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While a vast amount of contemporary scholarship has been dedicated to student activism during the late 1960s and early 1970s, very little of it has focused on those who supported the war in Vietnam. The few authors who have written on the topic tend to present pro-war activists as a mild-mannered force that used conventional and congenial tactics to advocate for victory in southeast Asia. This paper will upend this characterization by examining how members of the conservative organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) saw themselves as a besieged minority at American universities and responded to the radicalism of the anti-war movement with inflammatory satire and physical confrontation. As their peers in the New Left burnt draft cards and occupied campus buildings, these young conservatives employed aggressive strategies of their own to advocate for the war. During this process, YAF members revealed an affinity for appropriating the rhetoric and tactics of their adversaries, exposing an intertwined relationship between two seemingly opposed political movements that most historians study in isolation

Young Americans for Freedom helped to forge a distinct strain of conservative backlash politics that catapulted Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. This paper sheds light on radical undercurrents within the organization and its relationship to the New Left, complicating our understanding of both student activism in the 1960s and 1970s as well as the emergence of modern conservatism.

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This Article is Open Access