In a talk at the University of Virginia that attracted roughly 100 people, conservative British author Douglas Murray spoke freely about his belief that people cannot speak freely at U.S. universities.
Murray made a number of claims on a variety of topics, sometimes contradicting himself and historical evidence. In one instance, he said that there is no DNA evidence linking the families of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson and slave Sally Hemings. In another, he argued that First Amendment rights are being infringed at U.S. universities, while criticizing the publication and teaching of works such as “The 1619 Project.” He also routinely decried what he has called a “war on Western ideas, Western religion, Western philosophy.” His book “The War on the West” is a New York Times bestseller.
The Common Sense Society debating forum, which hosted Murray’s visit in the ballroom at Newcomb Hall, had promised the event was “sure to be controversial with student protests expected.”
There were no protests. During a question-and-answer session after the discussion, no one challenged the views of either Murray or Marion Smith, founder and CEO of the Common Sense Society, who joined Murray on stage.
Murray, an associate editor at the conservative Spectator magazine and the host of the podcast “Uncanceled History,” is a known critic of the work of more liberal authors and media personalities.
During the discussion on Tuesday, Murray claimed that works such as “The 1619 Project,” “How to be an Antiracist” and “Nice Racism” are not factually accurate and make bad faith arguments about America’s history and its current social structure.
“The 1619 Project” and its author Nikole Hannah-Jones have been the target of Murray’s ire since the work was first published nearly four years ago.
“The 1619 Project” is a media project developed by Hannah-Jones and other writers at the New York Times and New York Times magazine that has run in the magazine as a long-form piece, published as a stand-alone book and aired as a six-episode miniseries. The project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative,” according to the Times.
Murray said Hannah-Jones and other authors have refused to debate in a public forum and defend their works.
Murray on Sky News Australia last year said Hannah-Jones and those like her should “take a rest.”
“And if we can’t persuade them to, let’s take a rest from them,” he told host Rita Panahi.
While speaking at UVa, Murray also touched on the school’s founder.
“There is absolutely no evidence to show that the DNA in Hemings’ line includes DNA from the Jefferson family,” Murray told his audience.
In 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Jefferson’s Monticello estate, affirmed a DNA study by Dr. Eugene Foster that found that a Jefferson family member had chromosomes with both Hemings’ and Jefferson’s DNA.
Murray on Tuesday criticized the foundation for not only accepting the data but incorporating it into its exhibits.
“In recent years Monticello has turned it into some sort of early interracial romance,” Murray said.
Murray’s visit was hosted by the Common Sense Society in partnership with the Jefferson Council, a UVa alumni association “dedicated to preserving the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the Lawn, the Honor Code, and the intellectual diversity one would expect from Mr. Jefferson’s university.”
Jefferson Council President Bert Ellis, himself a controversial figure, was recently appointed to UVa’s Board of Visitors. Ellis faced opposition from student, faculty and staff groups, which specifically cited a 2020 incident in which Ellis took a razor blade to Grounds. According to his own account, he intended to use the blade to remove a sign that read “F—k UVA” that had been posted on the Lawn room door of student.
Ellis has defended his actions on the blog Bacon’s Rebellion.
In an open letter that appeared on the blog, Ellis wrote that the university’s determination that the sign was protected under the First Amendment was a “incredibly stupid position.”
Murray’s visit to UVa was the first in a series of planned events with the Common Sense Society. Murray was scheduled to visit Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Wednesday to discuss “Where Can We Speak Freely?” From there, Murray plans to travel to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he is slated to discuss “Free Speech in the West” on Thursday. He will return to Virginia on Friday for an event called “Uncanceling Richmond’s History” at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond.
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