He Was an Antifa Activist. Then He Took an Economics Class.
Rob Bluey /
Gabriel Nadales is that rare young adult who became more conservative in college. Once an activist on the left, he started questioning his beliefs after studying economics—and now he promotes free speech at colleges. Read the interview, posted below, or listen to the podcast:
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Rob Bluey: We’re joined at The Daily Signal by Gabriel Nadales of the Leadership Institute. Thanks for being with us.
Gabriel Nadales: Thank you for having me.
Bluey: Your region is California. You work on that for the Leadership Institute. You also have quite an interesting personal story yourself. I want to begin there because it’s not too often at The Daily Signal we get to talk to people who were involved with the left, particularly Antifa.
Gabriel, tell us how you got started with the left and then we’ll get into your transition to becoming a conservative.
Nadales: Sure. Honestly, it really takes me back all the way to 2009. That’s when I really started doing activism for the left. But really I remember … I didn’t really care too much about it. I had my political beliefs. I would go to marches here and there. But it wasn’t …
Bluey: In college?
Nadales: In high school, actually.
Bluey: In high school.
Nadales: Way back then. And I remember it wasn’t until 2010 when I refused to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance. And I threatened to sue the school because I got in trouble.
That’s when I really began my leftist activism. I went on marches. I went to the homes of CEOs to tell them they were unwelcome in these communities. I did a lot of things for the left.
Bluey: What was motivating you to do that?
Nadales: You know something? Really, looking back, I’ve always had the same idea. I’ve always just wanted to help people.
Back then I thought the best way of helping people was to go and march up to corporations, up to banks, and tell them that they were doing wrong. But now I see how misguided I used to be.
Bluey: So, you are involved with groups like Antifa.
Bluey: And then what happens in your own life or your experience to begin to change your mindset about how you can help people and why conservatism might be a better option?
Nadales: The reason I started questioning my beliefs was in my senior year of high school. I was failing. So I remember my econ class, I was a D right there. I needed to get a D at the very least. So I started opening my economics books. First time ever for a Leftist to do that.
I just started questioning myself. I started questioning all these beliefs. And the people I started talking to about this outside of school was a lot of other members of Antifa.
I remember that’s the first time I ever been called a capitalist pig. And I would just argue with them. And by no means was I a conservative at the time. I literally just had a lot questions but nobody could really answer them.
It wasn’t until I got to college that the Leadership Institute found me because I started requesting information from online resources.
Adam Weinberg, the person who had my job at the time, he reached out to me. We talked about things. He recommended Frederic Bastiat and many other books and I just started getting more and more to the right and I became conservative after a short while.
Bluey: Wow, so trying to pass econ—
Nadales: Trying to pass econ.
Bluey: … led you to this. This is great, tell us more about your college experience and what it was like on your campus and how your interaction with Leadership Institute was influential at that time in your life.
Nadales: Sure. I went to a small little community college called Citrus College. Interestingly enough, it’s in Los Angles but it’s in Glendora.
Glendora is one of the only conservative cities in the San River Valley where I went. It’s incredibly conservative, yet that school was also a leftist school.
I remember getting harassed by a lot. My peers were much leftist and I started a Young Americans for Liberty club.
I remember the adviser for student government even threatened to sue us because we were criticizing the student government by using their logo and in a satirical manner.
I remember we even sued the school back in 2014 because they were violating our rights. And there were multiple things that happened in between that.
I don’t say this too often but I remember the day I graduated the president of the school shook my hand—not in the actual graduation but there was a ceremony for transfer students—and I remember this to this day, and I told people at the time, she told me, “I’m so glad you’re leaving.”
It took me as a surprise because I was like, “Wait, what?” I didn’t know what to say at the time.
At that school a lot of the administration did not like me because I was conservative. Even though it’s a conservative city, it is a liberal school. And this is what students are facing all across the nation.
Bluey: What did that experience then teach you about freedom of speech on a college campus?
To have the president of the college bid farewell to you in such a hostile way seems unusual. But perhaps it’s what many conservatives on campus today are experiencing.
Nadales: You’re right. It seems unusual but, unfortunately, it’s not. At multiple other universities I’ve seen the exact same thing happen to students.
I was just in Hawaii recently and I was talking to one of the students there, they actually put a petition to ban Turning Point and him personally from the school because they don’t like him. …
… Last night there was a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Santa Clara University—it’s in San Jose—and the student government just decided not to approve the chapter and they gave some bogus reasons. This is the third time they did this.
The previous time they gave the Students of Israel chapter a hard time. And two years ago, Turning Point USA had a hard time getting recognized by the school. Time and time again at multiple universities we see that liberals do not even want to give a platform to conservatives.
Bluey: You are now with the Leadership Institute and one of your roles is to work with a lot of these conservative college students. Tell us about what a typical day in your life is like, and some of the things that you’re doing to help spread the message of conservatism.
Nadales: Day to day it can actually be kind of scary. I used to not be like this but sometimes I do have to watch my back on college campuses.
Hayden Williams, he was punched at Berkeley and the funny thing about that is that that’s not the person that needs to be punched.
As a matter of fact, two weeks before, maybe three weeks before that, him and I were both at UCLA and I got assaulted then. And we didn’t get it on video but then we ended up getting that guy arrested he’s facing charges now for battery.
It’s a continual thing like my everyday life, everyday work on college campus, is to meet with students and befriend them.
I really don’t like to be assaulted. I don’t think anyone does.
Bluey: I don’t think anybody does.
Nadales: No, but you know if that’s what it really takes for me to go onto campuses and befriend conservative students, I’ll be there.
Bluey: Thank you for having the courage to do that. I cannot even imagine what it is like to face that kind of a threat. Particularly in an environment where you’d think they would be open to different ideas.
Nadales: And they’re not, they’re really not. But luckily we’ve been seeing some successes in a lot of different universities—not just with Trump’s executive order that was prompted by the punch at Berkeley, but even on the smaller scale.
I remember helping a chapter at Long Beach City College. They were having an incredibly hard time finding an adviser. And finally they found one.
I helped them host … a gun event, nothing major, like 25 people showed up to the event. But two key people were there. The president of the student body and the editor-in-chief of the student paper.
They loved the event, they were leftist but they loved it. They saw the interaction, they saw the benefit of this.
So the next issue of the student paper on the front there was a MAGA hat and it had conservatives on campus. And there was this editorial signed by the entire news team at the school or the campus paper and it said, “Conservative voices needed at Long Beach City College.”
After that, we actually had all of the conservative professors that were afraid to advise that chapter, they called them and they were like, “I want to be your adviser. Let’s do it.”
… This is a couple months ago, but last I heard about it they were trying to organize debates between liberal and conservative professors. And that’s the way college should be.
Unfortunately, so many colleges—like Berkeley, or like Harvard or Yale or Chicago—all these schools that pretend to be a platform for free speech, they’re not. Then a small little community college is doing a better job than they are.
Bluey: Thank you for sharing that story. It’s refreshing to hear that there are some examples out there of what you’re able to have success in by the positive impact.
You mentioned the president’s executive order on free speech. You had an opportunity to be there with the president when he signed that. Tell us about that experience to be in the room, but also what that executive order really means for those students who are out there today.
Nadales: It was an incredible experience. I never expected to be in the White House. It was actually one of my dreams to be invited to the White House, so that’s pretty amazing.
When I was there, I was in awe—so much history about what the White House is and the office of the presidents, it’s amazing.
But what that order really means, it means that right now, thank goodness, we have a president that’s willing to stand up for conservative values and especially conservatives on campus. We haven’t had that in a long time. So it’s amazing that we finally do.
Bluey: The Leadership Institute offers so many resources for students. You have Campus Reform, which is a great news outlet, which we really appreciate at The Daily Signal.
Tell our listeners what they can learn and how they can learn more about what you have to offer. Or perhaps they’re experiencing their own challenges on campus, how do they get involved?
Nadales: We’re always looking for campus correspondents for Campus Reform. We are no shortage of material. … We have so many things that sometimes we have to pass because we have to prioritize some stories.
If you want to get involved, go to campusreform.org. You can just go ahead and apply to be a corespondent. You actually get paid per story that you write, so it’s a good incentive for students.
If maybe you don’t want to write but you still want to talk about it, you can send in tips so we can report on these stories.
Also, for the Leadership Institute, we have a lot of field programs. You can just contact me or our National Field Program and we’ll go to your campus and help you fight back.
Bluey: We appreciate the work that you and Martin Blackwell and everybody on the team is doing. We enjoy working closely with you and particularly telling some of those stories on The Daily Signal as well, when we’re able so.
Gabriel, thanks so much for joining us at The Daily Signal.
Nadales: Thank you I very much appreciate it.