Dartmouth College has demanded its Republican students pay a $3,600 “security fee” for an online event they hosted earlier this year featuring independent journalist Andy Ngo.
The Jan. 20 event, titled “Extremism in America,” was originally planned to include an in-person panel discussion with Ngo, who has long been a target of harassment and violent attacks because of his coverage of left-wing extremist groups such as Antifa. Also invited to the event was Gabriel Nadales, a former Antifa member-turned-critic of America’s left-wing political activism.
Two days before the event, an anonymous group called the Dartmouth Anarchists declared online that it would coordinate with Northeast Antifa and other outside organizations to stage a protest inside the event venue. Dartmouth took the threat seriously and worked with local and state law enforcement agencies to arrange for increased security in and around the venue.
According to Ngo, there were “bomb-sniffing dogs brought in” as the police conducted their security sweep ahead of the event. The college later clarified that there wasn’t a bomb threat.
Despite the fact that none of the calls to disrupt the event materialized, Dartmouth administrators ultimately forced the organizers to move it online just two hours before it was set to begin, citing “concerning information” from local police department.
The Ivy League school now tells the College Republicans—the student group that invited Ngo and Nadales to speak on the Hanover, New Hampshire, campus—that it must pay $3,600 in security fees for the event where no protester showed up.
It also said that until the bill is paid, the club will be ineligible for any more funds from college for future events, including an April 20 visit by Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, who has become a household name for his undercover journalism.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an advocacy group focusing on First Amendment rights on college campus, complained on behalf of the Republican students, arguing that the security fee charge is unjustified and only serves as an excuse to shut down future speech administrators deem controversial or undesirable.
“By forcing the College Republicans to pay $3,600 in security fees as a condition of holding its event and citing an arbitrary lack of good standing for refusing to grant additional funding, Dartmouth has impermissibly affixed a price tag to the group’s expression,” FIRE’s Sabrina Conza wrote to Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon.
“Students who may hold controversial viewpoints will be chilled from expressing them as Dartmouth provides them only bad options: incur excessive security fees, self-censor expression that may anger others, or speak but face threats of deplatforming or censorship,” she added.
Conza also pointed to the 1992 case Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found it unconstitutional for government to charge a more-than-nominal permit fee for people to assemble in public places just because they “express views unpopular with bottle throwers.” Although Dartmouth is a private institution, “the principles set forth in Forsyth apply on a campus that promises students expressive rights coextensive with the First Amendment,” according to Conza.
Meanwhile, a Dartmouth spokesperson said in a statement that the event organizers themselves had expressed safety concerns and were “aware of the possibility that the event might need to be adjusted” to address those concerns, adding that the school supports “freedom of expression and dissent.”
A leader of Dartmouth College Republicans disagrees, claiming that the school doesn’t honor freedom of expression in the first place.
“To say that Dartmouth supports free speech on campus is simply not true,” Chloe Ezzo, the vice president of the Republican club, wrote in an email to FIRE. “At a college with an $8.5 billion endowment, the fact that the Dartmouth administration is trying to burden us with these security fees says everything you need to know about how much they prize the expressive rights of their students.”