Kellyanne Conway indulges in 2020 election conspiracy theories during UW-Whitewater speech
Former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway gave a speech at UW-Whitewater on April 27, spending a lot of time on threats to conservative speech. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Kellyanne Conway, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, gave a speech Wednesday evening at UW-Whitewater, focusing on threats to conservative speech from progressives as she spoke in front of nearly 200 people.

Speaking for about an hour in the half-full Timmerman Auditorium — which seats about 400 — Conway railed against threats to free speech as she repeatedly told the audience they were on “the right side” of issues ranging from immigration to abortion access, critical race theory and charter schools, while dropping the names of the many famous conservative figures she knows, including Trump and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Among the people in attendance was state Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater).

In the auditorium, fliers left on each chair from the campus police department gave guidance for exercising free speech “safely, respectfully and lawfully.” A large number of police officers provided security at the event, which concluded without any disruptions inside or protests outside. The online announcement for the event included a statement that the hosts “reserve the right to remove disruptive or rowdy attendees.”

“It tells you all you need to know about why the hard left wants to stop you, take out your voice box and look the other way when you see injustice against conservatives, free speech, big tech censorship and the rest of it,” she said. “They’re afraid of everyone in this room.”

Conway was introduced by John Beauchamp, the chairman of the UW-Whitewater College Republicans, which hosted the event in partnership with the Young America’s Foundation — an organization run by Walker.

Beauchamp, whose organization was allowed to invite a prominent conservative to speak on campus, complained of being shouted down.

“What was once the hallowed ground for the formation and sharing of ideals and values has become a place where conservatives like you and I are constantly and frequently finding ourselves up against an ever increasing blockade,” he said. “A blockade of liberal tactics and smears. We find ourselves shouted down and shut up, but we will not be silenced.”

UW Whitewater at center of free speech fight

The complaints about free speech on campus came just weeks after UW-Whitewater was the epicenter of a fight over the issue across the entire UW System.

Earlier this month, UW System administrators announced they’d be moving forward with a survey of students’ beliefs about campus free speech following the intervention of Republican legislators — who have frequently complained about how conservative students are treated on campus and policed the syllabi of professors they perceive to be too liberal.

The administration’s decision to move forward with the survey led to the resignation of Whitewater’s interim Chancellor James Henderson. The Student Perceptions of Campus Free Speech Survey, which was set to be conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, is funded by UW-Stout’s Menard Center for Public Policy and Service, which was started by a donation from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation and bears the name of John Menard, a prominent Republican donor.

UW System Interim President Michael Falbo had initially told campus chancellors the survey would not move forward, but after the intervention from Republican legislators, Falbo reversed course.

That reversal is what caused Henderson to resign, after releasing a statement in which he said he felt chancellors were being left out.

“I felt like I could not encourage candidates to apply for the chancellor job because of what I consider to be a lack of support from UW System leadership,” he said. “I thought chancellors had a role and a collaborative process in making decisions with the System, and I feel that was not honored.”

Initially planned to be held before the end of the spring semester, the survey has now been delayed until the fall.

In her speech, Conway got loud applause from the audience as she made fun of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential candidacy and President Joe Biden’s “drooling”. She declared that Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s pending purchase of Twitter would make the platform “fun again.” Musk has promised to make “free speech” a central tenet of his plan for the social media platform.

Conway also indulged the audience’s belief that Trump didn’t lose the 2020 election, recommending a conspiratorial documentary, “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.” Conway said Wisconsin was a central location for the “Zuckbucks” — donations to local elections offices to help pay for costs associated with running an election during a pandemic that Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country have alleged are bribery. Numerous courts have disagreed with that characterization.

Conway also complained about how long it took to count votes in the 2020 election after a surge in pandemic-caused absentee voting — suggesting that states start counting absentee ballots long before Election Day so results can be announced sooner. This solution was proposed ahead of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, but rejected by Republicans in control of the Legislature.

“Wisconsin was ground zero for it,” she said. “I feel like the fix was in, in so many places.”

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