Tensions escalate between UW demonstrators and Charlie Kirk fans

After the university refused to move the event farther from the pro-Palestinian encampment, confrontation ensued around the Seattle campus Quad.

Person with a Palestinian scarf and American flag msk face off with another person wearing a cowboy hat.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators who have been camping on the University of Washington Quad for the past week clashed with some attendees of an event featuring right-wing personality and founder of Turning Point USA Charlie Kirk, May 7, 2024. The interactions lasted a few hours and stayed mostly peaceful with very little police presence. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

A tense day on the University of Washington campus ended in a confrontation between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and fans of right-wing activist Charlie Kirk following his speaking event on the Seattle campus.

Surrounding a barricaded east entrance to the Quad, where demonstrators have established their “Popular University for Gaza,” both Trump and Palestinian flags were waved as “U.S.A., U.S.A”, and “Free free Palestine” chants filled the air during a standoff that lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours on Tuesday evening. Aside from a few eggs being thrown and verbal altercations, the evening remained nonviolent.

Kirk, founder of the nonprofit Turning Point USA, which advocates for conservative politics on high school and college campuses, was invited to speak by the organization’s UW chapter, who announced the event on Instagram in February. Kirk’s 6:30 p.m. event was held just under 200 yards from the “Popular University for Gaza,” which prior to the event had raised concerns in the encampment that the influx of a Kirk’s fanbase would result in escalation. Kirk has criticized pro-Palestine encampments like the one at UW on social media and during his visit to campus.

Ahead of the Kirk event, which drew more than 1,000 people to the Husky Union Building, members of UW’s United Front for Palestinian Liberation say they asked the university administration to cancel the event or move it farther from the encampment. University administration declined that request, but set out barricades at each entrance to the Quad.

“Our priority was to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, staff and visitors to our campus during what we anticipated could be a tense evening, and we took steps to maintain distance between opposing groups,” University spokesperson Victor Balta said in an email Tuesday evening. “For the safety of everyone on campus and to dissuade opposing groups from engaging with one another, we restricted access across the Quad this evening.”

While police were originally stationed surrounding the barricades to the Quad, United Front members say they asked them to move farther from the “Liberated zone,” with pro-Palestine demonstrators securing access to the Quad throughout the night.

Both the Seattle Police Department and the University of Washington Police Department were present on campus throughout the evening.

“We believe that we keep us safe … we don’t believe that cops keep us safe here,” said United Front member Tabeed, who asked that their last name not be used out of concern for privacy. “Police can also bring escalation.”

United Front members say they are demanding the University materially and academically divest from Israel, cut ties with Boeing, and end the repression of pro-Palestinian students, staff and faculty. On Tuesday, the Associated Students of the University of Washington passed a resolution calling on the University to meet the group’s three demands.

University spokesperson Victor Balta said university administration have had four conversations with encampment representatives, with the goals of understanding the group’s concerns and reaching a conclusion.

“The fact that they are meeting with us is a step in the right direction,” said Tabeed. “We’re hoping to keep working with admin but … we will be here until those demands are met.”

Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors


Scarlet Hansen

Scarlet Hansen is a student journalist at the University of Washington and Crosscut's 2024 legislative intern.