Near the end of his Wednesday night lecture in the Sydney Gelber Auditorium in the Student Activities Center, conservative speaker and documentary filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza made a joke about the Holocaust while criticizing the media’s coverage of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally.
“When I turn on the TV and I see Charlottesville I literally see this scene: there’s one white supremacist and the guy himself doesn’t even look like he knows where he is,” D’Souza said. “He’s a virtual imbecile, he may call himself a Neo-Nazi but the truth is Himmler would’ve sent him straight to the gas chambers… he’s surrounded by 40 reporters interviewing him.”
D’Souza’s lecture, titled “Exposing the Radical Left,” part of his “Dinesh D’Souza Unchained” series, took place the day before National Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States. The joke drew laughter from most of the crowd.
The Stony Brook College Republicans brought D’Souza to campus, hoping the speaker would open up what they feel is a limited culture of debate at Stony Brook University.
“It is commonly understood that on college campuses, we are the premier location to have an exchange of ideals and have controversial and provocative ideas,” College Republicans president and senior biology major Fuad Faruque said at the start of the lecture. “Tonight’s event will unquestionably be a prime example of such an exchange.”
Born and raised in Mumbai, D’Souza came to the United States in 1978 to further his education. After graduating from Dartmouth College, he gained notoriety as an author and conservative political commentator. D’Souza has become famous for making political documentaries, like 2016’s “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party,” and for comments his critics perceive as inflammatory, like a recent series of tweets directed at survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Some audience members excited for the lecture felt D’Souza was a welcome change of tone at a school that hosts mostly liberal speakers.
“I do not think they’ve done a good job [of hosting conservative speakers] at all,” Zachary Goldman, a College Republicans member and freshman civil engineering major, said. “College is very one-sided in general.”
D’Souza’s lecture mainly focused on debunking criticism that Donald Trump and the Republican Party are racists and fascists.
The speaker said the public’s ignorance about fascism has allowed the term to become a political taboo, levied against Trump and conservatives without substantiation. D’Souza urged the audience to compare the Nazi Party platform with the goals of the modern day Democratic Party and switch out the word ‘Jew’ with ‘the top one percent’ as a thought experiment.
“If you took the Nazi 25-point platform, if I ripped it out of my pocket and I went to the Democratic National Convention in 2016 and read it aloud it would’ve gotten thunderous, virtually uninterrupted applause,” D’Souza said. “Quite honestly, it sounds like it was written by a joint committee of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and maybe Schumer or Pelosi.”
D’Souza defined fascism with a quote about totalitarianism from a 1925 Benito Mussolini speech, although he incorrectly attributed it to Italian fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile.
“The defining factor [of fascism] Gentile says ‘everything within the state, nothing outside of the state,’” D’Souza said. “Unlike liberal democracy, where we are all individuals and we have rights, Gentile says that society is more like a living organism, and every individual is like a cell… the cell’s only value is what serves the organism as a whole.”
Using this definition of fascism, D’Souza criticized former president Barack Obama’s response to the so-called Great Recession of 2007-2009.
“The government established full control over the banking sector, most banks ceased to be private banks,” D’Souza said. “Full control of the investment industry… full control of the healthcare industry… Obama fired the head of General Motors. This is basically fascism.”
D’Souza also addressed his felony conviction for an illegal $20,000 donation to Wendy Long’s unsuccessful 2012 campaign to challenge incumbent New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand after a member of Stony Brook’s Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter yelled “you’re a convicted felon” during the lecture.
“Mandela’s a convicted felon, Gandhi’s a convicted felon,” D’Souza said. “Justice is not simply a matter of did you break the law… can you name a single case in all of American history where some guy gave 20-grand of his own money with no corruption, no return no quid pro quo, no deal and was incarcerated for eight months overnight for doing it?”
The College Republicans decided to cut off a lengthy Q&A session that followed the lecture after going over their allotted time. A YDSA member who had been waiting in line objected loudly to the cancellation before being yelled down by audience members.
In his reaction to the event, YDSA founder and senior psychology and philosophy double major Thomas Sheroff criticized D’Souza’s controversial history and political stances.
“It’s instructive that the College Republicans would invite someone whose primary claim to fame consists of campaign finance fraud, fictional ‘documentaries’ and apologies for the mass murder of his own people,” Sheroff said. “This is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
While he emphasized he can only speak for himself, College Republicans member and senior history and political science double major, William Brennan, had no objection to letting the YDSA member ask his question.
“I actually kind of wanted to hear what he had to say,” Brennan said. “I’m not overly offended by it, if he has a strong opinion I’m not upset about it.”