Free speech is becoming expensive. Having the wrong opinions according to a mob can result in slander, threats, and in some cases being in physical/financial danger. The irony is that the forces who use those tools generally do so to silence opposition.
There was no better example of this than the Berkeley riots that were targeting an event by conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, which itself led to additional “Antifa” (unironic shorthand for “anti-fascist”) protests in Berkeley that resulted in a counter-protester taking a bike lock to the face (May, 2017), and became known as the “Battle of Berkeley” (David, 2017). In the space of a month, Berkeley had become known as a “battleground for free speech” (Bailey, 2017)
That there is even a “battle for free speech” in this age is embarrassing, but not surprising. We have seen a progressively desperate and violent group of political activists who have no tolerance for opposing viewpoints, and will go to any lengths necessary to silence them. From the bizarre protests during President Trump’s inauguration, to the violence in Berkeley, to the threats and intimidation against those with incorrect opinions online; we have seen a new and somewhat terrifying front open in the fight over free speech.
But this isn’t limited to merely political speech. Those of (certain) faiths have also found themselves as targets. Religious freedom, one of the foundations of our country, has also come under incredible attack (ironically using the Constitution, specifically a badly misinterpreted concept of “separation of church and state.”
However, those looking to defend free speech, those looking to work around groups like antifa, have become extremely powerful in their own right. They have become very effective at getting antifa protesters unmasked (as seen during the bike lock incident), and finding holes in their tactics. Additionally, people like Milo have self-published entire books that have gone on to become bestsellers (and, frankly, essential reading on this topic). People like Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad) have produced incredible videos on everything from Antifa’s failings, to their post-Berkely tactics (Thinkery, 2017).
This week, the Midnight Run looks at the overall battle for free speech. We’ll look at some of the groups involved, the people opposing them, and will look at the future of free speech in this country. We will examine the First Amendment, and the quickly-changing definition of hate speech.
The Run will zero in on the work of Antifa, as they are the principal group that seems hellbent on silencing their opposition through threats and (more often) violence.
Point-blank: We will look at why those seeking to censor, oppress, and silence free speech are doomed to fail.
1.) Berkeley: Baseline. If there is one event that can be said to have been a true flashpoint in this fight, it would be the riots that came after Milo’s speech at University of California Berkeley. Milo had looked to speak at Berkeley back in February, but ended up cancelling amid riots that led to $100,000 in damage, and even a trump supporter being pepper sprayed (Park, 2017). It is worth noting that Milo had already said he would return to Berkeley (Wan 2017) within days of the protests. Milo would, weeks later, see a podcast clip of him discussing pedophiles “leaked” to the media. The clip initially set off a ton of outrage, but it had eventually A.) been traced to Evan McMullan, a failed 2016 Presidential candidate who has been struggling for relevance since his disastrous campaign, and B.) completely out-of-context.
Milo handled the backlash relatively well, although it had cost him his job at Breitbart among other things. The events became framed as an effort to silence a controversial speaker on one hand, and a former Presidential candidate with an axe to grind and a ruined reputation on the other. On February 21st, Milo announced that he intended to self-publish, continue to speak at colleges, and essentially attempt to embarrass those who had attempted to sink him (Breitbart News, 2017).
A few months later, Ann Coulter, another conservative speaker, was slated to appear at Berkeley. Threats of protests, among other things, eventually led to the University cancelling her appearance. The cancellation was met with almost universal criticism, even from people who vehemently disagreed with Coulter’s politics (Moran, 2017).. This hit a remarkable apex when HBO host Bill Maher, a frequent critic of Coulter, referred to the backlash to and the cancellation of Coulter’s speech as “the liberals’ version of book burning” (Baragona, 2017).
2.) Berkeley: Aftermath. However, the protests are running into considerable consequences for the participants, and have even led to some of them being publicly identified and charged with assault. It was following the events of Berkeley, and the stunning number of antifa protestors who managed to get arrested, when Sargon of Akkad posted an excellent piece on how the group was adjusting their tactics and also mocking their need for leadership while “still being anarchist” (Thinkery, 2017).
Additionally, one of the people who had been involved in the protests, Eric Clanton, was identified by users of the popular forum 4chan and was arrested in May on felony assault charges after throwing a bike lock at a counter-protester (Fraley, 2017). This opened a new avenue in countering violent protesters intent on silencing their opposition, by providing an example of the very real consequences of attacking the wrong person during the protest.
So far as I can tell, the majority of the protests around the area abated soon afterwards. (Which doesn’t speak too well to the protesters convictions, either. Breaking stuff apparently being a ton of fun until you get felony charges.) Though whether it will stay that way when either Coluter or Milo return remains to be seen.
3.) Wisconsin. We need legislation to tell people that A.) speech that offends them isn’t hate speech and B.) other people have a right to different opinions. That says a lot more than it should, doesn’t it?
Anyway, while we consider how many steps backward that represents, let’s talk about the legislation itself. Ib Wisconsin, we have legislation that would expel virtually any student, faculty, or staff that aims to disrupt or prevent speeches. (Morse, 2017)
There isn’t much more to say on that, but it is worth noting that we are finally starting to see people stand up to protests and what the ACLU has called the “heckler’s veto” (Rowland, 2017).
Combined with the resistance we have seen from the likes of Sargon, Milo, and others; we are seeing a remarkably fast collapse of Antifa’s and others’ attempts to silence opposition.
4.) Hate Speech. As if that wasn’t enough, we now have a SCOTUS ruling saying that the First Amendment does not exclude what some regard as “hate speech” (which is itself a term with a very fast-changing definition). What’s more, it was a rare unanimous decision, across both the left and right of the Court. The case is Matal v. Tam, and revolved around an Asian-American band called “The Slants.” The Trademark Office said they could not trademark the name as it was “disparaging.” (Keeping in mind that the band was fully aware of what the name meant.)
On a semi-related topic, Reason Magazine has an excellent video on the subject called “5 Cliches Used to Attack Free Speech” that is well worth your time and highlights a ton of convenient efforts to try to stiffle speech one person or another doesn’t like, but isn’t illegal….yet (Gillespie 2017).
5.) Bottom Line. Antifa and similar groups expect their targets to back away and essentially silence themselves out of fear. If that doesn’t happen, there is simply nothing else that can be done. As Antifa’s tactics become more drastic, but fail to silence anybody (Milo has gone self-published, and is looking at returning to Berkeley), their tactics continue to look progressively more desperate.
Additionally, they are giving their opponents exactly what they are trying to prevent them from getting: exposure. The Free Speech Movement has been able to both unify groups as disparate as the ACLU and Daily Wire, and expose the cult-like groupthink behind their opponents. (There is perhaps no better example of this than the hell caught by Laci Green after news emerged of her relationship to anti-SJW YouTuber Chris Ray Gun (“Feminist”, 2017).)
But all of this has made one thing very clear: the value of free speech. People on both sides of the political spectrum have found out, and quite quickly, how fragile the ability to speak one’s mind actually is. What this has triggered (no pun intended) is an incredible movement centered on people fighting not to prove the other side wrong, but rather to allow the other side to speak (regardless of how one side views the other). Far from being able to enact whatever agenda they had in mind, antifa and similar groups are now facing a united front that they weren’t expecting and have no possible counter to.
The grand irony of those looking to stamp out free speech is that they prove, time and again, through their words and actions, that they need their opponents to shut up, as they have no rational opposition, clearly have no interest in debate, and are unable to defend their position outside of violence and slander.
It is fitting that even the anti-free speech groups are fully aware that they have nothing to say in the first place. And it is that lack of worthwhile beliefs (that even they’re keenly aware of), combined with their utter desperation, that will doom them.
Next week, we update Lethal Ignorance from last year. We update new developments in CPR training, first aid standards, and we take a look at physical fitness standards in this country (such as they are).
Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.
Bailey, Chelsea. “How Berkeley Became a New Battleground for Free Speech.” NBCNews.com. April 22, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2017. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/how-berkeley-became-new-battleground-free-speech-n749536.
Baragona , Justin. “‘The Liberals’ Version of Book Burning’: Bill Maher Goes Off on Berkeley Over Coulter Backlash.” Mediaite. April 22, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2017. http://www.mediaite.com/tv/the-liberals-version-of-book-burning-maher-goes-off-on-berkeley-over-coulter-backlash/.
Breitbart News. “FULL REMARKS: MILO Delivers Speech at Press Conference Amid Video Scandal.” Breitbart. February 21, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2017. http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2017/02/21/full-remarks-milo-delivers-speech-press-conference-amid-video-scandal/.
“Feminist Laci Green, popular internet host, harassed over relationship with controversial YouTuber.” The New York Times. June 08, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2017. http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2017/06/08/feminist-laci-green-popular-internet-host-harassed-after-announcing-relationship-with-controversial-youtuber/.
Fraley, Malaika. “Former professor suspected in Berkeley bike-lock attack enters plea in Oakland court.” The Mercury News. May 29, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2017. http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/05/26/professor-suspected-in-berkeley-bike-lock-attack-arraigned-in-oakland-court/.
French, David. “The Battle of Berkeley.” National Review. April 17, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2017. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/446810/berkeley-riot-leftist-mob-violence-undermines-rule-law.
May, Patrick. “Furor over alleged anti-Trump bike-lock attacker goes viral.” The Mercury News. May 27, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2017. http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/05/26/furor-over-anti-trump-bike-lock-attacker-goes-viral/.
Moran, Rick. “Even Some Prominent Liberals Voice Support for Coulter Speech at Berkeley.” PJ Media. April 22, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2017. https://pjmedia.com/trending/2017/04/22/even-some-liberals-voice-support-for-coulter-speech-at-berkeley/.
Morse, Brandon. “New GOP bill would punish students or faculty who interfere with free speech.” TheBlaze. April 27, 2017. Accessed July 13, 2017. http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/04/27/new-gop-bill-would-punish-students-or-faculty-who-interfere-with-free-speech/.
Park, Madison, and Kyung Lah. “Berkeley protests of Yiannopoulos caused $100,000 in damage.” CNN. February 02, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/us/milo-yiannopoulos-berkeley/index.html.
Rowland, Lee. “We All Need to Defend Speech We Hate.” American Civil Liberties Union. April 25, 2017. Accessed July 13, 2017. https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/we-all-need-defend-speech-we-hate.
Shapiro, Ben. “GOOD: Supreme Court Unanimously States That ‘Hate Speech’ Is Still Free Speech.” Daily Wire. June 19, 2017. Accessed July 13, 2017. http://www.dailywire.com/news/17690/good-supreme-court-unanimously-states-hate-speech-ben-shapiro.
Thinkery, The,. “Antifa’s Battle Tactics’. YouTube video, 24:18. Posted April 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBrmgPVP-_8
Gillespie, Nick, and Todd Krainin. “5 Clichés Used to Attack Free Speech.” Reason.com. June 16, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2017. http://reason.com/reasontv/2017/06/16/five-cliches-attack-free-speech.
Wan, William. “Milo’s appearance at Berkeley led to riots. He vows to return this fall for a week-long free-speech event.” The Washington Post. April 26, 2017. Accessed July 12, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/04/26/milos-appearance-at-berkeley-led-to-riots-he-vows-to-return-this-fall-for-a-week-long-free-speech-event/?utm_term=.fcda1e80f12f.
Volokh, Eugene. “Opinion | Supreme Court unanimously reaffirms: There is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment.” The Washington Post. June 19, 2017. Accessed July 14, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/19/supreme-court-unanimously-reaffirms-there-is-no-hate-speech-exception-to-the-first-amendment/?utm_term=.a7129d1fcb9a