Originally posted at Northwest Florida Daily News.
If you didn’t know who was speaking inside the Mattie Kelly Arts Center at Northwest Florida State College on Sunday, the bumper stickers on many of the cars in the parking lot might have given you a clue.
Among the many “TRUMP-PENCE” signs visible were more specific references to conservative political causes. “SAVE THE COUNTRY, SAVE THE CONSTITUTION,” one sticker proclaimed. “DEFEND FREEDOM: OPPOSE OBAMA” another trumpeted.
The parking lot was jammed as around 1,600 people gathered to hear Dinesh D’Souza, one of the leading conservative voices in the country. The political commentator, filmmaker and author of several New York Times best-sellers has a loyal following in Northwest Florida, and came at the behest of Rev. Ray Angerman and businessman Edwin Watts.
“A group of us came together to put this on,” Watts said. “This election is so important, we wanted people to hear Dinesh and what he had to say.”
“We want to convince people to vote,” Angerman added. “Dinesh is a brilliant author and speaker, and we believe he can help get people enthusiastic about the election.”
Nineteen-year-old Fort Walton Beach native Gavin Bruns was among a small group of people who got to speak with D’Souza at a meet-and-greet prior to the speech. Bruns, a second-year student at Florida State University, first encountered D’Souza during the author’s previous visit to the area in 2010.
“I was an eighth-grader back then, and I had never heard anyone speak like that before,” Bruns said. “It really opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and looking at things. When I heard he was going to be here this weekend, there was no question that I was going to come home to hear him.”
Bruns said he is attracted not only to D’Souza’s conservative political perspective, but to his outspoken defense of Christianity in the face of atheism and secularism.
“My faith was never in question, but his stance has reaffirmed my desire to stay strong in my beliefs,” he said. “I had never seen someone make the argument for faith so convincingly, in such a public manner.”
A native of Mumbai, India, D’Souza came to the United States as a high school exchange student. He went on to graduate from Dartmouth University, where he made a name for himself as a conservative writer.
“I came to the U.S. with $500 in my pocket,” he said during an interview prior to his speech. “I’ve seen the American dream realized.”
D’Souza said his main message to the people who packed the Arts Center to hear him speak was simple: The nation, he believes, is at a critical point in its history.
“Our future hangs in the balance,” he said. “There are varying degrees of apathy about the election, and I want to lay out for the audience how I see it.”
While he comes out of a mainstream conservative environment — he served as an adviser to President Ronald Reagan and has ties to such established groups as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute — D’Souza said he believes the time has come to “shake up” the status quo.
“The Republican Party has become too insular and encrusted,” he said. “The success of Donald Trump is a reflection of the dissatisfaction of Republican voters.”
Read more at Northwest Florida Daily News.
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