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(LifeSiteNews) — Transgender activists and other leftist protesters made known their opposition to Catholic Daily Wire podcaster Michael Knowles ahead of a scheduled debate about transgenderism at the University of Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening by exploding a smoke bomb and torching an effigy of the mild-mannered yet controversial commentator.

The Pitt News reported that an explosion was heard on the University of Pittsburgh campus at about the same time Knowles was set to begin his debate with libertarian journalist Brad Polumbo at 7:30 p.m. The explosion triggered an emergency alert from campus police and was discovered to have been caused by a smoke bomb combined with a firework.

University police said some of the roughly 250 people protesting the event lit “an incendiary device” near the building in which the debate was set to take place. The “device” was identified as an effigy of the conservative commentator with a Hitler-type mustache. Numerous protesters were reportedly detained in connection with the incendiary device, but no arrests had yet been made, according to local news outlet WTAE.

“This was not a protest like for the other ones,” Dylan Mitchell, president of Pitt College Republicans said, according to WTAE. “This was a riot.”

READ: Stanford students intimidate dean who apologized to conservative judge over heckling incident

According to the university, “in addition to several devices which produced significant smoke, an incendiary device was thrown in the direction of officers.” Three police officers were evaluated by medics but were not hospitalized.

In the debate, which still took place despite the protests and boasted about 250 attendees (in addition to the 250 people protesting outside), Knowles and Polumbo took up the issue of government involvement in regulating transgender issues. Knowles had previously been scheduled to debate Professor “Dierdre” McCloskey, a man who says he is a woman, but McCloskey withdrew a week ahead of the event claiming Knowles was “utterly uninterested in finding the truth.”

Filling in for McCloskey though taking a more moderate stance on the issue than McCloskey, Polumbo said the government largely shouldn’t be involved in matters pertaining to gender identity.

“I don’t want the government policing my wardrobe, my speech, what pronouns I use,” Polumbo said. “I don’t want the government telling me what I can believe, what I can say, how I can live my life and if you don’t want that you have to respect that for transgender adults as well.”

Knowles, meanwhile, said transgenderism is a false and damaging concept and that government has a right to regulate it.

“If [a man is] acting out in a way that is really disorderly and disrupting the public and harmful to himself, for instance, if he wants to chop off his own healthy body parts and cause all sorts of destruction to himself, then I think not only is it the right of society to take some action here to restore order, but I think it’s only compassionate for that person,” Knowles said.

In a guest appearance with podcaster Tim Pool on Wednesday, Knowles said the fiery outbursts from protesters at the University of Pittsburgh were a predictable outgrowth of the untenability of the leftist position on transgenderism.

“There is no such ontological category as ‘transgender people,’” Knowles told Pool. “There are people who are confused about their sex, but the whole point is that there is no such thing as a man who is secretly a woman. That’s a false anthropology.”

“This is why the libs had to lie about what I said and change my words and throw explosives at me and burn me in effigy, because they have no answer to that, because we all know that that’s true,” he said.

Knowles referenced the outcry over his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last month, in which he called for the “eradication” of transgender ideology, a phrase inaccurately interpreted by leftist activists as a call for the genocide of transgender people.

READ: Michael Knowles at CPAC: ‘Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely’

“The libs thought that they had won on the issue of transgenderism. No one took this thing seriously 10 years ago. Now, it is enshrined in our law, and they thought that they won,” he said. “And they thought that the debate over transgenderism was now going to be, ‘should we trans the seven-year-olds, or should we wait ‘til they turn eight? And in my speech, I said, no, guys.”

He said that while there’s “certain issues” on which conservatives and liberals may be able to find “a middle ground,” like tax rates and immigration, the issue of transgenderism is different.

“Either women have bathrooms or they don’t have bathrooms. The minute you let a man into the women’s bathroom, the women lose their bathrooms,” he said. “So, we’ve gotta pick one.”

Meanwhile, Knowles wasn’t the only Daily Wire personality to face attacks this week.

Fellow Catholic Daily Wire podcaster Matt Walsh became the victim of a digital attack Tuesday night when hackers apparently gained access to a copy of his phone’s SIM card, enabling them to post vile comments on Twitter under his profile and presumably access years of emails, photos, and personal messages, LifeSiteNews previously reported.

“Over the last year my family has been harassed, threatened, doxxed, and now we can add hacked to the list,” Walsh said Wednesday after regaining access to his Twitter account. “Apparently the hacker had an ‘insider’ who gave him access to my phone. A lot we still don’t know. But we’re finding out. And there will be consequences.”