Among the more than 2,000 people who turned out to hear Ann Coulter speak Thursday night at the Sun Dome, some booed, some cheered and some just left.
Coulter, the conservative political pundit and author of five bestselling books, including How To Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) and Godless: The Church of Liberalism, criticized liberals for their opposition to the Iraq war and support for past Supreme Court decisions on issues such as abortion, privacy, gay marriage and affirmative action.
“I almost didn’t make it here tonight,” Coulter said as she opened her speech. “I was listening to that new liberal talk radio station, and I dozed off.”
Coulter’s speeches drew both supporters and dissenters, but it was the dissenters who made their presence felt most dramatically.
When Coulter brought up the topic gay marriage, cheers and boos erupted from the audience.
“Actually, I don’t think you gay marriage proponents should like what’s going on,” she said, referring to recent state decisions to pass legislation to ban gay marriage. “Maybe you aren’t reading the newspapers.”
Coulter’s words on abortion also brought forth a vigorous reaction from the audience, to which Coulter replied with her typical unabashed style.
“The courts have expanded the right to abortion to the right to stick a fork in a baby’s head,” Coulter said.
Halfway through the speech, hundreds of student demonstrators, wearing red shirts and sitting on the ground floor of the Sun Dome, got up from their seats and walked single file out of the building with their hands held high in a peace sign.
The demonstrators – most of whom were members of Feminist Student Alliance, the Alliance of Concerned Students, Pride Alliance and Queer Liberation Front – exited to a chorus of boos and cheers. The noise from the audience, combined with banging of the protesters’ feet on the Sun Dome’s metal steps as they tramped to the second-floor exit, drowned out Coulter and forced her to stop speaking for several minutes.
“I believe the proper position is on your knees,” Coulter said as the protesters walked out, a reference to the fact that many of the protesters were gay.
The audience’s reaction to Coulter was tame compared to past incidents during her speeches on other college campuses. In 2004 at the University of Arizona, angry students threw pies at Coulter. More recently, at Indiana University in February, while trying to deliver a speech titled “Liberals Are Wrong About Everything,” Coulter was often drowned out by disruptive outbursts of boos.
Coulter also blasted liberals who oppose the war in Iraq.
“Every bombing, every mishap, liberals are screaming,” Coulter said. “All these complaints boil down to liberals’ recent discovery that life is hard.”
Other than the walkout, the most vigorous audience reaction came after the speech, during the hourlong question-and-answer session. The questions were evenly split among detractors and supporters.
One student, unsatisfied with Coulter’s response to his question about the two-party system in American politics, continued to yell as he was directed out of the arena by security officials.
“The constitution has been hijacked,” he yelled. “Vote no for tyranny.”
Tabitha Holden, an interdisciplinary studies major, apologized to Coulter during the question-and-answer session for some of the more unruly actions of the audience members.
“It’s hypocritical of people who say they’re open-minded to argue with a speaker,” Holden said. “You can’t say you’re open-minded and then say that you don’t want to listen to something.”
The wife of an American soldier in Iraq had nothing but praise for Coulter.
“My husband thanks you from Baghdad,” she said.
Leonel Juvier, a junior majoring in psychology, questioned whether Coulter has the best interests of America at heart.
“She’s just getting paid,” Juvier said. “Personal attacks don’t have any place in politics.”
Others said Coulter added little to the political dialogue.
“I thought that it was incoherent and full of unsubstantiated rhetoric,” said Brian Petkash, a Carrollwood resident, “which is true of a lot of the political speakers and politicians out there.”