CHICAGO — Two high-profile conservative activists are lambasting DePaul University after administrators barred them from holding an event on campus, the latest chapter in the school's turbulent recent history with right-leaning speakers.
Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of Turning Point USA, a Lemont-based organization that promotes conservatism among high school and college students, tweeted accusations of "fascism" and "censorship" Tuesday, about three weeks after DePaul notified the group that the talk would not be allowed on campus.
University officials declined to discuss the reasons for the denial, but in a Sept. 17 letter provided by Turning Point, a DePaul administrator cited "concerns regarding violent language ... as well as identified populations being singled out in a demeaning fashion."
That brought a delayed but withering Twitter blast from the would-be speakers.
"The left hates the idea there are other ideas," wrote Kirk, 24, a graduate of Wheeling High School. "They DENIED us because they say we say 'potentially violent' things. Hey DePaul, your fascism is showing."
The DePaul event, intended as part of Turning Point's Campus Clash college tour, is instead scheduled for a downtown Chicago hotel next week.
"Basically, from my point of view, it seems that DePaul has a much stricter process for bringing conservative speakers to campus than it does for people from the left," said Liam Owen, a junior who is part of the school's Turning Point chapter.
That has been a common refrain at DePaul over the past two years, after an appearance by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos ended in a stage invasion and mini-melee. Other speakers, including political commentator Ben Shapiro and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, subsequently weren't allowed to speak on campus.
Those denials, along with other alleged free speech infringements, earned the school a "lifetime censorship award" earlier this year from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group that focuses on college campuses.
Adam Steinbaugh, director of the foundation's individual rights defense program, said DePaul doesn't limit its restrictions to conservative speakers: It has also denied official recognition to a student group that favored liberalized marijuana laws, and required the DePaul Socialists to pay for security guards before they could host a guest speaker.
"They're an equal opportunity offender," Steinbaugh said. "They just seem to not want to relax their grip on controlling what students say."
DePaul declined to comment on the foundation's assessment or Turning Point USA's criticism. In a statement, a spokeswoman said "the university will not restrict speech and expression simply because the ideas put forth are controversial."
The Turning Point dust-up began when the student chapter requested that Kirk and Owens be allowed to speak on campus. At first, the only problem seemed to be the premature issuing of tickets via the Eventbrite website, said Amy Samuel, the group's field administrative director.
Student groups aren't allowed to publicize events before they get official approval, according to school regulations, and Samuel said Turning Point stopped giving away tickets as soon as DePaul raised that concern.
Other issues weren't so easily addressed.
A seven-person committee makes recommendations about whether to issue official invitations to visiting speakers. Among the criteria it uses are whether a speaker encourages "hatred or physical violence" or "has a history of abuse or intimidation of an identifiable person or community of people" based on race, religion, gender identity and other factors.
Gisselle Cervantes, a student member of the committee, said in an email that the biggest problem was the impermissible ticket distribution and marketing of the event.
"The board never seeks to reject a speaker based on political ideology, and there is no basis for this belief that conservative speakers are not welcome on campus," she said.
But Owen said the committee appeared to latch on to a comment made at a Turning Point conference about rhetorical bullets bouncing off conservatives, as well as the general controversy surrounding Candace Owens, a black woman who has equated Democrats with slaveholders, condemned "toxic feminism" and made other incendiary statements.
DePaul's rejection letter listed "violent language" and "identified populations being singled out in a demeaning fashion" as reasons for the denial, as well as citing the premature advertising. A follow-up letter sent to Turning Point accused the group's national leadership, rather than DePaul students, of pushing for the event.
Owen said that wasn't true.
"We filled out the request forms, tried to do everything by the book," he said. "We actively tried to cooperate with the university to make sure this went through."
Kirk and Candace Owens' 11-stop campus tour has stirred protest since it began last week at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There, dozens of demonstrators converged in a peaceful rally outside the school's event center, according to local media.
When the duo spoke onstage in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday with Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, they sparred with a group of protesters seated in the hall.
"Do you guys want to walk out now?" Owens taunted, according to a video of the event. "No? OK. Let us know when you guys need attention."
Meanwhile, Kirk has continued to promote the Chicago event on Twitter, calling DePaul an "indoctrination campus" and sparking an inspired round of social media jousting.
"It's not like you don't spout the same tired conspiracies over and over with no actual debate or thought involved," one critic replied. "They can just play some random Fox News interview."
The event is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the JW Marriott Hotel on Adams Street.