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Trump Jr. pushes father's nationalist message during speech at UNT Kuehne Speaker Series event

ARLINGTON — Nearly 700 people gathered on the field AT&T Stadium to hear Donald Trump Jr. talk politics, media and the state of higher education.

The son of President Donald Trump pushed his father's nationalist message that won him the election: "In international affairs, the United States needs to put its citizens first."

Donald Trump Jr. talked about international conflicts over the past 20 years, from the Iraq War to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, to frame how his father is changing the nation's approach on the foreign stage. This is how he framed the first portion of his remarks: He and his father are nationalists prioritizing the United States' interests above those of other nations. 

"The last 20 years are what Winston Churchill called 'the years the locusts ate,'" he told people spread across 76 tables on the AT&T Stadium field where the Dallas Cowboys play their home games. "The years where we ignore our true national interest and our countrymen, that has now come to a stop. We're not going to put other countries ahead of us any longer." 

From talk of nationalism, Trump Jr. spoke about how many of his father's supporters were scared to declare out loud they were Donald Trump supporters. He talked about being on the campaign trail, and having people whisper in his ear daily that they would vote for his father, but would never tell a pollster that. 

"They didn't want a lecture based on a fictitious, media-driven narrative that they knew to be false," Trump Jr. said. "It was that silent group that everyone seemed to miss, but we saw them daily, face to face." 

Politically liberal professors and administrators foster an atmosphere that makes conservatives afraid to be vocal, Trump said. He moved into the topic of free speech by citing conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro's recent speech at the University of California at Berkeley. While officials acknowledged he had a right to be on campus, they coddled students by offering mental health professionals to talk about how the appearance impacted their sense of safety and belonging on campus. 

That shows that liberal universities think conservative speech is equivalent to violence, Trump said. And then he engaged in a mock dialogue between "they" (liberals) and "we" (conservatives). 

"'Free speech is all right with us, but it's hate speech we want to ban,' they said."

"'Well you're right, nobody likes hate speech,' we tell them. 'But what exactly is it you mean by hate speech?'" Trump said as he represented the conservative perspective. 

"'Oh, that's easy,' they'll answer. 'Hate speech is anything that says America is a good country. That our founders were great people. That we need borders. Hate speech is anything faithful to the moral teachings of the Bible.'" 

Trump commended the University of North Texas for not falling into this pattern of behavior he's seen across the country. He mocked liberal arts colleges for preparing students for underwater basket weaving and feminism degrees. That doesn't happen at UNT, he said. 

"Here, you teach courses that train people for the actual workforce," Trump said. "You have programs in business, engineering, nursing, criminal justice. Actual careers. You don't coddle your students." 

These remarks at the end of his speech echoed UNT President Neal Smatresk's opening remarks. Smatresk acknowledged the speech was controversial, but that's why it's important to listen, he said. 

"I wish more people would avail themselves of the opportunity to get out of their comfort zones and come listen, because we're doing big things," Smatresk said. "We also want our community to live in the real world, that we practice this at the University of North Texas in our classrooms and on our campus, where the principle of free speech and the right to express yourself is highly protected."

G. Brint Ryan, chairman of the UNT Board of Regents, then took the stage for a question-and-answer session with Trump. In his answers, Trump reiterated that university students need real-world experience, and talked about the success of the Trump Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., and how social media is shaping his father's presidency. 

Trump echoed his father's criticism of mainstream media coverage of national events, saying his father's Twitter feed allows the White House to be in better control of the narrative. 

"I think social media has its upsides. For my father, it's allowed him to play monkey in the middle with the media and be able to actually get his message to the people, because [the media] won't deliver it accurately," Trump said. "It's not about reporting the news anymore, it's about them reporting their spin on the news."

During his Q&A with Trump, Ryan joked about readers of The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News calling him a moron for inviting Trump Jr. to speak under auspices of UNT. But he said the controversy leading up to the event ultimately helps the university. 

"In hindsight, it worked out brilliantly because we got a lot of interest from the news media that wouldn't normally be interested in UNT," Ryan told the Denton Record-Chronicle in an interview after the event. "This is a magnificent event, we raised a ton of money, we raised the profile of the university. Whether you love Donald Trump Jr. or you hate him, everybody's talking about it." 

Ryan estimated the school raised more than $100,000 for National Merit Scholarships through the event, but declined to offer specifics. Kelley Reese, a UNT spokeswoman, said officials won't have an exact dollar amount until after the second event in the 2017-18 Kuehne Speaker Series is held in the spring. 

In past years, the series has netted between $18,000 and $235,000 each year, according to school documents. As of mid-September, the school projected that the series this year would net $13,000, according to documents reviewed by The Dallas Morning News.

Trump was announced as a speaker in the Kuehne Speaker Series in August. The event was sponsored by private donors, such as Ryan LLC, the tax-consulting company Ryan owns. After the announcement, students, faculty and staff criticized the decision to invite Trump Jr. to speak. A group of almost 100 faculty members wrote a letter to administrators expressing "profound shock, dismay, and embarrassment that the university we are so proud to serve would stoop to invite Donald Trump Jr. to speak in North Texas under UNT's auspices."

The series is designed to raise money for student scholarships, with tables for eight people starting at $5,000. The Trump Jr. event had 686 attendees, Reese said. 

During an hourlong reception prior to the luncheon, attendees could hang out on the field, listen to a three-piece band and take tours of the Cowboys locker room facilities. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Media credentials were not issued for the event, but Denton Record-Chronicle staff writer Jenna Duncan attended as part of a newspaper-sponsored table.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889.

FEATURED PHOTO: Donald Trump Jr. speaks with guests following his speech at the University of North Texas' Kuehne Speaker Series event Tuesday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Jenna Duncan/DRC