Two controversies concerning so-called “free speech” are currently circulating in right-of-center circles.
On Saturday, white nationalist Richard Spencer was removed from the Washington, D.C., hotel where the International Students For Liberty Conference (ISFLC) was taking place, after a number of attendees, most notably Jeffrey Tucker, publicly reprimanded him for his racist beliefs. Today, infamous Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos was disinvited from speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) after a video made the rounds in which the provocateur defended pederasty.
The reaction to both events have generated predictably lazy outcries that the controversial speakers’ “free speech rights” have been violated. Had they been disinvited or removed from a public university, perhaps the outrage mob would have a point. But it’s important for libertarians and conservatives to also recognize private property rights when discussing such flare-ups.
In the case of Spencer, he was not an invited speaker or even a registered guest at ISFLC. Instead, he held an impromptu discussion in the hotel bar where the event was taking place. Certainly Spencer had the legal right to be there; it’s a private business that accepts customers off the street. However, given that Spencer was surrounded by dozens of other conference-goers, it was to be expected that tensions would flare.
Just as Spencer has the right to discuss his despicable views at a bar, so did the ISFLC conference-goers have the right to confront him about them. In matters of private property, it’s up to the business owners to decide who gets to stay or leave. In this instance, they decided to disperse the crowd and eject Spencer.
Nobody’s rights were violated. Indeed, given Spencer’s history as the victim of a physical attack, the ISFLC crowd should be commended for respecting the non-aggression principle.
The Yiannopoulos case is even more clear-cut. CPAC is a private conference with the right to invite and disinvite anyone they wish. It’s admittedly a sloppy move on their part to announce a speaker and then disinvite him within a few days. Nonetheless, a PR crisis is not the equivalent of denying First Amendment rights.
A deeper lesson can be drawn from the Yiannopoulos kerfuffle: in the dirty game of politics, libertarians and conservatives should be more conscious of whom they invite onstage in the first place.
ISFLC’s reputation would have been tarnished in the public eye had they actively brought in Spencer. The fact that they quickly denounced the neo-Nazi stands as a moral victory for the libertarian camp.
CPAC, on the other hand, made the mistake of inviting Milo without doing their research or consulting their board of directors. As a result, the conference’s already mixed reputation was dragged through the mud yet again.
CPAC’s slapdash organizing will doubtlessly empower Milo to paint himself as a victim and his supporters to scream, “Free speech!” The right should not be so careless in allowing trolls to disrespect the cherished institutions of private property and freedom of association. The best way to avoid controversy is to not invite it in the first place.