When on Wednesday February 1st, the Alt-Right provocateur, Breitbart editor and professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a speech at UC Berkeley, invited by the Berkeley College Republicans, the university administration proved that it — wittingly or unwittingly — defends the establishment rather than the ideals of freedom, tolerance and inclusion.
Under the guise of free speech, in a twisted reversal of rhetoric, the Alt-Right seeks to represent itself as a repressed minority with the right to express its views under the First Amendment.
This is the position the UC Berkeley administration took to justify Yiannopoulos’s visit:
“The concerns around the upcoming visit of a controversial speaker to campus make it necessary for us to reaffirm our collective commitment to two fundamental principles for our campus. The first of these principles is the right to free expression, enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution […]. The second of these principles has to do with our values of tolerance, inclusion and diversity […],” said Chancellor Dirks.
Never mind that:
“Yiannopoulos’ deplorable views pass from protected free speech to incitement, harassment and defamation once they publicly target individuals in his audience or on campus, creating conditions for concrete harm and actually harming students through defamatory and harassing actions.”
If the university seeks to promote “tolerance, inclusion and diversity,” it is ironic that it does so by giving a platform to a speaker who uses “incitement, harassment and defamation.”
“We have never seen this on the Berkeley campus,” said the assistant vice chancellor Dan Mogulof.
“Our campus has never experienced what it went through on Wednesday,” said the UCPD Chief at Berkeley.
Hm, let’s see: a few “broken windows, sprayed paint, and a burnt spot on the asphalt the size of a folding table.”
This is nothing compared to what the Berkeley campus saw “more than 40 years ago in 1969,” when Governor Reagan brutally cracked down on UC Berkeley student protestors over “People’s Park,” an unused plot of land owned by the university, which the student community had peacefully turned into a park by its own labor.
Reagan sent military forces that occupied the city of Berkeley for a month.
The climax of Reagan’s crackdown:
So, the UC Berkeley campus has never seen anything like this?
It appears that when violence is used by the apparatus of repression it is normalized and does not count as violence. In contrast, a few smoke bombs, flares and the breaking of some windows, highly dramatized by the media, have the whole nation up in arms.
Outraged, Governor Reagan threatened to cut federal funds from the UC system:
And he did. As stated in the article “The Educational Legacy of Ronald Reagan:”
Once elected, Mr. Reagan set the educational tone for his administration by:
a. calling for an end to free tuition for state college and university students,
b. annually demanding 20% across-the-board cuts in higher education funding,
c. repeatedly slashing construction funds for state campuses
d. engineering the firing of Clark Kerr, the popular President of the University of California, and
e. declaring that the state “should not subsidize intellectual curiosity,”
Luckily, things have changed since 1969.
With California being the largest Democratic state in the country, the university administration can afford to take a stand against Washington (as did UC President Janet Napolitano recently). Unfortunately, this does not seem to have reached the ears of the UC Berkeley administration, who allowed a platform for hate speech either out of misguided gullibility or for other — more sinister? — reasons.
“We are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance,” said Chancellor Dirks. “In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”
Let’s not mince words here: Hate speech does not appear to be intolerant. Hate speech is intolerant.
By defending this so-called “free speech,” the UC Berkeley administration is either incredibly naïve, or simply re-enacting its historical ties to the establishment.
Therefore it pays to look back at how the Free Speech Movement originated:
In the 1960’s, UC Berkeley was considered a “knowledge factory,” directly linking its graduates to (government) industry.
Within this “knowledge factory,” there was hardly any room for diversity or individuality among the students.
Students, and other groups among the nation, reacted to this oppressive apparatus.
Thus arose the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, a movement aimed at promoting Civil Rights, equality and non-discrimination.
Let’s repeat: the Free Speech movement arose to promote Civil Rights, equality and non-discrimination.
The university administration, being on the side of the establishment, decided to ban all political action from campus.
When the Civil Rights activists were not allowed to have their information table on the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph, they moved to Sather Gate.
The irony? On the day of the Yiannopoulos event, the Berkeley College Republicans ostensibly set up their stand right by Sather Gate.
We need to stop confusing free speech with hate speech, allowing intolerance and repression to gain a platform through a twisted reversal of rhetoric — least of all at institutions of higher education.
In the words of one of the Free Speech founders Mario Savio:
“No restrictions on the content of speech, save those provided by the Courts.”
As Elliot Sperber points out:
“Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, and the other white nationalists of Breitbart and the so-called alt right, may claim to respect free speech; […]. However, consistent with their generally dishonest rhetoric, this is not the case.
Little more than opportunistic pretense, their claim to respect the First Amendment is just part of their act […]. Rather than genuine political speech, Yiannopoulos et al typically voice a blend of falsehoods, insults, provocations, and conspiracy theories that amounts to something like group slander and libel. And slander and libel, as everyone knows, IS NOT PROTECTED SPEECH.”
But, more importantly, as Savio emphasizes:
“We’ve finally gotten into a position where we have to consider being responsible. Because, now, we have the freedom within which to be RESPONSIBLE.”
As one of the recent Berkeley protesters writes:
“I showed up [to the protest] not because I am scared of words or ideas, but because I want to create conditions that make it hard for far-Right and fascist groups in the area to organize as they often do at Milo’s tour stops.”
Let’s stop beating around the bush!
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