Prepare to be disheartened, at least if you’re in favor of peaceful protests against speakers you don’t like. As you may recall, last week Milo Yiannopoulos spoke—or rather, was scheduled to speak—at the University of California at Berkeley. The University and the sponsoring organization (the Berkeley College Republicans) provided ample police protection, but a number of demonstrators showed up, and things got out of hand. Milo wasn’t permitted to appear (for his own safety) and some of the demonstrators went on the rampage, burning cars, smashing windows, hitting people, and destroying ATMs. The violence was not of course the fault of the University, which not only had provided lots of security, but whose Chancellor had spoken out in favor of Milo’s right to appear and warned protestors against violence. Nevertheless, there were also peaceful protestors who dispersed when the destruction began.
All this did was call attention to Milo. If people want his influence to diminish, the worst way to do it is to riot and “shut him down” when he appears, for that just gives him a more prominent profile and makes people more eager to hear him. If the protestors simply ignored him, or at least didn’t try to interrupt him and damage property, he wouldn’t have the fame (or infamy) he does. The Authoritarian Left simply doesn’t know how to deal with someone like him, and their tactics are not only disruptive and illegal, but counterproductive.
That was amply demonstrated in Tuesday’s issue of the Daily Californian, the Berkeley student newspaper, in which several alumni and students wrote long justifications for the violence. Here we see the defining characteristic of the Authoritarian Left on full display: free speech is only for people who espouse the right views. “Hate speech”, meaning “speech that offends you” cannot be seen as free speech that deserves protection. Indeed, it deserves to be met with violence.
Take, for instance, the appealingly titled op-ed “Check your privilege when speaking of protests” by Nisa Dang, a Berkeley alumnus (she’s black, which I mention because of the “privilege” issue). Here’s her proud tweet over a very misguided article (all emphases in the op-eds are mine):
Get that: “Trying to force nonviolence”!
Dang’s claim, which we see in the other editorials, is that Yiannopoulos himself perpetrates violence through “hate speech”, which included outing a transgender student in Wisconsin (something I deplored) and his “consistent abuse of individuals”. That, to Dang, justifies the use of violence:
From the outset, marginalized student communities have been extremely vocal about the violent impact of Yiannopoulos’ appearances and his consistent abuse of platforms. He was banned from Twitter for “participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.” He outed a trans woman during an appearance at UW Milwaukee, an act that placed this individual’s life in danger. And he had plans to name undocumented students in our community as part of his appearance at UC Berkeley, an act that, in the time of Donald Trump, places our classmates at an even greater risk of being attacked. This is violence. If I know that you are planning to attack me, I’ll do all I can to throw the first punch.
Plus, she says, the presence of police also perpetuates violence. Apparently, the people who actually did the violence bear no responsibility for it:
I don’t care what Breitbart article or liberal bullshit listicle you’ve read, or what your experiences in white suburbia might have taught you — police are violent agents of the state. They carry weapons, enforce laws that place our communities in danger and use excessive force in order to subdue and “protect.” Often, the people protesting are the same people who are at most risk for being violated by the police. Thus, the presence of police officers in riot gear — armed with less-than-lethal weapons they are more than happy to use on protesters — creates an atmosphere that perpetuates violence on community members.
And here’s the telling bit: hate speech can’t be free speech, and of course Ms. Dang is the Decider of Hate Speech.
To Milo: I’m sorry that you were too scared to stand your ground during a routine Berkeley protest. Hopefully, you’ll think twice now about recruiting at my alma mater, where hate speech may be allowed a platform by the administration but will never be tolerated by the student body. Here’s a big fuck you from the descendants of people who survived genocides by killing Nazis and people just like them.
As far as I know, Milo never hurt anybody, and hasn’t called for any genocides.
Here’s another op-ed on Milo, this time by Neil Lawrence, a former columnist for the newspaper. Called “Black bloc did what campus should have.” (“Black bloc” is anarchist group supposedly behind the protests.) According to Lawrence, he was censored when he criticized Milo (what probably happened is that people simply gave him verbal pushback), and since he and others failed to get Berkeley to rescind Milo’s invitation, the violence was justified:
To those who defend free speech: I spent a semester in this very newspaper yelling about Grindr hookups and advocating rioting. My constitutional right to be outrageous and offensive in the press is very precious to me. But when I exercised my freedom of speech and called Yiannopoulos a pathetic motherfucker with ugly roots, many liberals told me I should be quiet and ignore him, and all his fans told me they were going to kill me. I expect this will happen again.
If Lawrence received credible death threats, he should have reported them to the police. Oh, I forgot, the police are instruments of violence. Anyway, given that Lawrence didn’t succeed in shutting Milo down, this whiny brat said that violence was the only recourse they had:
To those who hate Yiannopoulos and the alt-right but have a hard time condoning black bloc tactics and property damage, I understand that these tactics are extreme. But when you consider everything that activists already tried — when mass call-ins, faculty and student objections, letter-writing campaigns, numerous op-eds (including mine), union grievances and peaceful demonstrations don’t work, when the nonviolent tactics have been exhausted — what is left?
Of all the objections and cancellation requests presented to the administration, local government and local police, the only one that was listened to was the sound of shattering glass.
. . . Antifa was there to protect UC Berkeley students when the administration was not. Within 15 minutes of the bloc’s arrival on Sproul Plaza, Yiannopoulos was being rushed from the building. These were not acts of violence.
They were acts of self defense.
And to Yiannopoulos and all your friends who invited you and hosted you and defended your “right” to speak: I recommend you learn your lesson.
Yeah, the lesson being: shut up or we’ll get violent. People like Lawrence have learned their lesson well from extremist Muslims.
But wait! There’s still another editorial, this one by Desmond Meagley (“a reporter and illustrator for Youth Radio”), called “Condemning protestors same as condoning hate speech.” Really?? Well, he doesn’t mean condemning all the protestors, which I don’t do, for I condemn only the violent ones. But Meagley means “condemning the violent protestors”, which he sees as equivalent to condoning hate speech. And even if speech really is hateful, like calling for individuals to be oppressed or for ethnic groups to be marginalized, free speech means that it must be “condoned” in the sense of “allowing it to occur.” That doesn’t mean “agreeing with it”, something that Meagley apparently doesn’t realize.
Meagley’s aim was the same as Lawrences: to shut Milo up. And violence was the only way to do it: a simultaneous denigration of free speech and a call for its suppression by destruction of bodies and property:
There was no easy way to shut down the event and keep Yiannopoulos and his fans from inciting violence. The UC administration and Berkeley College Republicans made that clear by refusing to hear the concerns of their community — not just at Cal, but throughout the Bay Area.
. . . The black bloc is not an organization with an agenda. It’s a strategic approach to protest that, in the case of the entire “Dangerous Faggot” tour, was highly effective. The violence that forms the foundation of Yiannopoulos’ ideology is far worse than any tactic the black bloc uses. You don’t have to like property damage, but understand that without it, Yiannopoulos would have released private and sensitive information about innocent students and encouraged assault against them.
. . . If you condemn the actions that shut down Yiannopoulos’ literal hate speech, you condone his presence, his actions and his ideas; you care more about broken windows than broken bodies.
Let us be clear. Milo Yiannopoulos did not encourage violence towards students. Releasing public information about students that isn’t intended to incite such violence is not against the law. And condemning violence is not condoning Milo’s views; it’s condoning his right to speak.
The recurring theme throughout all these letters, which I abhor, is that “hate speech” (defined as “speech you don’t like”) is identical to hurting someone physically, or damaging their property, and therefore it’s okay to preempt that speech by using violence.
The problem, as always, is that one person’s hate speech is another person’s justifiable criticism (viz., criticism of some of the tenets of Islam), and who is to be the arbiter of what speech is okay? Free speech doesn’t need defense when the speaker says something everyone likes; when we must defend it is at the very moment it causes offense. I’d be curious to know whether people like Meagley and Lawrence think the murders of the Charlo Hebdo writers and artists were justified to forestall future “hate speech” against Islam. For it’s certain that many Muslims are even more angry about Charlie Hebdo than Meagley and Lawrence are about Milo.
Finally, we have Josh Hardman, a Berkeley student, saying again that violence was necessary to shut up Milo; his op-ed is “Plurality of tactics contributed to cancellation of Milo Yainnopoulos event.” Hardman echoes the others in saying that hate speech isn’t free speech:
Yiannopoulos and his supporters have a track record of actively targeting people in their hate speech, and the ideology they peddle perpetuates ideas that urgently endanger members of our community. In short: The principle of freedom of speech should not be extended to envelop freedom of hate speech, for the unchecked normalization of hate speech will have real consequences. Dirks [the Chancellor of Berkeley] acknowledged the virulent nature of the language and ideas the speaker espoused and the ability for this to incite harm, but ultimately failed to take action.
. . . The key question now remains: Was the “violence” Wednesday night justified? I am of the opinion that it was the plurality of tactics employed Wednesday evening that contributed to the success of the cancellation of the talk. I merely wish to offer some thoughts in hope of reframing the dominant narrative. I urge you to consider whether damaging the windows of places like banks and the Amazon student store constitutes “violence” — and, if so, what weight this “violence” carries in the context of the symbolic, structural and actual violence that is proposed, condoned and actioned by the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and his supporters.
These people have no fricking idea what violence really is. Hurting people’s feelings is not the same as hurting people’s bodies, or damaging their property. If you think it is, then tell me how much offense to one’s feelings constitutes “violence”. That’s a judgment call, and nobody has the right to make that judgement. In contrast, laying hands on someone is illegal no matter whether you push them or kill them (the penalties of course will differ). And property damage is property damage, and illegal.
What’s telling about Hardman’s piece is that he cites Martin Luther King, Jr. as a justification for this violence, despite the fact that King always called for nonviolent protest. He realized, unlike these benighted juveniles, that you effect moral change more readily by protesting peacefully, even if you have to break the law to do so.
It is patronising and privileged for UC Berkeley students to claim ownership over UC Berkeley and its affairs. We have no right to exclude others from this process. Poignantly — given that the locus of the resistance was the Martin Luther King Jr. building — King himself was a critic of this smear, arguing that we cannot “afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea,” adding that “anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” King’s comments attest to the longevity of the term and also highlights the need for our movements to be inclusive of a plurality of experiences and tactics.
Translation: Because Martin Luther King considered all US citizens responsible for ending segregation, then all people offended by Milo have a right to riot (i.e., practice the euphemistic “plurality of tactics”).
If Hardman wants some real education beyond his kneejerk and ill-considered views, perhaps he should remember that Martin Luther King’s activist organization is called “The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change,” and should read the King Center’s “Six Principles of Nonviolence” as well as its “Six Steps of Nonviolent Social Change.”