The decision to cancel a conservative columnist’s appearance at an event hosted by the University of Maine College Republicans has drawn criticism on social media as infringing on free speech rights.

Michelle Malkin – a former Fox News contributor, conservative columnist and author who recently came under fire for sympathizing with an alt-right activist – was scheduled to speak at the Portland Sheraton at Sable Oaks in South Portland Friday.

“Mission accomplished, cowardly free speech hater,” Malkin tweeted Tuesday in response to a tweet urging people to call the hotel and ask them to cancel the event. “I hear you got an assist from Univ. of Maine officials, too. Taxpayers should know their $ is being used for cancel culture campaigns against #AmericaFirst students and speakers.”

Blair Mathisen, the front desk supervisor at the hotel, said the event was canceled, but he couldn’t comment further on why or who made the decision.

Jeremiah Childs, a student at the University of Maine and organizer of the event, said in an email Tuesday that the university “called and threatened the hotel we were hosting.”

He said he is working on finding a new venue and the event “will happen no matter what.”

The university said in a statement that it did not pressure the hotel into canceling the talk.

Michelle Malkin was scheduled to speak in South Portland on Friday. Image from YouTube video

“The freedom of expression, assembly, and the free exchange of ideas are rights that are protected in university policy for all UMaine students,” Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for the university, said in the statement.

He said the University of Maine College Republicans is no longer an official student group as its account was deactivated last fall after the group lost its faculty adviser.

“As a result any event hosted by these students would not be an official university function,” Demeritt said. “The university communicated that status in response to questions about an event that had been scheduled by UMaine students at the Portland Sheraton at Sable Oaks, but did not suggest that the event be canceled.”

Malkin is no stranger to controversy. She was condemned in November by the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom after she praised Nick Fuentes, an internet personality with a history of making anti-Semitic and racist comments.

The Trump Organization also canceled an event hosted by the anti-Muslim group ACT for America at Mar-a-Lago in October where Malkin was scheduled to be the keynote speaker.

She is described by Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, a project dedicated to informing the public on Islamophobia, as a “political commentator who has used her multiple media platforms, including as a ‘Fox News’ contributor and columnist, to propagate anti-Muslim and anti-immigration conspiracy theories.”

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Malkin said it would not be accurate to call her views anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim.

“The whole point (of coming to Maine) was to talk about themes in my book (“Open Borders Inc.”) and the reporting I’ve done over the last 25 years on this issue,” she said. “I’m sharing my perspective as the daughter of legal immigrants and the wife of the great-grandson of Jewish immigrants. Those facts aren’t going to reach kids on campus if the administration is barring people like myself.”

Malkin also defended comments she recently made at the University of California Los Angeles defending Fuentes and pushing back on establishment conservatives.

“I support free speech,” Malkin said. “I support free speech for Nick Fuentes, even if I disagree with a lot of the way he speaks. It would have been nice to discuss that on a college campus and go into depth.”

Malkin said she was told by hotel management that a university official was among those who called to try and persuade them to cancel the event.

“It doesn’t make sense that public university officials would interfere with a private contract and a private hotel unless they’re trying to prevent the event from happening,” she said. “If I have one message, it’s that I find that behavior to be incredibly chilling. … I think it’s hypocritical and a disgrace to higher education in America, yet it’s happening everywhere.”

Among those weighing in on the controversy was Adrienne Bennett, a former spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage and a Republican candidate for Maine’s 2nd-District seat held by Rep. Jared Golden.

Bennett posted on Twitter that Malkin has “many common-sense views and is also someone who pushes the envelope, sometimes places I agree with, other times I might not.” She also criticized the university for not defending free speech.

The University of Maine College Republicans lost their adviser, Amy Fried, a progressive columnist for the Bangor Daily News and chair of the university’s political science department, after she said she couldn’t support the group’s hard anti-immigration stance and support for Malkin and Fuentes, Inside Higher Ed reported this month.

Without an adviser, the group was deactivated, though they can request to be considered for recognition again if they have an adviser and submit the appropriate paperwork to student government, Demeritt said.

In October the university condemned recent posts on the group’s private Facebook page, including a Columbus Day post that said indigenous societies discovered by Christopher Columbus “were corrupted by rampant ritual sacrifice and cannibalism.”

This story was updated at 1:08 p.m. Wednesday to more accurately characterize Malkin’s views.

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