Editor’s note: Below are the video and transcript to remarks given by Ron Robinson, the president of Young America’s Foundation, at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2017 Restoration Weekend. Robinson was this year’s recipient of the Annie Taylor Award (along with James Damore and Jesse Watters), given to people who exhibit great courage by “going over the ledge when others would be afraid to even go near it.” The event was held Nov. 16th-19th at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.
Introduction by David Horowitz: I was a recently ex-radical, a New York Jew, aggressive, confrontational and cocksure that I knew it all, and was certainly going to tell you what I thought. Ron was a Buchanan conservative who had grown up in a working-class family in Buffalo. He had all the virtues you might refer to as “Christian.“ He was well mannered, quiet spoken, kind of avuncular, civilized, and humble. It was hard to get a rise out of him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him raise his voice. There was no hint, if you met him, of the extraordinary leader he is, or that he could engineer our profound change within the conservative movement, but he has.
My main concern at the time I met him, which was only a couple of years after I had left the left, was this: Where’s the conservative army? Where’s the conservative SDS and a dozen other, or maybe a hundred other similar fighting organizations? What we desperately needed on the right were fighting organizations on every campus to take the battle to the left. This was not, of course, a problem confined to conservative student organizations, of which there were several. When you looked at any conservative organization, it was concerned mainly about spreading the ideas of William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk, putting copies of the Constitution in every one’s pocket, and polices in Washington.
Conservatives seemed to think politics took place every 18 months during the election cycle. It was about policies in Washington, not about the wars the left was waging every day and in every way, over issues like gender and how you must refer to black people, formerly Negroes, and now not blacks, but African Americans. Those battles didn’t seem to be political at all. My own experience with conservatives was that they were very nice to me as a defector to the cause, but kept their distance of the chance that I might cause trouble down the line. Ron Robinson was different.
Despite the cultural Grand Canyon that separated us, he became a political ally, sponsoring me as a speaker on campuses. He also invited me to leadership events that his organization, Young America’s Foundation, put on. Conservatives need to be aggressive, to fight fire with fire, even if that means displaying bad manners. If you had asked me back then if such ideas were going to take hold in conservative minds, I would’ve said no. It didn’t take me long to see that the problem wasn’t actually conservative ideas, it was the conservative upbringing and temperament: civilized, temperate, well-mannered. Pretty much the virtues reflected in the personality of my patron, Rob Robinson.
But I was wrong, and I should’ve known it from the way he took me under his wing. The turning point, as best I can pinpoint it, occurred 9 or 10 years ago. In 2006, Ron arranged for me to debate Ward Churchill, the infamous Ward Churchill, at George Washington University. He’s the professor who said that the victims of 9⁄11 were “little Eichmanns.“ Ron took flack from the right for inviting Churchill, and of course, paying him, but he was not dissuaded. I enjoyed the debate. Churchill was so high on drugs, I hardly had to answer him, and was able to get out our message, which was broadcast on C-SPAN reaching a much larger audience.
Afterwards, I was struck by the fact that the debate had been sponsored by a student chapter of Young America’s Foundation. I was aware that the foundation had representatives on a thousand campuses, but this was the first time I had heard of an actual chapter. When I asked Ron if he had others, he said no, this is the only one. When I asked him why, he said his board was wary about creating student organizations because you never knew what trouble young people could get into, and that might hurt the image of the national organization. I threw up my hands. It was everything I had already concluded about conservative bad habits that were holding up the cause. Conservatives were good, decent people who cared about the principles on which this country is founded, but they didn’t have the stomach for a street fight, and were never going to be able to defeat the left.
But within a few years of that conversation, Ron turned the world upside down. Today, Young America’s Foundation has chapters on 400 campuses and representatives on 2,000. Just as important, Ron turned his organization into an activist vanguard. It began with a program to remember the victims of communism, an epic tragedy created by progressives, which they prefer to forget, and worse, wanted to repeat. This was followed by a program of campus demonstrations called “Never Forget 9⁄11,” where Ron had his students plant 3,000 American flags to commemorate the victims. The left, of course, went ballistic, revealing as they always do when they’re outraged, their real commitments and agendas, which are anti-American to the core. Ron’s organization is today the chief sponsor and funder of conservative speakers who come to college campuses. When the speakers are obstructed or shut down as they were at Berkeley, he hires lawyers to sue the university administration.
He has started a high school ring of his organization. He has built the Ronald Reagan Center in Santa Barbara, which trains conservative students in Reaganite conservatism. He has created a system of points to grade his student leaders for their activism, and he holds an annual meeting of the highest scorers, which I have many times addressed. In fact, the director and organizer of all the campus activities of our own Freedom Center, Lonnie Lightner, is one of the student leaders who 15 years ago came to one of those year-end meetings at which I spoke.
Because he is civilized and self-effacing, Ron will probably never get the recognition he deserves. But in my eyes, Ron Robinson is a revolutionary within the conservative movement who has created its most important youth organization and inspired others like Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA. I am proud to give him this Annie Taylor Award, but in truth, he deserves so much more.
Ron Robinson: David, thank you very much. I appreciate your very, very kind words. You know, after hearing Steve Bannon’s wonderful remarks, you have to reflect on the crisis that our country faces, and sometimes the campuses seem secondary or tertiary to that. But President Lincoln is often quoted as saying the philosophy of the classroom today is the philosophy of government tomorrow. And the philosophy of government in the recent years has, in fact, been the philosophy on the college campuses 30 years ago.
Our organization, Young America’s Foundation, has been very much influenced by Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan said there’s a spark in all of us, if struck at just the right age, will light up the rest of your life. We try to ignite that spark in young people around the country. We do it in part by preserving President Reagan’s western White House, the Reagan Ranch, our national journalism center programs, the 9⁄11 project that he also mentioned, more than 20 conferences and seminars we have every year, but especially through the more than 400 college lectures, high school lectures around the country that David and Robert Spencer and Steven Bannon and others have spoken to, and especially David’s contribution to those over time.
For our students, who really are the heart of the organization, it’s often a lonely fight. Often, they are on their campuses alone at the outset, and they need conferences to pull together, just as each of you have enjoyed being with other like-minded people here, that is so critically important to a young person in their high school or college years to realize that they’re not alone, that they can be with others that share their exact experiences, and that, in fact, is why our conferences have been so important to these young people, and why the appearances of people like Jesse Waters and Steve Bannon, and especially David Horowitz, has been such an inspiration to our students around the country. So, our students are the heart of it.
The speakers Young America’s Foundation has had, we’ve been very blessed. There’s a number of speakers in the hall tonight that have spoken for the foundation, and I hope will continue to do so, and I thank them, because there’d be no award for Young America’s Foundation if it wasn’t for our speakers. The same is true for our supporters, and there’s a number of our supporters around the hall tonight, and I greatly appreciate your confidence in us, and your confidence and help for the students. And the staff of Young America’s Foundation has been absolutely superior. If, in fact, David was to attribute one talent to me, I would say that talent that is most important, that God has blessed me from time to time to have the opportunity to exercise, is choosing good staff members on the staff of Young America’s Foundation, and I have a great set of colleagues on the team.
I made one other important decision that has helped guide the organization and helped us make some of the right decisions along the way. I’ve mentioned the speakers. I’ve mentioned the students, the supporters and the staff. But the final S is my spouse, Michelle Easton, who I met, ironically enough, in the headquarters in Greenwich Village 45 years ago this fall. We’ve been married 43 years, and we’ve been able to strategize these activities over the course of the period of time. For a while, she left to go to the Reagan administration, and then the Bush administration. Forgive her for that. She served as President of Virginia’s Board of Education, and then she formed the Claire Booth Luce Policy Institute. So when I go home at night for the past 43 years, I have someone to strategize with, and believe me, that has added greatly to our activities.
I have to say that I particularly found it fitting that on any award was an Annie Taylor Award, because I grew up basically on the banks of the Love Canal, just a stone’s throw from Niagara Falls, and I learned a lot about the people who were crazy enough to go over Niagara Falls through the years. Before I knew the name Annie Taylor, I knew about people taking big risks. Our students, and indeed our speakers, especially speakers like David Horowitz and Robert Spencer, take great risks.
Let me just leave you with one important statistic that has changed in the last year. We did a study of our speakers prior to November 2016, prior to last year’s election. In 12 percent of our programs around the country, faced staunch opposition, people trying to cancel it, including college presidents, to people trying to disrupt the speakers, 12 percent. So when David and Robert and others go to the campus, that’s what they faced at that particular time. Since last November’s election, in over 400 events around the country, that number has risen almost fourfold to 46 percent. It seems to me that the left believes they’ve lost the election because they weren’t obnoxious enough.
So, I want to thank David for the award. It is great to receive an award from really – he called me his mentor – really, truthfully, David has been our mentor. He’s been the mentor of so many young conservatives around the country. Greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with him. He understands thoroughly what Ronald Reagan said time and time again to our national audiences. He said freedom isn’t won at any one moment in time. We must struggle to preserve it every day, and freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. Thank you very much, David. Thank you very much.