A Pittsburgh hotel is hosting a gala with Islamophobic, pro-Trump speakers and some residents aren’t pleased | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Pittsburgh hotel is hosting a gala with Islamophobic, pro-Trump speakers and some residents aren’t pleased

click to enlarge A detail from the Trump 2020 Grassroots Gala flyer, posted to Facebook
A detail from the Trump 2020 Grassroots Gala flyer, posted to Facebook
This Saturday, the Priory Hotel in the North Side is hosting an event called “Trump 2020 Grassroots Gala.” The gala is hosted by an Pennsylvania offshoot of a pro-Trump super PAC called Women For Trump, and speakers include former White House official Sebastian Gorka and pro-Trump media personality Katie Hopkins.

The event page describes Gorka as a Fox News contributor and author and Hopkins as a “world-renowned fearless British journalist best known for her very opinionated, unapologetic style.”

But some North Side residents are far more critical of these speakers, calling them “appalling” and “extremely dangerous.” Hopkins, for example, has said "Islam disgusts me" and following a terrorism attack in Manchester, England in 2017, she called for “final solution,” which was interpreted by many as a reference to Nazism with a goal of ethnic cleansing the U.K. of Muslims. Gorka has said that violence is a “fundamental” part of the Muslim religion and strongly supported President Donald Trump’s travel ban of Muslim-majority nations.

A group of North Side residents have called out the Priory Hotel for hosting the event, and some have even said they will boycott the business, including its popular bakery, moving forward.

Neil Owen, a North Side resident, is skeptical that this event will just be a gala where “openly conservative” views are discussed, as it is advertised, and says he objects to the views of both Gorka and Hopkins.

“Given the familiarity with both the headliner himself (Sebastien Gorka) and one of the primary side shows (Katie Hopkins), these individuals are not seen as conservative mainstream, but figureheads of fringe politics which identify closely with the far-right nationalistic movement which we’ve seen expand across the world, largely driven by misinformation, rhetoric & fear-baiting of the public,” writes Owen in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper.

Owen says he is disgusted by the “shock and awe” tactics of Hopkins. He is a Scottish immigrant, and he criticizes her attacks against Scotland and her comments relating to the bombing in Manchester.

He isn’t trying to discourage people from attending the event, but says the gala shouldn’t be viewed as a place to engage in classical-sense conservatism. “This is a fringe show by a cruel collection of individuals who have taken great pleasure in other’s persecution & misery (including many members of this community) for a number of years,” writes Owen.

Tickets for the gala range from $100-2,500. Organizers for Trump 2020 Grassroots Gala did not return a request for comment.

Local blogger and Manchester resident Sue Kerr also points out that Gorka and Hopkins' attacks on immigrants are hurtful to North Side residents. Kerr points to the large African refugee population in nearby Northview Heights and the history of Deutschtown, which was settled by German immigrants and is now home to the Priory Hotel.

“I don’t feel that good about these people being invited to my neighborhood," says Kerr. “Bringing those speakers into a neighborhood where there are a lot of Black people and immigrants and refugees. These speakers actually hurt people.”

Hopkins has parroted the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, a white nationalism claim that majority-white nations are intentionally encouraging immigration to make white people the minority. According to Right Wing Watch, Hopkins declared in 2018 that “multiculturalism means that we all die together” and appeared to justify apartheid in South Africa by comparing it to border walls meant “to keep the things that we love safe.” 

Kerr says she has decided to boycott the Priory, unless Priory ownership provides an apology and explanation for why they agreed to host this event.

“It is not about suppressing speech, it is a business decision, and people are going to be deciding not to patronize these businesses,” says Kerr of Priory-owned properties. “This is not who we are and it is not who we aspire to be.”

John Graf is owner of the Priory. He says that the hotel hosting the event doesn’t imply any approval or disapproval of the gala.

“We are very ecumenical when it comes to our clients,” says Graf. “If someone is a supporter of President Trump, that is fine with us. And if they are supportive of Bernie Sanders, that is fine with us.”

Graf defended the Priory and noted the hotel has hosted LGBTQ events as far back as the 1990s and has hosted events with the local LGBTQ organization the Delta Foundation.

But Graf says Priory won’t host any group, however, like those that are white supremacists or any group that espouses racial animosity. City Paper informed Graf about Hopkins' comments about immigrants in an email and during an interview, and Graf said he can’t comment on Hopkins and that the first he heard that she was speaking at the event was when CP informed him via email on March 10.

North Side resident Candace Dunhoff says, however, that Graf and Priory should have been more aware of who would be speaking at the gala. Dunhoff says she is planning to raise awareness about Hopkins and Gorka, and says she will be boycotting the Priory from now on.

“I won't be ordering custom cakes from the Priory Bakery any longer nor will I be suggesting their hotel for out-of-town family,” says Dunhoff. “This is a stain on our neighborhood. A pro-Republican event is a completely different matter, but hate speech in dress clothes is unacceptable.”

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