An Arizona State University Republican student group with a history of racist and anti-Semitic views is now bringing local Islamophobic conspiracy theorist Carl Goldberg to campus in early October.
In an unusual twist, the event is scheduled to pit Goldberg against a local imam.
Goldberg, who has inaccurately claimed that “[Muslims] want to overtake our country and make this an Islamic country” and exhorted his audiences to “work through the GOP apparatus” to fight the Muslim Brotherhood, is scheduled to speak at an event hosted by ASU’s College Republicans United in Tempe on October 2.
Privately, members of the College Republicans United have used white nationalist symbols and virulently homophobic and racist language, chats leaked to Phoenix New Times in March showed.
Publicly, the group’s founder and former president, Richard Thomas, has tweeted statements appearing to advocate for eugenics, has shared white nationalist symbols, and has described transgender people as mentally ill, the State Press reported. Thomas has also called for the deportation of Muslims.
Nevertheless, in planning to bring Goldberg to campus, the College Republicans United contacted ASU’s chapter of the Muslim Students Association, asking the group to provide “a counterbalance to refute [Goldberg’s] claims.”
In an email to the Muslim Students Association in late August, which New Times has viewed, College Republicans United president Julie Houtman wrote, “We would like to host an Imam or a student leader the same day. What are you [sic] thoughts?”
The Muslim Students Association accepted the invitation.
The group asked Omar Tawil, an imam at the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, to be its speaker, said Aamirah Chisti, the group's president. Goldberg and Tawil will each have 20 minutes to speak, with a question-and-answer session for another 30 minutes afterward, she said.
Although Chisti questioned College Republicans United’s decision to host Goldberg in the first place, she also said that the Muslim Students Association saw the invitation as an opportunity.
“If we weren’t there, there’d be nobody to provide counterbalance to his argument,” she said.
Having researched Goldberg’s background, Chisti found him unqualified. “He’s never actually studied the Qur’an,” she said. “It’s on the level of anti-vaxxers, where you just Google things and find what best fits your views.” She feared that Goldberg would spread misinformed, hateful, and Islamophobic claims, but said that the Muslim Students Association’s presence at the talk could then help rebut them.
“It would completely contradict everything that Goldberg says,” she explained. “We aren’t violent people. We don’t have some hidden agenda to take over America. I think a lot of these people, they’ve never really met a Muslim, and they’ve never really talked to one.”
Houtman did not respond to an email requesting comment for this story.
In her email to the Muslim Students Association, Houtman said that College Republicans United had been “approached by a critic of Islamism by the name of Carl Goldberg,” and gave a nod to his reputation.
“CAIR [The Council on American-Islamic Relations] and other groups have labeled him as very controversial and even Islamophobic,” she wrote. “We would appreciate a counterbalance to refute his claims and give our members a second opinion after his presentation.”
When asked by New Times whether she felt that the group was reaching out in good faith, Chisti hesitated.
“On the one hand, I appreciate the email, and I appreciate that they were trying to do some good. But on the other, a lot of different groups, not just at ASU but outside ASU, have had experiences with them, and they’ve warned us, this debate isn’t going to be any kind of normal debate,” Chisti said. “I honestly don’t know the purpose of bringing him in.”
Although Houtman’s email claimed that College Republicans United was approached by Goldberg, faculty adviser Charles Loftus vaguely recalled otherwise. “I remember them telling me they wanted to ask him to come,” he told New Times.
Loftus also said that it was he who asked the students to bring in a counterspeaker, “to hear both sides.”
“The conversation was, ‘This needs to be balanced. So we need to find someone, either a religious scholar, or a religious speaker, or someone from the Muslim community, to come speak,’” he said.
Asked about Goldberg’s qualifications to speak about Islam, Loftus defended him. He described the Qur’an as “a confusing document” and Goldberg as being “sort of like a code breaker.”
Loftus dismissed the idea that the presence of a speaker opposite Goldberg might create a false sense of balance, and instead framed Goldberg’s scheduled talk as a matter of free speech.
“When individuals say that he’s a conspiracy theorist or Islamophobic or hate mongerer, it almost sounds like they’re trying to suppress free speech,” Loftus said. “You may call it xenophobic, but he worries about the future,” he added, citing unsubstantiated claims that Muslims want to create an Islamic state in the U.S.
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“If he has information on that, we’re interested in hearing the balance on that,” he said. He later emailed New Times a video from a right-wing news site of a woman wearing a hijab, who he said was Rashida Tlaib but who did not remotely resemble the congresswoman from Michigan, talking about creating "Islamic systems" in the U.S. As the Associated Press has reported, the video is from 1989 and features a now-deceased woman named Sharifa Alkhateeb.
New Times previously reported on how Goldberg shared such misinformation during a talk to the Yavapai County Republican Women in November. Reached by email, Goldberg asked New Times, “Are you planning on doing another hit piece on me for my upcoming presentation to the ASU College Republicans?” He then directed all questions to the ASU College Republicans.
Notably, the College Republicans to which Goldberg referred are distinct from the College Republicans United group that plans to host him. The latter splintered from the former in January 2018, as a radical, pro-Trump alternative to establishment conservatism, the State Press reported.
In an emailed statement, ASU spokesperson Bret Hovell said: “Student groups are free to bring speakers to campus. They are not obligated to seek permission from, or even alert, the university regarding whom they invite. The presence of a speaker on campus does not in any way imply a university endorsement.”