YAF beats UW Madison attempt to cancel Michael Knowles event by charging exorbitant security fees

UW Madison recently asked YAF to pay more than $4,000 for security costs for an event featuring Michael Knowles on campus.

A YAF official stated: 'YAF is tremendously grateful for the courage of Young Americans for Freedom activists who stood up to this vile bullying and for the brilliant litigators at WILL and Mountain States Legal.'

A conservative group successfully fought back against what it claimed was an attempt to hamper an event to host a speaker at a school in Wisconsin.

Young America’s Foundation (YAF) successfully contested high security costs that the University of Wisconsin, Madison tried to impose for an event featuring conservative speaker Michael Knowles, according to a March 11 announcement on the group’s website.

The school’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom began planning to host Knowles as early as February, chapter chairman Harrison Wells told Campus Reform.

The chapter requested some security presence that Wells said it was “more than happy to pay for,” but the university responded by imposing more than $4,000 in security costs, a price that Wells claimed was exorbitant and “based on an obscure and very, very subjective risk assessment form.”

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Wells told Campus Reform that he communicated to the school that Young Americans for Freedom was willing to defray the cost of the security they initially asked for without paying the more than $4,000 that the university thought was necessary. UW Madison refused and insisted the group pay the full amount totaling over $4,000, according to Wells.

In response, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and Mountain States Legal Foundation issued a letter on Feb. 16 arguing that the charges were “unusual and extraordinary.” The letter continued, stating: “YAF will not pay these fees, because they are neither lawful nor constitutional. If you do not change course, YAF reserves its right to seek relief through a lawsuit filed in federal court.”

The letter also charges that “UW has never charged YAF for security before, and this event presents no unusual or unique circumstances,” and that “UW hosts multiple leftwing speakers--some of whom are very controversial--but there is no indication that UW has ever charged security fees for these events.”

Wells told Campus Reform that when the group had previously hosted conservative figure Matt Walsh on campus, one of the school’s buildings was vandalized with spray paint on the day of the event bearing messages such as “F*** YAF,” “YAF are Nazis,” and “F*** Matt Walsh.”
He continued: “And then the school– we recently found out through a FOIA request– declined to prosecute these individuals. And that caused about $30,000 in damages. And so when we’re filling out that risk assessment form for Knowles, they gave us all these points for previous incidents at our events, although that entirely happened outside. Inside the venue that we were in charge of, and we were responsible for, nothing happened. There was not one protester, and nothing went wrong. So that was entirely the crazy leftists.”

When Matt Walsh spoke at the same campus in 2022, Campus Reform correspondent Lane Whitten was assaulted and threatened by protestors at the event.

Following the disruption caused by protestors at Matt Walsh’s event, “UWPD obtained video footage of individuals vandalizing public property. Yet UW has chosen not to prosecute or otherwise punish the perpetrators, and UWPD has refused to release public records related to the incident to YAF. It would be truly unjust if YAF were charged for security for its events because UW has adopted a policy of looking the other way—and thereby encouraging—leftwing violence and vandalism,” YAF’s letter stated.

[Related: Leadership Institute sues University of New Mexico over ‘unconstitutional’ security fee after Riley Gaines event]

A UW Madison spokesperson shared with Campus Reform a statement claiming that the university is “a fierce supporter of the exchange of ideas and has welcomed a variety of speakers with diverse viewpoints to campus,” and mentioned the school’s removal of the security costs imposed on the event organizers.

Wells told Campus Reform: “We know that these speaker events can be quite different than other ones because they attract a big crowd, they attract protesters. But again, that is not our fault or responsibility that protesters come, it’s the school’s responsibility to make sure that our events can happen.”  

“Our club follows every rule [and] procedure, so we have the same rights as every other club to bring in outside speakers,” Wells said.

A statement by YAF Vice President and General Counsel Victor Bernson that was shared with Campus Reform read: “The University of Wisconsin (UW) has a sordid history of favoring leftists while inventing burdens to dissuade conservative students.”

Speaking of YAF’s attempt to charge high security fees for the Michael Knowles event, he continued: “YAF is tremendously grateful for the courage of Young Americans for Freedom activists who stood up to this vile bullying and for the brilliant litigators at WILL and Mountain States Legal who challenged UW before the school could unlawfully consign YAF’s event to a premature burial in UW’s ‘woke’ graveyard.”