President Donald Trump vowed Saturday to roll out an executive order to protect free speech on college campuses, threatening to revoke federal funding from those that don’t support it.
He made the announcement during his two-hour speech on the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. The White House has not yet released any further details on Trump’s forthcoming order, and the timeline for the action remains unclear.
Just before he broke the news, Trump invited conservative activist Hayden Williams up to join him on the stage. Williams was shoved and punched in the face last month at the University of California, Berkeley while trying to recruit students to the school’s Turning Point USA chapter. He’s not a student there, and works for the Leadership Institute, another conservative organization.
For a few moments, Trump gave him the podium to speak.
“If these socialist progressives had their way, they would put our Constitution through the paper shredder in a heartbeat,” he said, rallying conservatives to keep “exposing these liberal abuses to the public.”
“If you keep defending us, we’ll keep defending you,” he told Trump.
Returning to the podium, the president then praised Williams, appearing to liken him to famed boxer Muhammad Ali.
“He took a hard punch in the face for all of us,” Trump said of Williams. “Remember that.”
Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro later offered her kudos to the president in a speech of her own while clapping and declaring, “That’s right! Play hardball with the money, baby!”
While the president has suggested that free speech is under threat on college campuses, a Vox report last August showed that it’s not the crisis it’s chalked up to be, and liberals have been targeted too.
According to Georgetown University’s Free Speech Tracker, which evaluated more than 90 incidents of attempted free speech suppression, roughly two-thirds of which occurred at colleges, there were “many incidents, generally less well-publicized, where lower-profile scholars, speakers, or students who could be considered to be on the left have been silenced or shut down.”
CPAC, which is held annually, typically draws a mix of Republicans and far-right activists along with a list of high-profile speakers including politicians and media figures.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Hayden Williams as a Berkeley student.