The fliers the Wendt brothers distributed were returned with commentary.
The fliers the Wendt brothers distributed were returned with commentary. Credit: Bekah McNeel / San Antonio Report

Charles “Jonah” Wendt, 19, expected controversy when Tigers for Liberty invited Dinesh D’Souza to speak at Trinity on the topic “What’s So Great About America?”

He did not expect it to come right to his doorstep, hand-written by his peers.

On Feb. 25, the morning after they passed out fliers for D’Souza’s March 7 appearance, Wendt and his twin brother Manfred woke up to find 228 of the 600 fliers returned to their doorstep with “answers” to the question D’Souza’s lecture would pose.

“You asked, here are some of our answers,” a post-it attached to the stack of fliers read.

The answers, scrawled in several colors of marker and various handwritings, mostly referenced people and issues targeted by President Donald Trump’s administration and Republicans.

“Muslims.”

“Trans people.”

“Immigrants.”

“Elizabeth Warren.”

“Alec Baldwin.”

“Women’s healthcare.”

Some had drawn pictures of cats, referencing President Trump’s lewd comments about women.

While none of the answers were overtly hateful, the tone of the accompanying messages was antagonistic. “We fixed them,” one read. “Dear Wendts, keep your propaganda to yourselves. We don’t like it in our faces. – Trinity”

“The University is reviewing a complaint by one leader of the Tigers for Liberty related to flyers the group had distributed through the residence halls,” Sharon Jones Schweitzer, Trinity’s assistant vice president for external relations, told the Rivard Report. “A portion of the flyers had been returned to the organizers residence hall room, most has hand written messages. According to the Trinity police report none of the messages were threatening.”

In a sense, his classmates played right into Wendt’s hands. He wants to make the case that conservative voices are not welcome in on-campus discussion.

Though they were not afraid, the Wendts reported the incident to campus police. They did so on the advice of Campus Reform, a watchdog organization that looks for evidence that conservative voices are being suppressed on college campuses.

“It starts a paper trail,” Wendt said.

While he wasn’t intimidated, he was surprised by the personal nature of the response, he said. In the past, controversy has usually focused on the speaker, not the hosts.

In the fall, Tigers for Liberty brought Dr. Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation to speak on religious liberty and marriage. In a room that seated 180, about 170 were students wearing rainbow attire to protest Anderson’s views on traditional marriage. 

“They had a gay pride sit-in,” Wendt said.

Last spring the group brought Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right journalist and internet personality to speak on microaggressions. Breitbart News, where Yiannopoulos was a senior editor, published a story saying that Trinity had attempted to censor the speaker by making the organizers jump through more hoops than other groups hosting speakers. The Trinitonian, Trinity’s campus paper, also covered the controversy surrounding Yiannopoulos’ visit. The article quoted the Wendt brothers saying that they were not the source for the Breitbart article, but that someone had contacted them pitching the censorship premise. 

D’Souza’s lecture, named after his 2002 book of the same title, will be an autobiographical talk extolling the greatness of American science, democracy, and capitalism. D’Souza claims that patriotism is not something that Americans should be ashamed of.

Such boldness “flies in the face of what’s often taught on college campuses,” Wendt said. College campuses seem to want to make students feel bad about America, especially its colonial history, he added. 

While patriotism might not seem controversial, D’Souza’s once bright star has been clouded. In the press release for the event, Wendt called him “a trailblazer in conservative politics” and cited the many honors and positions D’Souza held before he was convicted of campaign finance fraud in 2012, as well as being removed as President of King’s College in Manhattan after it was discovered that he was unfaithful to his wife of 20 years. Personal missteps aside, even D’Souza’s most recent work, “Hillary’s America” has been criticized as conspiracy theory. 

Wendt knows the speakers will be controversial, but feels it’s his duty to bring them to campus to spark conversation.

“If I don’t do it, who’s going to?” Wendt said.

“Recognized student organizations at Trinity are allowed to develop and present events on campus provided they receive approval from the Office of Student Involvement,” Jones Schweitzer said. “The process included providing details of the event, the targeted audience, costs, and facility needs.”

Trinity’s lineup of speakers is hardly a parade of leftists. Former UK Prime Ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair have both spoken at the university, as have former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. Still none of these have agitated the student body like the speakers invited by Tigers for Liberty.

“In the realm of [D’Souza’s] work you almost have to be an agitator,” Wendt said.

That realm – political punditry – is governed by increasingly inflammatory, polarizing rhetoric. Wendt has styled himself somewhat in that mold on Trinity’s campus.

In December, a group of Trinity professors asked students to submit their names to Professor Watchlist, a list of ultra liberal professors kept by Turning Point USA. After calling the move a “cry for attention,” the Wendt brothers sent a satirical email made to sound like a fraternity rejection letter, letting the professors know that their request to “rush” the watchlist was being denied.

In an interview with the Rivard Report, the brothers referred to post-election discussions on campus as “cry sessions” and decried the culture of political correctness on campus. That is why they choose to invite speakers they know will stir up controversy.

“Sometimes to get things started you have to shake the boat,” Wendt said.

Wendt feels that without Tigers for Liberty, conservatives would be alienated on Trinity’s campus.

“Before we started this there was no conservative voice on campus,” Wendt said.

Beyond helping conservatives feel safe, Wendt said the group has fostered dialogue. The Trinity Diversity Council hosted a “Political Correctness” forum with Tigers for Liberty and the group’s progressive counterpart, Trinity Progressives.

At the core of Wendt’s rhetoric is the belief that freedom means freedom from government coercion, including the coercion to speak a certain way. Liberals, Wendt said, see freedom as freedom from want.

In many ways Wendt represents the new generation of Trump-era conservatives.

Both Wendt brothers lead Trinity’s chapter of Turning Point USA, which equips and trains college students to spread conservative messaging on campus. The group’s primary slogan “Big Gov Sucks,” is indicative of the tone of most of the materials it provides to students. The website advertises conferences to empower college students to be “fearless in their fight for our values.”

Wendt’s conservatism was galvanized early, as he watched his family struggle through the Great Recession. He says the same is true of his brother.

“It felt like my family had played by the rules yet we were wondering if we were going to be in the house the next month,” Wendt said.

He believes that the majority of the blame for the recession falls on Bill Clinton’s National Partners in Homeownership, which aimed to raise the U.S. homeownership rate from 64% to 70% by 2000. The pressure to give loans to people who could not afford them forced banks to act against their own interest, Wendt said.

He affords less blame to deregulation of the banking industry such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which allowed commercial banks to get into the insurance and investment business.

Economists typically agree that the magnitude of the recession was caused by a multiplicity of factors. However, for the preteen Wendt brothers, who started reading Glenn Beck’s books in 4th grade, the outstanding cause was the liberal government, and people who felt entitled to what they could not afford.

Wendt hopes that his fellow students will listen to a point of view different from their own. When asked by the Rivard Report where he goes to hear a different point of view, Wendt said that he sometimes reads The Contemporary, a campus current affairs journal. Beyond that, he said, “I’m trying to focus on school and activism where I can.”

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.