Orange Coast College hit the national news last semester after students involved in the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom were told by campus officials to remove a flag with images of rifles on it they had on display during a campus-wide event.
The flag, depicting two crossed assault-style weapons and the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” was flown at a YAF booth and campus officials likened the image of guns on the flag to restrictions of guns on campus.
“So pretty much what it was — they were attempting to suppress our freedom of speech by saying that having a picture of a gun is the same thing as having a gun on campus. Like we definitely did not agree with that,” Noah King, a 20-year-old kinesiology major and president of YAF said.
And while the college eventually apologized to the group and some rules were changed, the incident raised issues about free speech on college campuses and a growing conservative presence at OCC.
Recently, at nearby colleges like Chapman University and Cal State Fullerton and in Costa Mesa parks, an organization called Patriot Front has been using a guerrilla-style marketing campaign to place its stickers in public places. Patriot Front has been called a far-right, neo-Nazi, white supremacist group and been categorized as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League.
According to OCC Chief of Campus Safety Jim Rudy, Patriot Front has additional campaigns planned for Thursday. It is unclear if OCC will be one of the schools targeted.
But regardless of whether OCC is hit with stickers from Patriot Front, students involved in conservative issues are making their voices heard at OCC.
“They’re (Patriot Front) a very right-wing group of the Republican Party, which doesn’t really represent the whole of the Californian Republican Party as it is today. In the news, it’s always the radicals from both parties that seem to be featured but never the people that are trying to find middle ground,” Spencer Finkbeiner, a 19-year-old business major and College Republicans member said.
Finkbeiner said on campus conservative groups like the College Republicans prefer to focus on issues that promote inclusion in the GOP, like last Wednesday’s Gays For Trump event which the club co-hosted with the Log Cabin Republicans.
“We’re not trying to push beliefs. We’re not saying, ‘This is how it should be’ or anything like that. We’re just trying to bring awareness to the fact that there are people who are republican and part of the LGBT community and that there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Alex Loniak, a 20-year-old business administration major and president of the College Republicans.
According to Log Cabin Republicans board member Jesse Bluma, the organization for LGBT Republicans began in the 1970s in response to an attempted ban on gay teachers in California known as the Briggs Initiative.
Bluma said there are misconceptions about the relationship between the Republican Party and the LGBT community.
“As a republican, I know that my party knows and understands that if I’m in a loving relationship, a healthy relationship, then those are all things that are supported by those classical ideas and that there is a home for gays in the Republican Party because of that,” Bluma said.
Over the past several years, the political landscape of Orange County has shifted to the left with the defeat of four GOP congressional members in the last election. More recently, Democratic voters in the county outnumber Republican voters for the first time since the 1930s.
The Democratic sweep last fall has caused the College Republicans to redouble their efforts. According to Loniak, the club will be active on campus for the rest of the semester doing voter registration drives, handing out information about the party and hosting more events like Gays For Trump. Their next event will be a showing of “Unplanned,” a pro-life feature film on Nov. 13.
In a counter protest to the screening of the anti-abortion movie, Advocates for Youth will offer an Abortion Out Loud event on campus while the film screens. The event is seen as an act of resistance in a country where abortion rights are under attack.
Despite challenges from outside groups and Orange County now in Democratic control, Republican and conservative organizations maintain a much more visible presence on campus than Democratic clubs.
“I do feel as though they don’t need to be as present on campus when they feel that they already have a seat on the boat,” the YAF president King said.
Finkbeiner said the political polarization that President Donald Trump has exacerbated is increasing political engagement, especially among college students and that Trump is responsible for the political empowerment of many Republicans.
“And I think that when you see more Republicans tabling on campus and more people taking an active voice, it’s also because they’re not scared anymore,” Finkbeiner said.