Memorial Union, Alumni Park vandalized with messages criticizing conservative commentator

MADISON, Wis. — Multiple landmarks on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus — including Memorial Union — were covered in graffiti early morning Monday with messages protesting a conservative commentator who was set to speak on campus later that day.

A News 3 Now photojournalist captured images of graffiti spray-painted onto the front of the Union, a sign at Alumni Park and multiple Bucky Badger statues in the area. In a statement, UW- Madison Police Department spokesperson Marc Lovicott confirmed the department was investigating the vandalism.

The messages appear to be critical of conservative commentator Matt Walsh, who is scheduled to appear on campus Monday night for a screening of his “What is A Woman?” film. The film has been widely criticized for being transphobic.

In a statement, UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas said the school was aware of the vandalism and would be cleaning and restoring all surfaces as quickly as possible. He also said the university will be taking the appropriate steps, under applicable criminal statutes and campus policies, to hold anyone involved accountable.

“The university is deeply committed to the right to free speech,” Lucas added. “However, criminal damage to the university’s buildings and spaces– for any reason or purpose– is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The vandalism on and around the Memorial Union has students on the UW campus at odds about what speech should be protected on campus and the school’s decision to allow Walsh on campus.

“I think it’s a justified response to the kind of person that is coming to this campus,” Michael, a UW freshman, said. “They washed that off in an hour; it’s not a big deal.”

Joe Krantz, the president of the university’s College Republicans organization, said he viewed the vandalism as an attempt to quiet conservative voices on campus. He also said while the university has continued to allow conservative groups to host events on campus, he believes there’s still an imbalance.

“It’s just clearly bias, you see on UW-Madison story last week they—and this morning I believe they basically condemned the event,” Krantz said.

For their part, university officials have offered support and resources to the LGBTQ+ community but have not explicitly condemned Walsh or the event.

UW senior Rex Wegner said even though he disagrees with Walsh’s rhetoric, he should still be allowed on campus because he believes in the marketplace of ideas. Yet he also said he finds the university’s response lacking.

“It seems like saying, ‘Hey, we provide support for trans folks’ isn’t really commenting on what’s going on here,” Wegner. “I think that’s a bit of a deflection, a diversion. They should say, ‘We denounce these ideas.”

Michael said the school should take things even further.

“I think the least the university should do is bring someone who is knowledgeable about trans issues and probably speaks to the arguments that the kind of people that are in Walsh’s base are making,” he said.

Walsh is being hosted by Young America’s Foundation, a group that calls itself “the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement.” Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was elected president of the group last year.

YAF organized a tour this year for Walsh to screen his film at multiple college campuses across America. The screenings have drawn protests at the University of Illinois and the University of Houston.

At least two other events hosted by YAF in the last few years on the UW campus have led to controversy and protests on campus. In 2017, the group invited Katie Pavlich to advocate for guns on college campuses. In 2016, they invited Ben Shapiro to speak at an event called “Dismantling Safe Spaces: Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings.”

Lovicott did not confirm specific details about whether there will be increased security for Walsh’s event Monday night following the vandalism, but did say UWPD’s plans “are in-line with similar politically-charged events that are hosted on campus.” He also said UWPD reviews every request involving guest speakers on campus.

Walsh has described himself as a theocratic fascist and has come under fire for his comments made about trans people. In September, he and the Twitter account “Libs of TikTok” began criticizing a hospital in Nashville for providing gender-affirming services to minors.

“Libs of TikTok,” which is run by a former Brooklyn real estate agent named Chaya Raichik, also targeted a hospital at Boston University in August. That hospital was later evacuated because of a bomb threat.

Raichik targeted UW Health’s gender services programs last month, and Walsh spread her accusations on Twitter. Madison police launched an investigation and found the posts didn’t lead to direct security threats against the health care system.