VIDEO: My personal account of the violence at UPitt's Knowles-Polumbo debate

Protesters shouted that we 'should have been wiped out in 1945' and that there would 'be no Nuremberg Trial for us this time.'

I never thought I would be in the middle of a violent physical battle on the streets of Pittsburgh, a practical war zone breaking out in my hometown. But it happened on Tuesday night.

Michael Knowles and Brad Polumbo were in Pennsylvania to debate transgender rights and the role of government in those rights. The protest itself, though, was an illustration that free speech and intellectual inquiry in America are being replaced with acts of intimidation and violence.

As a reporter covering the event, I walked amongst the protesters for nearly an hour before the start of the debate, hearing the organizers with their microphones screaming that they were going to “get in the faces” of the attendees. I followed them to the venue and heard them chanting “Nazis go home” and “Shut it down.”

When I tripped and fell down a slight hill, one of the medics who the protesters brought to the event in anticipation of violence, asked me if I was okay and helped me up.

[RELATED: WATCH: ‘When they want you silent, speak louder’: Riley Gaines attacked at SF State]

But as soon as I crossed the barricade to attend the event itself, I became the protesters’ enemy.

From that point, the scenes became increasingly frightening.

Obscenities were screamed at my companion and me. We were told that we “should have been wiped out in 1945” and that there would “be no Nuremberg Trial for us this time.”

Shortly after this, someone in the crowd threw a lit road flare into the line of attendees, which landed inches away from me. Thankfully, my companion and I, as well as the other attendees, were able to swiftly flee and escaped harm.

Even once we made it into the event hall and through the intense security, everyone inside the venue sat in shocked silence when an incendiary device exploded close enough to the building that the lights shook and the sound reverberated throughout the room.

Being told to stand clear of the windows as the chants of the protesters became louder at the end of the debate, and being rushed out of the back exit by armed police were also new experiences for me.

What struck me to my core, however, was being screamed at by an individual protester, “Go home, nobody wants you here, Nazi.”

I am not a Nazi, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, is and will always be my home.

But freedom of speech is not just under attack in my home. Although the protests at the Knowles-Polumbo event may have been extreme, they were just one manifestation of a growing problem.

[RELATED: Matt Walsh cancels campus speech after threats to his family]

In recent weeks, Campus Reform has been following the outbursts of trans rights activists at both the Cabot Phillips and Riley Gaines speeches that were held at the University of Pittsburgh, which were met with hostility from students and the broader community.

Gaines was also physically and verbally assaulted by activists at San Francisco State University, where she was locked in a room for three hours until the San Francisco Police Department was able to secure her exit.

Matt Walsh experienced similar backlash when he had to cancel his university speaking tour due to death threats because of his traditional views on biological sex.

The worst part of the violent actions of student groups and activist organizations is that their actions are in part substantiated by the rhetoric preached or supported by academia.

From the Wayne State University professor who claims that it is “far more admirable to kill a racist, homophobic, or transphobic speaker than it is to shout them down” to the Stanford Dean who terminated Federal Judge Kyle Duncan’s on-campus event, university professors and administrators are contributing to the erosion of rigorous debate and tolerance of opposing viewpoints.

An America without civil discourse is no longer America.

Bottom line: Speech is not violence. Violence is violence. The Knowles-Polumbo event clarifies this distinction.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.