On the surface, it’s another story of the campus PC police killing a Milo Yiannopoulos speaking event only to see him come back stronger than ever like some kind of gay Jesus. But let’s look a little closer.
In the aftermath of the riots that damaged businesses and campus buildings, injured several people, and ultimately forced the cancelation of Milo’s talk at U.C. Berkeley on Monday night, President Donald J. Trump—perhaps following the lead of a Fox News segment—threatened to strip Berkeley of its federal funding, which amounts to around $370 million each year.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump posted from his Twitter account at 6:13 a.m., apparently having nothing better to do.
His tweet, however, made two assumptions that are blatantly false.
First, Berkeley made no attempt to restrict free speech.
In fact, the university’s administrators proved so committed to free speech that they agreed to host the Milo talk despite the risk of violence and property destruction that plagued other campus events featuring the self-proclaimed “Dangerous Faggot” at UC David, DePaul University, and the University of Washington.
Rather than cave to pressure from protestors who demanded the event be cancelled, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks wrote in a letter to the campus community that the “U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory.”
In other words: protest, condemn, scream your head off, but whether we like it or not, we must let him have his say.
Berkeley even went so far as to expend considerable resources to protect Yiannopoulos, providing a security escort and three lines of zip-tied metal fencing. Yiannopoulos has publicly accused DePaul’s administration of instructing security not to defend him, but surely no such criticism is possible in this case.
Second, Berkeley did not practice violence against anyone except the protestors who were violently threatening Milo’s First Amendment rights.
By all accounts, Berkeley’s campus police fought hard to defend the free speech of a frost-tipped firebrand with the creepily Freudian habit of calling President Trump “Daddy.” Though they made no arrests, the officers still defended their barricades and even fired pepper balls into the unruly crowd.
According to the Berkeley News, the violence that occurred was perpetrated by “a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest” by around 1,500 Berkeley students.
These anarchist agitators, according to a Berkeley alumni blog, “tend to be in high supply in our little neck of the woods.”
SFGate managed to secure a hard-hitting interview with one of them, who called himself Zombie:
“The cops shot me with pepper balls,” said the 26-year-old man… “It hurt.” Carrying a thick black shield and wearing a milk-soaked kerchief over his face to protect against potential tear gas, Zombie said, “We’re anarchists.”
Mr. President, UC Berkeley is not the enemy of free speech in this situation. The enemy is Zombie, the 26-year-old, basement-dwelling, neck-bearded, West-Coast whackjob who wouldn’t shut up about Nietzsche in high school and likes breaking stuff today. If you want to cut someone’s federal aid, cancel Zombie’s unemployment checks.
The true First Amendment hero here, far more than Milo himself, is Chancellor Dirks. Saying offensive things is easy. What’s hard is actively defending someone else’s right to say them.