Most people have had a teacher who once said or did something that had an impact on their life. But not everyone has had a teacher who turned his or her entire life completely upside down in a national, political dogfight over a Christmas tree. In fact, I only know of one such teacher and one such student to have ever done that. The teacher was Townhall columnist Dr. Mike S. Adams, and the student was me.
Allow me to explain. I never had the pleasure of sitting through one of Mike’s classes as a college kid. I wasn’t even one of his students, technically. Nonetheless, I had the rare honor to fight alongside him on the frontlines of a cultural and spiritual war at a major American university. While I’m certain his lectures were great, I think some of his best instruction was given here on the pages of Townhall.
In the early 2000s, I was a student at Auburn University— a beautiful southern school in East Alabama— approximately 500 miles from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, where Adams taught. Townhall was one of the largest sources of conservative commentary by that time and he was one of its most prominent and controversial columnists. Every conservative student activist in the country read Mike Adams — he was one of us. As the president of the Auburn University College Republicans and a student government senator, I was no stranger to the challenges facing outspoken conservatives at universities.
Even the SEC schools, known for their tailgating Good Old Boys and Bible study-leading sorority girls, had their wells poisoned by the radical left. My own grandfather, a staunch liberal, was a well-known Keynesian economics professor at Auburn. I knew the deeply rooted and pervasive nature of radical academics at my big southern school well and personally. To embattled conservative students like me, Adams was someone to turn to for guidance. He was an expert in fighting so-called “free speech zones” and knew exactly what it felt like to be a David fighting a university Goliath. His forceful and fearless defense of the First Amendment on college campuses was, without exaggeration, second to none. (His friend and lawyer, David French, touched on this in a loving tribute. I don’t agree with Mr. French on much these days, but his eulogy of Mike is a worthy and important read.)
Despite our 20-year age difference, Mike and I were fighting the same battle, and I am blessed to have been one of the countless students he helped along the way. After reading the truly disgusting things said about him after his tragic death last week, I owe it to Mike to share the following story. His legacy is so much bigger than a few tweets.
My first interaction with Mike came in the fall of 2005, when the leftist culture war suddenly exploded in my own front yard. Auburn’s Student Government Association announced it was renaming the university’s Christmas tree a “Holiday tree.” I was aghast at the idiotic suggestion, and without fully knowing what I was getting myself into, decided I had to fight it. It was a choice I did not once regret, in spite of the fact that it got very, very ugly. I still have a hard time talking about it.
I didn’t have any professors at my own university to help me, so I reached out via email to Mike. He was a graduate of Mississippi State and understood the hidden reality of the very un-genteel culture of SEC campus politics. He also enjoyed hating on Auburn football, so I had a feeling my story was going to be a perfect fit for his column. As fate would have it, I was right. A few days later, Auburn’s local war on Christmas went national on the front page of Townhall. Mike, to my surprise and horror, had included my student e-mail address at the end of his column. Within hours of publication, he had successfully crashed Auburn’s e-mail server, flooded my inbox, and changed my entire life. I still have a three-inch thick stack of printed emails, good and bad, that I received from Mike’s readers. It took me nearly a decade to be able to sit down and read them all again— there is such a thing as having PTSD from a political war.
There were letters from Auburn grads, students all over the country, pastors, Vietnam vets, moms and dads, and even Bama fans. They almost all told me the same thing, “Keep fighting. I’m praying for you!” I will never be able to accurately express how profoundly humbling it was to be asked by an American solider, deployed in Iraq, to fight for his alma mater. How could I have lived with myself if I had let that patriot down? Truthfully, I may have, if it hadn’t been for Mike’s wisdom. You see, he knew from experience something I didn’t yet understand at 20 years old— I was going to need encouragement on a massive scale to survive the vile onslaught of lies and hate that was coming my way. I would have no doubt buckled under the pressure had it not been for that remarkable show of support and the prayers of his readers at Townhall. One of those readers ended up being a brave, local Auburn attorney who sought me out and became my invaluable pro-bono legal counsel. That moment defined my entire life. It made me a tougher person, a more patriotic American, and a better Christian. I have Mike Adams to thank for that.
While it seems commonplace now, the “Tree Incident” as I refer to it sometimes, was the first of its kind on a college campus. It gained shocking traction as a result of Mike’s article, likely because it occurred in the deeply religious south and in a place with one of the nation’s most conservative student bodies. He ignited a firestorm that engulfed my friends and me at the College Republicans. The phrase “cancel culture” had not yet been coined in 2005, but it very much existed, I can assure you. My professors openly mocked me to my face, and classmates and sorority sisters joined in. The University’s newspaper, The Plainsman, viciously attacked Mike and me week after week with the national media quickly following suit. They made us both the enemy. After all, who is more of an iconoclast than a conservative student? A conservative professor. Student government officials even called a secret meeting with my boyfriend, threatening his positions within their organization if he didn’t force me to back down. (He told them no, by the way, and married me three years later.) Ironically, my father, a former journalist and former liberal, had even written for The Plainsman as a student in the 1970s. The journalism school’s adviser and editor knew this, of course, but gave me no quarter. Loyalty, tradition, and family history (even a very liberal one) are meaningless in academia when it comes to destroying conservatives. Mike Adams knew this perhaps better than anyone else in modern history.
I remember sitting alone in my room one afternoon that December, scared for my safety and terrified to go to class, eyes swollen shut from crying and physically ill from stress. Facebook may have been in its infancy, but it was obvious even then the unstoppable power to destroy lives that social media would one day have. It is truly horrifying to think that the vitriol hurled my way back then was nothing compared to what conservatives on college campuses experience today. Knowing now the organized and unending campaign of unadulterated hate Mike endured in the years after I met him makes me sick. No one deserves to be treated with such enmity. Acrimony and disagreement is one thing, but the unfettered hate that has now become a hallmark of the left is a different animal entirely. One attack Mike weathered regularly makes me particularly angry. He was often labeled a “misogynist” for his insistence that Women’s Studies was a ridiculous college major. I happen to agree with him; I guess that makes me a misogynist too. During the political saga that engulfed my junior year of college, I remember appreciating how Mike treated me just as he treated any other conservative student leader — with respect. It was a nice change from the way I was regularly addressed by actual misogynists — the liberal men who were professors and students at my own school.
With Mike’s help, we went on to win the Christmas tree fight. The Republican governor of Alabama eventually stepped in and told the SGA to end its PC crusade against Christmas. In the 15 years since, Auburn University has lit a Christmas tree and a menorah on its campus every December. The tree not only stands as a symbol of the Christian holiday, it is proof that it is possible for regular people to confront radical leftism and win. I’m proud of that. Mike was too.
After college I lost touch with Mike. And for a while, I tried hard to forget my time as a conservative activist. I passed up a job opportunity in Washington and set my sights on raising a family instead—a choice I have never regretted. To this day, I have mentally blocked many of the details and vile things said to and about me. But those of us who have walked toward the fire on the cultural battlefield and have stared the evil that is the radical left in the face, can never just walk away. It becomes a part of you. It changes you. It ultimately emboldens you. Those of us who hold membership in this strange club know first-hand that the enemy will never stop. Ever. It pains me deeply to see that even in death, they have not stopped slandering Mike. I don’t agree with some of his tactics or everything he has said over the years, but I know what he did for me and why. I know he was a good person.
As fate would have it, I actually had plans to reconnect with Mike, my old war buddy, in a few weeks, after his retirement in August. I was looking forward to telling him just how much I have grown to appreciate the unusual and pivotal role he played in shaping my life. And most importantly, I was looking forward to hearing his side of things, in person, and not through tweets and the dirty filter of the hate-filled mainstream press.
On more than a few occasions in the past 15 years I have found myself looking up at a Christmas tree— a beautiful symbol of hope and of our Savior’s birth and victory over evil and death— and Mike S. Adams has popped into my head. Having never told him that is something I now very much regret.
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.
Laura Steele Walsh is a stay-at-home mother and Millennial living in the South. An occasional political commentator, her work has also appeared in The American Thinker.