutup trash cans formed a barricade around the Quad to protect the encampment against possible counterprotesters.

Religious speakers made an appearance, as well, with their own signs and megaphones, adding to the noise.

Before 9 p.m., as Kirk’s event let out, attendees made their way to the wall of protesters, where a standoff ensued. Chants of “Free Palestine!” competed with chants of “USA!” Small confrontations took place. Green lasers were shined into the trees and people threw eggs.

Around 9:30, counterprotesters dispersed while protesters lingered, the sound of their chants filling the space: “We will not stop, we will not rest.”