Steve Bannon’s visit to the Oxford Union last Friday was met with large protests by groups opposing the Union’s decision to invite the controversial far-right figure.
Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Union, on St Michael’s Street and Cornmarket Street. Some protestors physically blocked entrances to the Union, leading event organisers and police to significantly delay the entry of Union members looking to attend the speaker event.
Protesters, following leaders with megaphones, chanted slogans including: “No Bannon, no KKK, no fascist USA,” and “Solidarity forever, the Union’s always wrong.”
On the other hand, there were groups reportedly making Nazi salutes.
An hour after the event was scheduled to start, Bannon entered the Oxford Union through its back entrance, accompanied by a heavy police escort. Bannon spoke for over an hour, delivering a prepared speech and fielding questions from both Union President Stephen Horvath and Union members present at the event.
The chamber was not filled during Bannon’s talk.
A coalition of student and local groups, including Free Education Oxford and Oxford University Labour Club organized protests against Bannon’s talk, which was announced on last Wednesday. Last Thursday, the event narrowly survived a motion from within the Oxford Union to rescind the invitation.
Protesters and Union members wishing to attend the event gathered outside the Union throughout the afternoon and early evening. At 4:30pm, half a hour after the event was meant to start, a spokesperson for the Union announced to a crowd outside the Union’s Cornmarket Street entrance that there would be no more admittance to the event.
The announcement was met by cheers from the protesters.
Shortly afterwards, police formed a human chain blocking an opposing protesters’ human chain, creating a small space for police vans to enter behind them. Bannon was swiftly escorted inside from one of the vans by police.
Oxford SU President Joe Inwood, who was present at the protest, told Cherwell: “It is clear that the Oxford Union shouldn’t have invited Steve Bannon in the first place. Clearly, what they have tried to do, which is hold the event, has been hugely disruptive to the local community.
“It’s disappointing that the Union have come so far from the mainstream of student thought and student opinions at Oxford.”
A small group, titled “Support Free Discourse at Oxford”, formed a counter-protest, advocating for the right of Bannon to speak.
Counter-protest organizer Maya Thomas told Cherwell: “We believe that his views are vile…
“[But] I think he should be allowed to speak, because if you don’t allow views to be voice in regulated academic environments, that will push them underground and only exacerbate the problem.”
Union members waiting outside the entrance to the event who were planning to attend the talk expressed frustration with the protest. One anonymous student told Cherwell: “We literally just want to get in… they physically blocked us… you literally would have had to tackle twenty people to get in.”
Another complained that the protesters are “a tiny group of people with a loud voice”.
During the talk, Bannon defended his vision of nationalism, claiming that “ethno-nationalism is a dead end for losers; economic nationalism and civic nationalism bind you together, regardless of your race, regardless of your religion, regardless of your ethnicity.”
He answered questions from the Union President Horvath regarding President Trump’s relationship with xenophobic and racist language, and Bannon’s own controversial statement in 2016 to “unchain the dogs” at former-Fox News correspondent, Megyn Kelly.
Union members in attendance also questioned Bannon on a range of subjects, including the United States’ relationship with Islamic countries and his reaction to the student opposition to his attendance at the Oxford Union.