LARAMIE, Wyo. — Conservative commentator Ann Coulter shrugged off a few hecklers and took aim at liberals and President Barack Obama during her University of Wyoming speech intended to counterbalance an appearance at the school last year by a former 1960s radical.
About 1,500 people, including about three dozen protesters, showed up Thursday night to hear her topic on “why the liberals are wrong about everything,” which started an hour late because of a flight delay.
Coulter said Obama attempted to develop a doctrine on the Middle East that has helped topple governments who supported U.S. policies, such as that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
A few people heckled only to draw sharp barbs from the author and applause from most of the crowd, as she extended her criticism.
She argued that Obama and liberals only endorse military action in countries where U.S. interests aren’t at stake, such as Libya. But she said they were critical of such action in Iraq that was aimed at keeping Saddam Hussein from building weapons of mass destruction and possibly threatening U.S. interests. In Libya’s case, both Republicans and Democrats have criticized Obama for U.S. involvement in that country.
However, Coulter did not touch the controversy surrounding the speech a year ago by Bill Ayers, a co-founder of the 1960s Weather Underground radical group.
“Bill Ayers, he came over, so why can’t Ann Coulter?” said Darrel Hamilton, a LaGrange rancher. “If they want to call her radical, well he’s as radical the other way so hear both sides of the story.”
“Personally I think bringing Ann Coulter to our campus as a reaction to Bill Ayers is kind of inappropriate,” UW student Haley Barton of Lander said, holding a sign reading “We don’t want your hate.”
An anonymous donor upset with Ayers’ April 2010 appearance in Laramie paid for half of Coulter’s ,000 speaking fee. UW’s College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, a Virginia-based group that promotes conservative ideas on college campuses, were paying the remainder and other expenses.
Some students opposed to her talk sought to turn the tables by holding a fundraiser for gays, lesbians and their advocates, which took financial pledges based on the length of Coulter’s talk.
“It’s a good thing I only spoke for 26 minutes,” Coulter said later.
The university’s handling of the visit by Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, generated criticism from all sides.
The university invited him, then canceled his speech because many residents and UW alumni threatened to withhold contributions to the school. A district court judge finally ordered the speech to go forward.
In the end, his talk dealt mostly with education issues.
Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-war group that claimed responsibility for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.
He was a fugitive for years but surrendered in 1980. Charges were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.
His past briefly became an issue during the 2008 presidential race because he once served with Obama on the board of a Chicago charity.
Caitlin Wallace, a UW law student who organized Coulter’s visit, said bringing a conservative commentator and author to Laramie is meant to counterbalance a number of high-profile liberal speakers the university has brought to campus over the years.
“We’ve already got plans in motion for what we can do next to keep up and keep making sure that a conservative voice is kept on campus,” Wallace said.