‘The People v. John Bolton': Protesters rally against Bolton’s record outside his Duke talk

Cries of “hey hey, ho ho, these racist wars have got to go” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” echoed in front of the Chapel Feb. 17 as students gathered to protest John Bolton when he came to speak on campus Monday evening.

Bolton has worked for Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan, most recently serving as a national security advisor to President Donald Trump. He also served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for a year under President George W. Bush before working as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Flyers promoting the protest labeled it “The People vs. John Bolton” and invited those “concerned about American imperialism, militarism and war” to participate. 

“Concerned students and community members oppose the Spring 2020 legitimation of American warmongering by Duke University,” the flyer read.

Bolton worked at the Project for the New American Century, an organization that supported the Iraq War. Bolton was also previously the chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a reportedly anti-Muslim organization warning its followers of a “Great White Death.” These positions have led Bolton to be criticized as a neoconservative and a white supremacist. 


The protest formally began at 5 p.m. but protesters began their demonstration several minutes early. They handed out fliers to those in line for Bolton’s speech headlined “A Brief History of John Bolton’s Wars,” which provided a timeline of Bolton’s controversial past, including his support for the Vietnam War in 1966 and calls to bomb North Korea in 2018.

On the back of the flyers were quotes from Bolton himself, including “[President Barack Obama] is a Muslim king of a Muslim country,” and from others about him, such as George W. Bush’s claim that he “doesn’t consider [Bolton] credible.”

Several members of the crowd held posters, some reading “No bombs, no bullets, no Bolton” and “You belong in a cell in the Hague.” 

The group continued with shouts of “no more endless wars” and “from Kashmir to Palestine, occupation is a crime,” before the first organizer spoke.

“We’re here to inform [you all] on the real record of John Bolton, the person Duke is paying tens of thousands of dollars to teach us about national security,” said Aman Aberra, a graduate student and one of the coordinators of the protest. “We’re here to remember the victims of John Bolton, the millions of people that have died—mostly black and brown, mostly poor—all over the world.”

Aberra added that they were also there to “condemn the institutions and the imperialist ideology” that John Bolton promotes.

Lama Hantash, a senior, followed Aberra, criticizing the University as an “enterprise that capitalizes on whatever opportunity it gets to get a quick buck.” 

“Today, we demand that Duke drop the false pretenses of high ethical standards and respect for minority lives and just admit that white supremacy and imperialism are far too lucrative to divest from,” Hantash said. She later told The Chronicle that she believes Duke should “value the humanitarian side, the ethical side, over just blind searches for power.”

American Grand Strategy hosted Bolton as part of its Ambassador Dave and Kay Phillips Family international lecture series.

Manzoor Chema of the Muslim Justice Center spoke as well, highlighting the need for a strong “intersectional movement” and calling capitalism the “core of oppression.” 

Aberra challenged Duke to “question and reflect on why Bolton was someone they wanted to invite.” He told The Chronicle that this initiative “would start with questioning the American Grand Strategy program at its foundation.”

Michael Trudeau, a member of the North Carolina Green Party, was also present at the event. He handed out fliers that listed the party’s platform, such as “No human being is illegal” and “Hands off Bolivia, Venezuela, Ukraine, Haiti and Honduras.”


Students from Campus Reform, a conservative college news source, were present at the rally and identified themselves as student journalists. They asked protesters questions, including if they believed war was a “necessary evil,” sparking some confrontations. 

The rally dispersed around 6 p.m. Protesters did not enter or disrupt Bolton’s talk.

Leah Boyd profile
Leah Boyd

Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.


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