Dallas-based conservative radio talk show host Mike Gallagher came to Riverside-Brookfield High School on May 13 and delivered an energetic and scattershot talk to an audience of about 40 people, split equally between students and community members, in RB's Little Theater.
Gallagher appeared about three months after a controversial appearance at RB by Bill Ayers, a former leader of the radical Weather Underground group, and current education professor. Gallagher drew less than one third of the crowd that came to see to see Ayers. Both men were invited to speak at RB by the Forum Club. Neither Gallagher nor Ayers were paid to appear at RB.
Gallagher was introduced by Cook County Commissioner and Riverside resident Tony Peraica, who stayed to answer questions and talk to students for a half hour after Gallagher left.
Conservative students, who say that they are a distinct minority at RB, said that it was about time that they heard a speaker at RB representing their views.
"I thought it was great to hear a different opinion, a conservative opinion," said RB sophomore Fitz Robling, whose father Chris suggested Gallagher as a speaker and helped to arrange the visit. "I think a lot of my teachers are liberal, so it's nice to have someone come to our school and give the other side."
The conservative students at RB said that they often feel isolated at RB.
"I think it was great because, like he said, the liberals control most of the media and the people don't get both sides of the subject," said Frank Lubek Jr., a junior at RB. "He presented his views that normally wouldn't get presented in the school environment."
During his talk, Gallagher criticized Ayers.
"Activism doesn't mean you blow up buildings and don't apologize for it," Gallagher said. "He was a domestic terrorist."
He also criticized President Barack Obama for wanting, Gallagher said, to push the country to the left, though he conceded that Obama had a certain appeal.
"He's a celebrity president," said Gallagher, who was in Chicago to attend an event about the first 100 days of the Obama administration. "He's a good-looking guy who's got a story to tell."
Gallagher also defended former president George W. Bush.
"He was a patriot who fought and lived to make America safe," Gallagher said.
Gallagher said that liberals and the media have exaggerated the mistreatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
He said that only three prisoners were waterboarded, which he described as pouring water in a prisoner's mouth.
"The Gitmo debate is a total joke," said Gallagher who compared the prison camp to the Elk Grove Radisson.
Speaking in a friendly and conversational style, Gallagher said he loves visiting schools, which he characterized as usually dominated by liberals.
"It's an opportunity for me to show you that not all conservatives have horns," Gallagher said.
Conor Moscinski liked what he heard.
I liked it," said Moscinski, who described himself as a conservative. "I think he touched on a lot of subjects that were big in the news and I felt that he answered a lot of questions pretty well."
Some of the more liberal students in the audience said they were glad that they came to hear Gallagher, even if they weren't swayed by his arguments.
"I thought he was a good speaker," said RB senior Anthony Paparo who says he supports the Green Party and is "pretty liberal."
"He seemed to bash Bill Ayers a lot and not know too much what he was talking about on that subject, saying that Bill Ayers didn't get any hate for coming here. Guess he didn't read the papers. It was nothing that I hadn't heard. He was a little far right. It didn't change my beliefs in any way."
Another RB senior thought had a similar reaction.
"He was a good speaker, like Bill Ayers," said Jason Piersialla. "He knew what he was talking about. He tried the emotional approach. He tried to connect to the audience. But I felt that a lot of his viewpoints were kind of skewed towards the right, obviously, and I thought some of his arguments were a little off."