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Bowling Green, WKU community prepare for protests of Kyle Rittenhouse event

Aerial view of Western Kentucky University campus
Clinton Lewis
WKU leaders said university rules require them to allow Kyle Rittenhouse to speech on campus, despite community concerns.

Kyle Rittenhouse will be the guest speaker of the WKU chapter of Turning Point USA, a right-wing national organization. His visit to WKU has been criticized by a WKU faculty, students, student organizations; civil rights groups and community members.

The Bowling Green community is preparing for an event on Western Kentucky University’s campus that will feature a controversial guest speaker.

Kyle Rittenhouse will speak as a guest of the WKU Chapter of Turning Point USA, a right-wing national organization. The WKU chapter is part of a national organization that advocates for right-wing causes on high school, college, and university campuses. The event is planned to take place at the Downing Student Union on Wednesday evening.

News of the event received immediate pushback from WKU faculty and students and Bowling Green community members. The Bowling Green-Warren County chapter of the NAACP condemned the event, as well as multiple WKU student-led organizations.

A counter-protest is planned at WKU before and during the event by the Bowling Green Freedom Walkers. The group said the protest will be nonviolent and has coordinated with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Karika Nelson, founder of the Bowling Green Freedom Walkers, said she organized the demonstration because she believes the speaker and organization stands for values that the community of Bowling Green does not share.

“The BG Freedom Walkers promote peace, love diversity and unity, we stand up for Black lives but we also stand up for all human rights,” Nelson said.

“We definitely understand the first amendment for freedom of speech and expression but you have students on campus that are afraid of him coming to WKU so our biggest thing is we want Kyle to know he's not welcome to Bowling Green, he’s not welcome on campus.”

In a campus-wide email sent nearly two weeks since the event was announced, WKU President Timothy Caboni cited the The Campus Free Speech Protection Act, which “prohibits WKU from disinviting speakers who have been invited by student, faculty or staff, and obligates the University to that invited speakers are not disrupted or restricted.”

Caboni stated that WKU and other universities are "guardians of free speech" and that the university will not condemn the event.

Molly Kerby, the university’s Assistant Provost for Institutional Effectiveness & Engagement, said the event is “not organized or sponsored by the university” and “as a public institution we cannot restrict or censor these types of events.”

WKU Chief of Police, Mitchell Walker said multiple law enforcement agencies including WKU Police Department, Warren County Sheriff's Department, and Kentucky State Police will be on hand for the event and hopes the event is peaceful.

Walker said his department has been in communication with campus administration and that the top priority for the safety of the students and event participants.

“We’ve been in contact with different groups, not just law enforcement but with different campus groups just to ensure that this is as safe an event as possible,” Walker said.

“As law enforcement we have to protect everyone that’s involved and let folks exercise their freedom of speech and we just keep everybody safe. That’s our goal is to keep everybody safe.”

According to the event’s website, Rittenhouse will speak about “the importance of the Second Amendment and the lies of (the Black Lives Matter movement).”

Rittenhouse recently spoke at East Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis, which has generated backlash inside the event.

Kyle Rittenhouse received national attention after killing two protesters and shooting a third during a racial justice protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020. Rittenhouse, 18 at the time, was acquitted at a criminal trial in 2021. He has emerged as a figure in conservative politics.

WKU’s chapter of Turning Point USA lists Cade Holcombe as the president of the organization and the faculty sponsor listed on Western Kentucky’s official website is Mark Doggette.

WKU Public Radio reached out to Doggette but did not receive a response. A faculty sponsor is required for every Student Organization before being approved by the Vice President of Enrollment and Student Experience.

Copyright 2024 WKU Public Radio. To see more, visit WKU Public Radio.

Jacob Martin