Wednesday, February 8, 2017
When Individuals Cannot Freely Speak, Democracy Is Lost
In 1964, the University of California
at Berkeley was ground zero for the
activist crusade known as the Free
Speech Movement. Students
protesting about political issues
had been banned from fundraising
or advocating for political causes
and platforms on campus, other
than within the college’s own
Republican and Democratic
In September 1964, a number of
students began challenging the
school’s draconian policies, and
mass demonstrations forced the university to finally allow “free speech” on campus across
the entire political spectrum.
Fast forward 52 years to February 2017, and UC Berkeley has become a political flashpoint
once again, but for just the opposite reason: a young conservative speaker was scheduled to
give a speech at the school, but masked protesters fomented violence, rioted and attacked
police, leading to a cancellation of the speech and warnings from the school administration
to students to “shelter in place.”
Ironically, today, it’s liberal and progressive students who are leading the charge to limit free
speech on the school’s campus — the very same condition that they had fought for more
than half a century ago.
The speaker in question, Breitbart News senior editor Milo Yiannopolous, is well known for
his conservative views on topics from immigration to President Donald Trump. But
Yiannopoulos is also loose, witty and flamboyantly homosexual, qualities that until recently
were more identified with the liberal left than the conservative right.
In covering the incident, the mainstream media described Yiannopolous in extremely
unfavorable terms, labeling him “racist,” “misogynistic” and “a white nationalist,” despite
Yiannopolous repeatedly decrying all of those terms.
MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson attempted to summarize the events, saying “This protest developed
overnight out at Berkeley because Milo Yiannopoulos, sort-of noted troll, sort-of flamethrower,
if you will, was set to speak.” In the background while Jackson spoke were images of the
masked protesters starting fires, looting a Starbucks and smashing ATMs on the campus,
leading to viewer confusion about just who was setting the fires — was Yiannopolous the cause?
Further confusing the issue was NBC, which reported that the university said fires were set,
including one caused by a firebomb that ignited a generator-powered spotlight, and
commercial-grade fireworks were thrown at police. NBC Bay Area showed a group of people
grab a metal barricade and smash it against a door.
“The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto
campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest,” UC Berkeley said in a statement.
Some people were attacked and police treated six people for injuries, the university said.
But all three major television networks failed to describe the perpetrators of the violence with
any terms other than “demonstrators” or “protesters” — no indication of what their political
leanings were was given.
In fact, like NBC’s, many reports of the incident attempted to portray the rioters as people
who were not students at the university. The chancellor of UC Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks,
said in an email that the college “condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions of
individuals who invaded the campus, infiltrated a crowd of peaceful students, and used
violent tactics to close down the event. We deeply regret that the violence unleashed by
this group undermined the First Amendment rights of the speaker as well as those who
came to lawfully assemble and protest his presence.”
Dirks said that the school went to “extraordinary lengths to facilitate planning and
preparation for this event” but that it was stymied by “100 armed individuals clad in
Ninja-like uniforms, who utilized paramilitary tactics to engage in violent destructive
behavior designed to shut the event down.”
It should be said that this is not the first time progressives have caused violence at a
Yiannopolous speaking event, nor is it the first time that they have caused violence at a
Yiannopolous speaking event at a school in the UC system; protests at UC Davis canceled
a Yiannopolous speaking event there.
For his part, President Donald Trump condemned the riots at UC Berkeley and tweeted
a statement aimed at garnering the public’s thoughts on taking away the school’s federal
funding. President Trump tweeted, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and
practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
Currently, the school gets approximately $370 million yearly from the federal government,
which represents roughly half of the school’s annual budget.
Various pundits have weighed in on the event, with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich
claiming the rioters were “in cahoots” with Yiannopolous and Breitbart News.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh ridiculed Reich’s claim. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaaaaaa!
Do you hear how enthusiastic he is? Do you know any right-wingers capable of this kind of
behavior? I mean, go to Ferguson; go to Baltimore; go to San Bernardino; go to Watts.
Take any protest — any violence. Go to Oakland any time you want. Any time there is
violent protests, it’s always left wingers bought and paid for by the Hillary campaign, the
Democrat Party or George Soros, and never once have the Democrats ever condemned
them, ’cause they’re proud of them,” claimed Limbaugh.
Indeed, Limbaugh’s claim about Soros is true of the Berkeley riots too; according to a story
in The Daily Caller, a group called Refuse Fascism, which took part in the protests, received
$50,000 from Soros’ Tides Foundation through its Alliance for Global Justice affiliate.
Yiannopolous has subsequently promised to return to Berkeley to give the speech he was
unable to deliver.
Similar riots on a smaller scale have occurred at overtly liberal New York University when
conservative speaker Gavin McInnes gave a speech there. Intolerant leftists pepper-sprayed
McInnes and were promptly arrested by police. McInnes actually made it inside the building
where he was to speak; however, loud protesters in the hall where he was delivering his
address drowned him out, and he was unable to finish.