Abraham Payne, Contributing Photographer

Former United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to New Haven for a Buckley Program event on Thursday, discussing U.S.-China relations, faith in politics and freedom of speech on college campuses.

Attendees formed long lines outside Sterling-Sheffield-Strathcona Hall, which filled to capacity during the event. The talk reached a boiling point when three non-Yale affiliated attendees interrupted the talk and were forced out by staff. 

Pompeo, who was the secretary of state under former President Donald Trump, described in detail what he perceived to be threats to the American way of life and encouraged patriotism, recalling his former boss’ “America First” ideology.

“The list of rogues that want to undermine our way of life is long… the skill of logic and reasoning is abandoned for some political cause that is disconnected from reason and the decency that has always been foundational for our country,” Pompeo said, encouraging students to speak their minds on controversial issues. “You won’t persuade them all, so do so with a smile. Do so with joy in your heart. Do so with the conviction that you know you’re right.”

Pompeo touched on the influence of his evangelical faith on his politics and described the United States as a “Judeo-Christian country.” Education was also a central focus of the talk — Pompeo criticized the American universities for losing “focus” and hiring professors that “gaslight” students with “nonsense.” 

Abraham Payne, Contributing Photographer

Founded with a mission of heightening intellectual diversity on Yale’s campus, the William Buckley Jr. Program hosted the night’s programming as part of Young America’s Foundation’s Irving Brown Lecture Series, which has also sponsored past speakers such as Senator Ted Cruz, Charles Krauthammer and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Pompeo is the second former secretary of state to have visited Yale this month, with Hillary Clinton having spoken about leadership at the Law School last week. 

It was a pleasure and honor to host Secretary Pompeo tonight and I’m so glad that Buckley fellows and their Yale classmates were able to hear about his experience brokering peace in the Middle East and holding China accountable for its actions in Xinjiang,” said Kevin Xiao ’23, president of the Buckley Program.  “At the Buckley Program, we believe leaders [like Pompeo] have valuable insights to share with the students of Yale and the broader New Haven community, regardless of any individual policy disagreements.”

Three non-Yale affiliated individuals, Kynan Thistlethwaite, Jose Vega, and Ben Smith, interrupted the event to express their disapproval of Pompeo. The three, who said they are affiliated with the leftist LaRouche movement, were escorted out of the building. 

One interruption was prompted when Pompeo discussed an individual who had described him as the “worst Secretary of State in history.” Thistlethwaite rose from his seat and yelled out, “Yeah, you’re right. You are the worst Secretary of State in history.”

Two others followed suit. While staff attempted to remove Thistlethwaite from the room, Vega stood up and continued with his own remarks.

Vega called himself a “citizen with a responsibility to call out evil when [he sees] it” and said he has staged a number of call-outs, targeting both conservative and progressive figures. 

“People like [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and Ilhan Omar are on the same side as Mike Pompeo [on the war in Ukraine],” Vega said. “It’s up to the students of Yale to stand up right now and stop us from going into nuclear war.”  

According to Xiao, the attendees who interrupted Pompeo during his speech were issued three warnings from a Yale administrator — as per the University’s policies on freedom of expression — before being escorted out of the talk. 

I’m not sure how shouting at someone in the middle of their scheduled speech can be fairly characterized as ‘sharing their perspective,’” Xiao wrote to the News, quoting from the Woodward Report. “Disruption is inconsistent with our university’s core values, and their actions denied students and attendees their right to listen to Secretary Pompeo speak.”

Assistant Vice President for University Life Pilar Montalvo, who was responsible for escorting out the interrupters, said she had conducted a public safety session at orientations for all first-years, including at graduate and professional schools earlier this year. 

Abe-Baker Butler ’25, an attendee at the event, echoed that the disruption was unacceptable, despite personally disagreeing with many of Pompeo’s political views and being particularly concerned by his characterization of the U.S. as a Judeo-Christian nation. 

Selma Mazioud ’25, a member of the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association, criticized Pompeo but saw his controversial invitation to Yale as an opportunity to “bring back to the table” various issues surrounding the Middle East.

In an email to the News, Mazioud wrote that Pompeo has led inconsistent foreign strategies that have contributed to significant destabilization in Middle Eastern regions, citing his decisions to retreat U.S. troops in Syria and withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal. Layla Hedroug ’25 of Yale Amnesty International, a campus chapter of the international human rights activists organization, wrote to the News that its members “strongly condemn the repeated human rights violations committed by Mike Pompeo” and emphasized that he needs to be “held accountable for his crimes.” 

Following Pompeo’s approximately 20-minute talk, a Q&A session was conducted via a Google Form. Xiao, who read aloud the questions on a podium, noted that the Google Form was a choice requested by Pompeo’s team. 

Most questions involved China, with Pompeo expressing deeply-rooted concerns with the Chinese Communist Party’s tactics in China and abroad. He lauded his condemnation of the CCP’s Uighur genocide and joked about being sanctioned by China.

In response to another question, Pompeo encouraged students to “delete TikTok” and “throw away [their] phones,” citing concerns that China is “the deepest surveillance state in history.” 

This is not the first time that the Buckley Program’s speaker series has incited controversy. Earlier in 2022, Ted Cruz’s podcast-recording session at the Omni Hotel — which was also open to members of the Yale community — saw backlash from various student advocacy groups for many of the policy stances espoused during his talk. 

“The policies that Pompeo advocates for have done the United States grave harm by limiting our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest minds in science, technology, and other fields from China,” Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University Daniel Mattingly ’04 GRD ’08 wrote in an email to the News.

The Buckley Program was launched in 2010 by a group of Yale undergraduates. 

William Porayouw contributed reporting.

Olivia Lombardo is a beat reporter for the News covering the Jackson School and the School of Management. She is a sophomore in Morse College studying Political Science.
Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!