More from Lewis and Clark College, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Bari Weiss

Just an update about the attempted deplatforming (and disruption) of Christina Hoff Sommers when she spoke at Lewis and Clark College Law School this Monday (see my report, and videos, here). First, the University administration has neither apologized to Sommers nor taken any action to discipline the students who disrupted her talk. (That might come, but I doubt it.) They have not answered my emails, sent to both the college President and the college’s Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, who was at Sommers’s talk and asked her to cut it short so she could take questions from the students (the talk was, of course, getting long because of the student disruptions, which security made no attempt to stop). Those emails asked if the students would be disciplined and why security wasn’t called (you can see them at the first link).

Further, as Sommers noted, the disruptors of her talk were actually students at the law school; campus security (which apparently was there to check IDs but not stop disruptions), limited attendance to the law students:

These are laws students who don’t understand the First Amendment.

Finally, and this is the salt in the wound, the ACLU, through one of its officers,apparently endorsed the deplatforming of Sommers. The ACLU is, of course, the American Civil Liberties Union, a group with a long history of defending civil rights and free speech. (They helped me pro bono when I and four others, in a class action lawsuit, took Nixon and the U.S. government to court for drafting conscientious objectors illegally in 1972. We won, and out of gratitude I volunteered for the ACLU for a while.) In 1977, the ACLU, in fact, defended the right of the American Nazi Party to march through Skokie, Illinois, a largely Jewish suburb of Chicago. They won. They’ve also defended the free speech of many other unsavory characters.

How far they’ve moved! Mat dos Santos, the legal director of the ACLU of Oregon, apparently approved of the letter from a consortium of student groups asking for Sommers’s invitation to Lewis and Clark to be rescinded. Or, at least, he retweeted the letter from those groups, which I believe constitutes approval in this case:

Here’s the original letter in the tweet passed on by dos Santos.

Let’s hope the ACLU of Oregon disavows Santos’s stand against free speech; in a rare move, I actually tweeted that AT THEM!

As for Sommers being called a “fascist,” which is palpably ridiculous, read Bari Weiss’s column on the debasement of terms like “fascist” and “Nazis” by the Authoritarian Left:

An excerpt:

By tossing people like Mary Beard and Christina Hoff Sommers into the slop bucket with the likes of Richard Spencer, they are attempting to place their reasonable ideas firmly outside the mainstream. They are trying to make criticism of identity politics, radical Islam and third-wave feminism, among various other subjects, verboten. For even the most minor transgressions, as in the case of Professor Beard, people are turned radioactive.

There are consequences to all this “fascism” — and not just the reputational damage to those who are smeared, though there is surely that.

The main effect is that these endless accusations of “fascism” or “misogyny” or “alt-right” dull the effects of the words themselves. As they are stripped of meaning, they strip us of our sharpness — of our ability to react forcefully to real fascists and misogynists or members of the alt-right.

For a case study in how this numbing of the political senses works, look no further than Mitt Romney and John McCain. They were roundly denounced as right-wing extremists. Then Donald Trump came along and the words meant to warn us against him had already been rendered hollow.

Orwell warned that the English language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He added, however, that “the process is reversible.”

Will true liberals do what it takes to reverse it? We can only hope so, because the battle against genuine authoritarian threats needs to be waged consistently, credibly and persuasively. For that to happen, words need to mean something. Calling women like Christina Hoff Sommers and Mary Beard fascists and racists only helps the other side.

And yes, I know that Weiss linked to a fake Twitter account in her original column, but that doesn’t invalidate her argument. I’m also aware that she’s been accused of hypocristy—for trying to censor professors when she was at Columbia. For a defense of her actions there (she didn’t censor anyone), read this piece written by a former president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

Because Weiss says things about the Authoritarian Left that they don’t like, they hate her, and are doing everything they can to ruin her reputation—except answer her arguments. Nevertheless, she persists!


  1. Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Not the ACLU! Damn. “Et tu Brute”?

  2. glen1davidson
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Unless Mat dos Santos knew that the demonstrators planned to disrupt the speech, I don’t see what’s wrong with his call to join the demonstrators. If he’d let her speak, but demonstrate against her, OK, that’s free speech on both sides.

    What we need to know is his response to the disruptions.

    For what it’s worth, Steverson said that she expected some discipline against at least some of those preventing free speech. It may not be worth much, I don’t know, but I can see how discipline might take some time.

    This is a strange line: These are laws students who don’t understand the First Amendment. I can’t really figure out where it was going, but it could be deleted or changed to say what was desired.

    Glen Davidson

    • glen1davidson
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I should have read the letter that dos Santos tweeted and appears to have tacitly approved of it.

      Right, it’s scary that the legal director of of the ACLU of Oregon would do such a thing. If he’d just called for protest, that would be one thing. Including the letter without disapproving of the call to ban free speech on campus means he’s with the censors.

      Yes, we don’t need the watchdogs who are supposed to keep the censors from censoring turning on free speech itself.

      Glen Davidson

    • John Dentinger
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      I re-read the line several times, and I think it’s a typo for ‘law,’ which makes perfect sense.

      • glen1davidson
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that works fine.

  3. David Hammer
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Orwell said that “fascism” was simply a swear word, a way of denoting what the speaker disliked.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      The operative phrase here is….

      “battle against genuine authoritarian threats needs to be waged consistently, credibly and persuasively. For that to happen, words need to mean something.

      The abuse of language, whether it is the grammar mistakes in the speeches of George Bush, or the word salad in the presentations of Deepak Chopra or Sarah Palin, or the propaganda literature of Scientology all serve the purpose of sewing confused thinking. A basic tool of propaganda is redefining words to the advantage of the propagandist. It’s all doublespeak.

      The most overused word on the political right is “treason”.

      The Men’s Rights movement is not unreasonable. For example, the notion that child custody laws discriminate against men is arguable.

      Calling Christina Hoff Sommers a fascist is like McCarthy calling Harry Truman a Communist. It is really depressing that college Lefties are doing this.

    • Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      It´s the same with “neoliberalism”. Nevertheless, neoliberalism is a phenomenon. Neoliberals exist. Fascists and fascism exist. There are fascists in the US. Not everyone called “fascist” is a fascist, but the criticized imprecision doesn´t mean that nobody is, it doesn´t mean that there is no real and true fascism.

      • David Hammer
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Of course you’re right. Fascism is real, white supremacy is real, neoliberalism is real, and there actually are self-hating Jews. Perhaps there really are shit-heads. But when these terms are used by activists, they are best viewed as swear-words, designed to insult and intimidate their adversaries, and energize their allies. And they work.

        • Posted March 11, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          One of the points is: not every activist uses those terms in that fashion.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Bari Weiss is exactly right – I include in the list of words “white supremacist”.

  5. Bruce Thiel
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    We live in the Lewis & Clark neighborhood and I called the President to complain about their censorship of Ms Summers and my intention to also complain to the trustees. I was told that the event was not reported fairly by the media and that a statement was sent to the trustees outlining what actually happened and the college’s position, which they sent to me via email:
    “Dear Mr. Thiel,

    Thank you for your call of concern regarding the speaker who was interrupted during her presentation at the law school on Monday. My assistant shared with me that you are a neighbor of Cooley House and called to protest the lack of expulsion of the students involved in disrupting the speaker. As you know, incidents like this have been happening at many institutions, and it’s not easy to determine how best to deal with them, without escalating tensions.

    Below is a summary of what actually happened, which was somewhat less dramatic than some of the media have presented. In particular, some media coverage reported that our dean of diversity unplugged the AV system before the speaker was finished. In fact, what she unplugged was the amplifier brought in by the student protesters, and took it out of the room (much to their consternation).

    Here’s how things unfolded on Monday, March 5.

    That afternoon our student chapter of the Federalist Society hosted a talk by Christina Hoff Sommers. While a number of other student groups objected to her appearance at the school, the event took place on schedule.
    Although a few student protesters interrupted the beginning of her speech, Ms. Sommers did present her views and engaged in a vigorous question-and-answer session with students afterwards.
    At the beginning of Ms. Sommers’ talk, the associate dean of faculty reminded students that they should not disrupt the event. Some students protested silently but, when Ms. Sommers began to speak, a few students interrupted her and attempted to drown her out. Lewis & Clark’s dean of diversity and inclusion persuaded protesting students to wait for a Q&A period to promote an orderly discussion. She also asked Ms. Sommers if she would shorten her speech to allow for student questions, and Ms. Sommers agreed.
    The video that you may have seen online or on broadcast news presents only the disrupted few minutes of an event that lasted for a full hour.
    We do not condone the intentional efforts by even a few students to prevent this speaker from communicating her views to the vast majority of students who were willing to hear and debate them. The law school is taking appropriate disciplinary actions in accordance with school policies.

    Critical thinking and discourse are integral to the mission of Lewis & Clark Law School. We seek to welcome speakers who represent a variety of views, with the goal of stimulating discussions and expanding our views on important legal and social issues. Addressing ideas head-on, with reason and evidence, is what we do.

    We are an educational institution, and we will use this event as a learning opportunity for our students and our administration.


    Wim Wiewel”

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

      According to Ms. Sommers, she never got to develop the points she wanted to make, nor come close to finishing her speech, because the Dean of Diversity and Inclusion (I can’t believe we have such ridiculous positions at colleges across the west now. The titles sound positively Orwellian, perhaps because they are) demanded she cut it short. So, rather than quelling the disruptive students, it was the speaker who was forced to abridge the remarks she was invited to deliver, thus robbing her of that right and the right of the students to hear those remarks.

      • Doug
        Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        “The titles sound positively Orwellian.”

        I was going to say Gilbert & Sullivan.

        • BJ
          Posted March 10, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

          I am the very model of a modern Dean of diversity,

          I’ve information neurotypical, sexual, and racial,

          I know females historical, and quote gender categoricals,

          From Bell Hooks to Jezebel, under oppression patriarchal.

          I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters intersectional,

          I understand equations of oppression so hierarchical,

          About queer theory always I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,

          With many dour “facts” from no-name journals so abstruse.

      • Posted March 10, 2018 at 4:40 am | Permalink

        That’s a weaselly answer given that Sommers was asked to keep her speech short, and protestors stood with signs during, as I think, the whole talk. No apology to Sommers for making her truncate her talks, and no explanation of why they didn’t use security to stop the demonstration.

        I’m dubious about whether the protestors will be punished, but I’d be delighted if Bruce would inquire later to see if in fact they were.

        Thanks for the report; my own emails didn’t get answered.

  6. Posted March 9, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Just FYI, I think Bari Weiss is on Bill Maher’s show tonight.

  7. Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    As an exercise of free speech and political incorrectness (relative to this blog), I link this:

    I think that we -all of us- need to think more…

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Every one of the three points he decided to address was a complete straw man. Let’s go through them:

      1. Bari Weiss didn’t write 800 words in the New York Times because of this one incident, she wrote the editorial because incidents like this one and far worse — incidents where people were completely stopped from speaking, often at public universities, and sometimes with violence — have been happening again and again, across the country, for years now. For the author to act as if this is not the case is entirely disingenuous.

      2. Nobody in this argument is claiming that students and others don’t have the right to express opposition to speech from those they find disagreeable. What people are arguing is that so many students seem to think others shouldn’t be allowed to speak, and this is a problem indicative of a great disrespect for and stance against freedom of speech itself. People are also arguing that those who don’t think others deserve to speak should not actively sabotage speaker’s ability to deliver their speech when they finally do show up.

      3. “Also, if you don’t wan’t to be mischaracterized as a ‘fascist’ it would be helpful not to actively promote social movements that are saturated with fascists.”
      I think this quote from the author speaks for itself. It doesn’t get more intellectually dishonest than claiming someone either deserves or, at least, shouldn’t complain when they’re labeled a fascist because a single one of their views also happens to be held by some bad people. If what the author says here is true, the author shouldn’t be surprised when he’s called Maoist, and it would be helpful if he didn’t actively promote a social movement associated with methods Maoist regularly used.

      Then, in the author’s update, he links to and quotes the risible, entirely dishonest attempt by a writer at the Splinter to purposely misrepresent the events at Lewis and Clark, and use arguments that actually have zero relevance to the case at hand and the claims being made by his opponents.

  8. KP
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I follow Bari Weiss on Twitter. The backlash she’s gotten for what has been relatively tame criticism of the authoritarian left has been completely disproportionate. I don’t think I’ve seen another writer inspire so much rage for what would have been considered pretty benign opinions on identity politics and over-zealous protesting just a few years ago.

  9. Posted March 9, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Ok, my comments;

    I agree that some “free speech” is not a First Amendment issue; the latter only applies to government.

    But, I think that a properly invited speaker should be allowed to speak; after all, the audience goes (voluntarily) to hear their ideas. I am capable of judging for myself if the ideas have validity or not; I do not need nutters of any stripe to determine what I am allowed to listen to.

    Of course, we are free to urge a group to NOT invite a speaker (“hey don’t invite Behe, he is a crackpot!”); not all speech has intellectual value. But once invited, the speaker should not be interrupted.

  10. pablo
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Yesterday I messaged the ACLU on their Facebook page and asked if this represented a change in policy from their previous defense of the 1st Amendment. So far I’ve only received a generic automated response.

  11. Richard Sanderson
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m not completely aware of Weiss’ background, but the New Racists* seem to have it in for her, just as they do with other Jews, inc. Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, etc.

    These ‘New Racists’ include:

    ** W*******
    Glen Greenwald
    Dan Arel
    Sacha “Seminal Work” Saeen
    Johnny “Israel Lobby” Spooner
    Peter “Humanisticus” Ferguson
    Steve Shives
    Kristi Winters
    PZ Myers
    Andy Kindler
    Talib Kweli
    “Thomas Swords”
    “Tom Bloke”
    Phil Torres

    …and a bunch of other regressive antisemites.

    They all really hate “centrists”, “free speech warriors”, ex-Muslims, Muslim progressives, and Jews, in particular.

  12. yazikus
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    For a case study in how this numbing of the political senses works, look no further than Mitt Romney and John McCain. They were roundly denounced as right-wing extremists.

    I consider Romney to have been an extreme right candidate. Does she think he was not? Only in comparison to Trump does he seem more palatable.

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      How was Mitt Romney further right than other modern Republican Presidents?

      • yazikus
        Posted March 10, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        *cough*modern Republican presidents*cough*
        That is sort of the problem. The latest batch have been pretty extreme. Bush I was far less extreme, from social to economic issues. Romeny’s ‘Let Them Eat Bootstraps’ campaign was hardly centrist.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      Yes, remember the context is modern American standards. Alas!

  13. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    The “sliming” of Bari Weiss? Unfortunate headline. She’s slim enough! 🙂 I never could get a handle on when to double a consonant before changing the trailing “e” of a verb to “ing” or when just adding “ing” to a verb ending in a consonant.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      While to me, I’d have tended to use the double “m” for the body morph. Something about trailing “e’s” making the previous vowel long, so that when you drop them, um….

  14. Jake Sevins
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    The ACLU stands with Linda Sarsour (they tweeted that a few months ago). Sarsour is a regressive sharia-loving violence-embracing anti-woman anti-semite.

    Now they oppose free speech for certain individuals?

    I stopped donating a while ago because of these new stands they’ve taken.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

      Jeez, that’s awful.

  15. ladyatheist
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Technically, it’s not a first amendment issue when it’s a private forum at a private school, but they could at least respect the legal concept of hearing out both points of view before making a decision.

  16. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 9, 2018 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    The ACLU has evolved. In the Skokie case, it defended the right of Nazis to demonstrate and parade. In the present case, the Portland ACLU is opposed to allowing speech by a speaker who deviates from the party line on “systemic oppression by male supremacy”.
    I suppose this evolution could be called a form of “progress”, because the people behind it all self-identify as “Progressives”, especially the National Lawyers Guilders

    This brings us to a subject discussed previously: are these individuals “liberals”? The answer, of course, is that they are Progressives with a capital P, RATHER than mere liberals: what they yearn for is Progress with a capital P to an exalted level like that of the 1948 Progressive Party, and its enthusiasms of that time.

    • BJ
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      It’s strange. In many ways, the people who have taken over the label “progressive” have much in common with reactionaries. They often implicitly and even explicitly advocate for segregation and ghettoization; they wish to curtail certain rights rather than expand them; they wish to institute race and gender-based laws, thus repealing by effect equality under the law. Many hallmarks of a free and democratic society are intolerable to such people.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 9, 2018 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

      Well, perhaps there’s a silver lining–maybe now we can reclaim & rehabilitate the word “liberal.”

  17. Craw
    Posted March 10, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink


  18. Ty Gardner
    Posted March 10, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering how people feel about the issue of deplatforming and how it might relate to Steve Bannon, given his recent speech in France. I find, and always have found, Bannon odious. I’m not a fan of deplatforming. However, and my position is likely colored by my employment at a community college without significant financial resources, I would be furious if any school resources, including any additional security or janitorial expenditures were used to support a Bannon visit to our campus. To me its all about the money, because it is limited. Any invite would have to ensure that all expenses were covered by outside sources or I’d consider it malfeasance.

    • Posted March 12, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      This is one reason why I said all the inviting – by student clubs, by faculty associations, by academic units to a department colloquium series has to be *absolutely above board*. Or the consequences go beyond merely hypocrisy – they can be, as you point out, quite damaging in other ways.

  19. Posted March 11, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I think that Mary Beard is a fascist, because of her blaming the USA for the Sept. 11 attacks. Of course, this does not justify silencing her.

    • David Hammer
      Posted March 11, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Mary Beard didn’t blame the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks. She wrote a very short note for the London Review of Books a few weeks after 9/11, which included the observation that some people she knew said that the US “had it coming.” This was certainly infuriating, and led a number of people to cancel their subscriptions, but it was not really a contention that the US was responsible for the attacks.

      Anyway, even had she blamed the US, why would that make her a fascist (unless of course you’re using fascist in the meaningless way we’ve been discussing).

      • Posted March 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Because this meant / would mean being against a multi-party democracy and justifying violent attempts to replace such a democracy with something else.

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