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A large number of Boston University students turned out Wednesday evening to protest a speech on campus by conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro.

His lecture, entitled “America Wasn’t Built On Slavery, It Was Built On Freedom” was hosted by the BU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative political organization.

Shapiro, 35, a Los Angeles-based lawyer and editor of the Daily Wire website, addressed more than 1,500 students, some of whom wore red Make America Great Again caps popularized by President Trump.

As he approached the podium, some students stood and cheered, while around 100 others sat and did not clap. “Good for them,” Shapiro said of the protestors. “That’s Boston strong, I’ll tell you.”

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Grace Naquin, who is part of a student group supporting Democrat Pete Buttigieg for president, was among those who sat quietly.

“There are definitely people like me here who are not going to clap or react,” Naquin said. Still, she said Shapiro is “dangerous” because he is “intelligent and charismatic, but supports white nationalist agenda.”

A protester was removed Ben Shapiro spoke.
A protester was removed Ben Shapiro spoke. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Speaking in a rapid-fire cadence, Shapiro read from prepared remarks. “Was America founded on freedom or slavery?” Shapiro asked, a question that framed his speech that lasted about 45 minutes.

“American slavery was an evil institution,” he said. “But, you are here today because of freedom. You are speaking today because of freedom. You’re American because of freedom.”

Shapiro, who has been heavily criticized for his views on race, said America today “is the least racist it’s ever been.”

He urged attendees to “stop conflating the past” history of slavery “with the present.”

Shapiro, a Harvard Law School grad, was frequently heckled. At one point, he asked a student seated near the front of the audience to sit down and be courteous to the “1,500 other people in the room.”

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At another point, about 10 students stood up and walked out while blowing whistles and chanting. About half-way through, a student shouted out mulitple times. He was escorted from the building by security officers, and some people stood and cheered as he left.

A question-and-answer period followed, with more than 50 people lining up at microphones. A few people in the back of the audience shouted “You’re a liar,” after some of Shapiro’s answers.

Shapiro’s appearance stirred controversy on BU’s campus days before he took the podium around 6 p.m. at the university’s Track & Tennis Center.

On Tuesday, a student group known as “Black BU” issued a statement condemning Shapiro’s visit.

“Abandoned, triggered, frustrated, disheartened, devalued, infuriated, overwhelmed, ignored, and embarrassed [by] BU,” the group wrote, said the Daily Free Press, the student newspaper. “This is how we feel. This is how BU has made us feel.”

Before the event, the group organized a protest that drew over 50 people dressed in black who marched in frigid cold to the event.

Prior to the speech, the campus chapter of Young Americans defended Shapiro’s appearance. “Ben Shapiro has repeatedly and vehemently condemned racism, and he is by no means denying the historical existence and significance of slavery,” the group said in an e-mail.

The appearance drew a heavy police presence, with Alcorn and Babcock streets closed to traffic almost two hours before the event.

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There were no arrests, according to a police officer on the scene. Colin Riley, a university spokesman, said campus police are investigating several incidents of vandalism on campus related to Shapiro’s appearance, Riley said.

He said vandals used black magic markers to draw on the upper lip of Shapiro’s face what “would be a Hitler mustache” on advertisements posted at Warren Towers dormitory in the days leading up to event.


Sofia Saric can be reached at sofia.saric@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sofia_saric