At the Red and White Club on the grounds of Calgary’s McMahon Stadium tonight, more than 900 attendees gave Ann Coulter a remarkable, thunderous ovation. But they cheered, I would almost swear, with even greater volume for Ezra Levant, co-organizer of Coulter’s tour. I’m a friend of Ezra’s, but I had never seen him speak on home turf before. The love was palpable and astonishing. I suppose he is part of the city’s image, the legend it tells of itself, at this point.
And—chalk this up to bias if you like—he gives a heck of a speech. The stubbornest Stalinist alive would have been stirred by his fierce defence of strong free-speech norms as a social truce in which all have a stake. He made a particular point of noting that women, ethnic minorities, and gays and lesbians would never have attained civil rights if they had waited around for the Establishment to endow them out of the goodness of its heart. They could not have won an open power struggle; they had to engage in persuasive speech that, at first, offended contemporary sensibilities. Is it cynical and manipulative for Ezra to go into that territory? Maybe a little. But is what he says true and relevant? Indubitably.
The component of Ezra’s introduction for Coulter that rang a little false was the civic self-congratulation. “This is Calgary, not Ottawa,” he bellowed, inducing positively demented applause. “We’re interested in a diversity of ideas, debated vigorously and freely. Places like the University of Ottawa talk about diversity, but they don’t actually mean it, do they?” The fact is, Calgary’s anti-everything left managed a pretty good turnout, perhaps fifty strong, and they did no less to try to interrupt and drown out Coulter’s talk, and perhaps more on the whole, than the U of Ottawa students. But they faced a much tougher tactical situation: a free-standing, isolated venue on a hillside, virtually a fortress; crowd-control gates and wooden barricades on the exterior; and a whole squadron of bicycle and foot police, perhaps upwards of a dozen.
Uncowed, the antis attempted to rush the main doors of the building as Ezra was winding up his intro, spiderwebbing the glass with boot damage, and they battered the exterior windows of the club throughout Coulter’s main talk. Tomorrow morning’s news story may be “Calgary gets right what Ottawa could not”; I wonder, however, how things would have looked if Coulter had visited Calgary first and caught the Cowtown police less well-prepared.
(Incidentally, a pro-tip for the two guys who tried to dress as Klansmen: real KKK outfits have separate hoods. If you go for the one-piece look, you are not a scary symbol of race hatred: you are a scary symbol of the laziness of six-year-olds at Halloween.)
Eventually She came out. I paid little attention (and some of you will be relieved to hear it) to Coulter’s litany of familiar one-liners; I’m not sure anyone paid the words much heed, including Ann Coulter herself. As the thrumming of the protest outside grew louder and began to be punctuated with blows and crashes, she made sure to keep one eye in the direction of the stairway, doubtless ready to make a hasty exit behind the curtain at any moment. The atmosphere of danger, and her consciousness of it, made her seem curiously vulnerable, even as she vaporized hostile interlocutors in the Q&A session. Coulter, if you’re wondering, and you are, is more attractive in person than on camera. She is thus something of a contrast, in this regard, to Sarah Palin. (Meow!) Dame’s not my type, but you find out the second you write about Ann Coulter that she has many open admirers, and a LOT more haters who are unadmitted admirers?unadmitted perhaps even to themselves.
She really is a gifted comic. It was unfortunate that she didn’t bring Calgary new material, but this was a case where the medium truly was the message. During the Q&A, a young female U of Calgary student stood to say that there are “Jesus Was a Muslim” signs all over campus and she isn’t sure how she should react. Coulter, with a simple “Huh” and a nonplussed look, had the room in stitches.
Still, the more interesting action was outside all night?and I don’t mean the rioting, but the small-group discussions amongst smokers, latecomers who couldn’t get in, curious U of C campus-dwellers, and stray protesters. Here, on the grass, ordinary people talked sincerely to each other without punchlines or slogans or sneering. They seemed to be a different species altogether from the formidable, mantis-like Coulter and her mesmerizing blonde mane.