Twelve rows of arm-to-arm seats in Argyros Forum were filled with about 150 Chapman students, members of the Orange community and Chapman Republicans members as conservative radio-show host and political commentator Larry Elder shared his thoughts on liberal-leaning academia, the impacts of left-wing media and race in America.
The sold-out Feb. 12 talk was promoted as a discussion on socialism and Donald Trump’s presidency, but it focused largely on Elder’s opinions on racism and its impacts on society and politics.
Although Elder told The Panther in an interview prior to the event that he does not believe racism is a “major problem in the United States,” some in attendance found the event’s focus in contrast with its marketing.
“One of the things I find fascinating when we talk about Black Lives Matter is why these so-called leaders just don’t say this: ‘Comply, you won’t die,’” Elder said at the event. “These kids are not complying and (deadly situations) are escalating.”
Arianna Ngnomire, vice president of student government and former Black Student Union president, was one of the estimated 150 audience members.
“For someone who thinks that racism isn’t a big issue, well, that’s all he talked about,” she said.
During a Q&A portion toward the end of the event, Ngnomire was one of six people who asked Elder a question.
She asked for his advice on how to bring communities of differing politics and backgrounds together. “Interracial marriage,” he said.
Ngnomire said she ended the night with more questions than answers.
“I’m concerned with how Elder answered my question, and I recommend that he take a look at intersectionality, and what can encourage and discourage success in America,” she said.
In 2001, ABC News quoted Elder, an often controversial figure, as saying that the consequences of racism should be treated as a “personal responsibility.” After joining the radio team at KABC Orange County in 2011, Elder became known as a commentator on both national and local politics, establishing himself as a critic of then-President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats.
Elder challenged the audience throughout the evening at one point exclaiming, “Name one!” when talking about unarmed white men killed by police.
“You can name the high-profile black people who were killed, Eric Garner, Freddy Gray, Michael Brown in Ferguson,” Elder said. “You can name the black high-profile cases, but I defy you to name one unarmed white guy who got killed. Most people can’t.”
Elder, citing The Washington Post, argued that of the 1,000 people killed in one year at the hands of police, 500 were white, 250 were black and most were wielding a knife or gun.
Nearly 1,000 people were killed by police in 2018, 54 percent of whom were armed, according to The Washington Post statistics that Elder referenced.
“That’s why they were killed,” he said. “And then Trayvon Martin. ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was a damn lie. His hands weren’t up, he did not say ‘Don’t shoot’.”
The phrase is actually thought to have been said by 18-year-old Michael Brown before he was shot by a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, though a St. Louis grand jury couldn’t confirm those accounts, according to The Washington Post.
About 25 minutes into the 40-minute lecture, Elder brought up Donald Trump, his candidacy and his administration.
“When Trump decided to run, there were 17 candidates, and he was my 20th choice,” Elder said, a remark that drew laughs from the audience.
When Trump was a candidate, Elder thought Trump “wouldn’t be able to take the heat,” he said.
“And then I watched the speech,” Elder said. “He talked about Mexicans and rapists and this, that and the other. It was sloppy language, of course he didn’t mean that they’re all rapists. But I knew the left was going to take that and hammer him with it, and they did.”
People occasionally call into Elder’s radio show and tell Elder he’s “defending a racist,” he said.
“I always say, do me favor and tell me the No. 1 racist thing Donald Trump has ever done or said, and we’ll go from there,” he said.
Chapman Republicans president Thomas Roche introduced Elder to the crowd after thanking all those in attendance – the audience included President Daniele Struppa and Dean of Students Jerry Price. Two Public Safety officers were present, as well as Sergeant Phil McMullin from Orange’s police department.
“I want to thank President Struppa for supporting free speech,” Roche said. “I’ve always wanted to bring a speaker to campus, and Mr. Elder is someone I’ve always wanted to invite.”
Roche was met with applause, which erupted as Elder took the podium.
Bringing Elder to campus was a feat that was “difficult to accomplish,” Roche told The Panther.
“There have been certain people who work for Chapman – I won’t specify as to whom – who have made it difficult to make this event happen. I am very glad that it was successful,” Roche said.
Of the students in attendance, some were members of Chapman Republicans. Others like junior Jared Mel and sophomore Clint Hurdle, both business administration majors, came to the event as part of a class requirement.
“I had no idea who Larry Elder was until about 10 minutes ago,” Mel said before the event.
Elder was surrounded by students and fans after the event concluded, with many taking pictures and thanking him for coming to campus.