Rutgers University

A Cold January Night of Dissent at Rutgers New Brunswick

Rutgers Conservative Union affiliates stage a counter-protest on Jan. 31 on College Avenue.

Editor’s note: This story is the third in a five-part series on the Rutgers Conservative Union. Through that lens, TAPinto New Brunswick intends to provide a comprehensive look at an energetic year of on-campus activism at New Jersey’s flagship university. The second part is available here.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — As dusk settled over College Avenue, students and activists assembled outside the Rutgers University dining hall Brower Commons. They stretched a blue tarp across the road, a clean prayer space for Muslim demonstrators. Bundled up in winter coats and hats and gloves, protesters clutched signs and talked of revolution.

Plans for this #NoBanNoWall rally materialized just two days before, on a Sunday in late January. Roughly 2,000 people, including the university’s president, showed up on Tuesday.

Sign Up for E-News

They came to protest President Donald Trump and his travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Some had already been detained over the weekend in airports across the country. The last-minute Rutgers rally served as both a showing of solidarity with Muslims and minorities and a stand against the new U.S. president and his policies.

But the gathering also attracted uninvited guests.

“We better go over there and make sure nobody gets into a fight,” one woman, with a serious look on her face, said to a friend. “This is not good.”

She eyed a group of 10 or so men on the other side of the street. Some held American flags and wore pro-Trump gear and camouflage. One man’s shirt bore an image of brass knuckles.

They were here to support Trump. And they were woefully outnumbered.

At the edge of the growing protest, they engaged members of the anti-Trump left in conversation. Those on each side, at times, cracked strained smiles as they listened to their counterparts’ arguments. But no fight ever broke out.

Several in the counter-protest belonged to a simmering faction of right-wing Rutgers students. During the campaign, they called themselves Rutgers for Trump and then Make Rutgers Great Again. Just before winter break, they began to form what would become the Rutgers Conservative Union.

Anti-Trump demonstrators decidedly outnumbered the right-wing counter-protest.

Nick Knight, then a junior computer science major from Mahwah, led the group. A former wrestler and Democrat, he shifted right early into college, while studying conflicts in the Middle East for an interview with the CIA. Even after the 2017 presidential election, he remained a member of the Rutgers Republican Club, a center-right organization that declined to endorse Trump.

He attended the anti-Trump protest to represent what he felt was Rutgers’ overlooked conservative community. Plus, he wanted some action.

“I just love to debate people and talk to the other side,” Knight said, “to hear what they think and offer a rebuttal.”

In the Conservative Union, which had no concrete platform outside its push for Trump, that sort of dialogue was common, members said. Some got their news from the conspiracy king Alex Jones and his right-wing news site Infowars, while others preferred more traditional sources. Some were libertarians who wanted to avoid war at all costs, while others, like Knight, supported what they considered appropriate military actions. Members argued, for example, over Trump’s decision in April to launch a missile strike against Syria.

As far as Knight was concerned, prospective members needed only to be on the right and committed to civil conversation.

But two other things could’ve barred students from joining, the club’s vice president, Dylan Marek, said. One was if you were known to be “in the enemy camp”—outspoken socialists, for instance. The other was if you were perceived to have had “malintent,” or the desire to disrupt the Conservative Union from within, he said.

The two leaders also stressed that their organization was not white-supremacist. In interviews and an online video, the union’s leadership touted its minority members, including people of Asian descent and African Americans. Still, they said, their liberal peers were quick to label them racists.

Anti-Trump protesters march along Albany Street in New Brunswick.

But some members have voiced ideas that might indeed jar their fellow Rutgers students.

“I think that’s one thing that multiculturalism kind of destroys—is that people feel alienated from their neighbors,” Marek said in an interview, after advocating for strong borders. He said he pined for the country’s tight-knit communities of the mid-20th century. “You don’t have that anymore, especially in the Northeast. Multiculturalism is going to collapse one way or another, so that people are allowed to retain their identity and ostensibly stand up for the west.”

Yet Marek’s opinion was just that. Although he was instrumental in establishing the Rutgers Conservative Union, he and Knight aimed to create a home for the vast right, and they said that required a big tent, some flexibility in thinking and a willingness to butt heads with one another. Time and again, Marek refused to speak on behalf of his colleagues and their beliefs.

Even so, the conservative counter-protesters on that frigid Tuesday night on College Avenue were lumped together as one. There, they were The Other Side. And soon, when the anti-Trump protesters wrapped up their speeches and marched through downtown New Brunswick, twilight conversations with their conservative opponents gave way to nighttime chants and newspaper headlines.

Read the fourth story in this series here.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Brunswick

The Jaffe Briefing - March 23, 2018


TRENTON - It's good to live in a state where the NRA is about as reviled as the act of putting peanut butter on a bagel. That's why we aren't worried about a NRA "alert" to members, urging them to contact Assembly members to vote "No" on a host of bills up Monday in Trenton. That includes sensible legislation that ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 22, 2018


STATEWIDE - It's been excruciating to write about snow; there's only so much you can blindly repeat without sounding like a 24-hour news channel. The final totals: 14 inches in the central and southern part of the state, and at least 5 inches in all northern counties. Yippee.  As of 6 a.m. this morning, the utility companies were ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 21, 2018


STATEWIDE - Utility companies are dragging themselves back into the war room this morning, preparing for another day of downed wires, public scorn and mounting pressure from the governor's office to magically keep all the lights on. One would assume the utilities are still trying to patch up fragile networks from the back-to-back nor'easters that ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 20, 2018


NEW BRUNSWICK - The governor has targeted The Hub City as the new hub for innovation and technology. Gov. Phil Murphy was in town yesterday to meet with city, business and Rutgers officials to chat about how all the ongoing downtown investment will be a magnet for scientific and technological innovation, TAPInto New Brunswick reports. The ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 19, 2018


TRENTON - New Jersey, one of the only employers who pays its workers for unused sick time, and then appears mystified when it struggles to balance its budget, may finally be capping sick-leave payouts.  The proposal, obviously unpopular with labor unions, has been discussed before, but not with traction. It is back in the mix again, to cap payouts ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 16, 2018


ON THE RAILS - Another commuting mess this morning, as the antiquated Portal Bridge got stuck in the "up" position at 4:22 a.m.  That caused a bunch of rush hour trains to be cancelled between Newark and Manhattan for four hours or so.  Both NJTransit and Amtrak riders were completely screwed. You may recall the proposed Gateway ...

Rutgers to close for Wednesday storm

March 20, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK - With the likelihood of more than a foot of snow set to dump on New Jersey, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi has declared a weather emergency closure for all three campuses: New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden.

School will be closed for students and all non-essential employees from 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 21 to 5 a.m. Thursday, March 22.

Rutgers Student on Front Lines of Orangutan Conservation, Research

NEW BRUNSWICK - Deep in a tropical forest in Borneo 15 years ago, Rutgers student Didik Prasetyo first encountered a young male orangutan that he named “Jerry.”

The great ape was one of several orangutans that Prasetyo and other researchers followed at the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station in the Mawas Conservation Area in Indonesia. Prasetyo was skeptical when colleagues said ...

RU police investigate assault on Douglass campus

NEW BRUNSWICK - Rutgers University police are investigating an aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault  reported to March 14 at 3:55 a.m. in front of Hickman Hall on the Douglass campus.


The victim, not affiliated with Rutgers University, reported that she was walking with a male whom she did not know in the area of Commercial Avenue and George ...

City opens 6th ‘supportive’ housing complex, 12 units provide aid people who lost homes

March 22, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK – In a continuing effort to eliminate homelessness, city and county officials this month opened 12 units of low-cost and subsidized housing in a complex designed to provide counseling and support services for its residents.

Zebra Way, named for the street on which it is located off Van Dyke Avenue, is expected to have residents move in next month.

Tenants, including ...


DEP Control Ensures Protection for New Jersey's Vulnerable Birds

March 23, 2018

Dear Editor: In January, the Department of Environmental Protection regained control of the state-owned North Brigantine Natural Area when a long-term management agreement with the city of Brigantine expired. DEP introduced new permitting guidelines which will greatly reduce human disturbance and increase protections for shore birds. NJ Audubon applauds the DEP for its efforts to better ...

Congress Passes $5 Million for Delaware River Basin Restoration Program

March 23, 2018

TRENTON – The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) has received $5 million in funding as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus spending bill approved by Congress. The bill will now go to the President’s desk for his signature.

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed worked with Congress on the authorization of the Delaware River Basin ...