New UC Berkeley Chancellor and new Berkeley mayor clash over “Free Speech Week”

August 29, 2017 • 12:00 pm

As I predicted, things are shaping up for a big confrontation at the University of California at Berkeley between three invited speakers on the one hand and on the other Antifa-inspired protestors who, I suspect, are going to create a melee when those speakers show up. As I mentioned recently, groups at the University have invited three Demons of the Right—Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ben Shapiro—to give talks this fall. At least one of those, Yiannopoulos’s, will take place during “Free Speech Week”, September 24-27.

New UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ made a statement emphasizing the importance of free speech at her school, even if that speech is offensive, and pointedly said that anyone committing violent acts “would be held accountable for it.” Good for her.  But I suspect that violence is indeed in the offing—not from the speakers themselves or their supporters, but from the Antifa thugs and their running dogs who will turn out to disrupt matters, and, in all likelihood, run amok, breaking windows and destroying property. One reason to think this will happen is the violence and attacks perpetrated by the anti-fascist groups two days ago, when an alt-right demonstration was canceled, but the hepped-up Antifa types still attacked the occasional Trump supporter and even some journalists.

What to do? Well, a police presence is necessary (though Antifa equates the cops with the Klan), and protestors should at all costs remain peaceful and not try to “shut down” the speakers, attack anyone, or destroy property. But that’s not gonna happen with Antifa around, many of whom aren’t Berkeley students but anarchists from the Bay area. They want violence and have no respect for private property. So, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Berkeley’s new left-wing mayor, Jesse Arreguin, has urged the University to cancel Free Speech week to forestall the violence.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin urged UC Berkeley on Monday to cancel conservatives’ plans for a Free Speech Week next month to avoid making the city the center of more violent unrest.

“I don’t want Berkeley being used as a punching bag,” said Arreguin, whose city has been the site of several showdowns this year between, on the one hand, the left and its fringe anarchist wing, and on the other, supporters of President Trump who at times have included white nationalists.

“I am concerned about these groups using large protests to create mayhem,” Arreguin said. “It’s something we have seen in Oakland and in Berkeley.”

By “these groups”, Arreguin certainly means the antifascists and anarchists, as evidenced by his further statements:

“I’m very concerned about Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter and some of these other right-wing speakers coming to the Berkeley campus, because it’s just a target for black bloc [“black bloc refers to Antifa and the black clothing they wear] to come out and commit mayhem on the Berkeley campus and have that potentially spill out on the street,” Arreguin said, referring to militants who have also been called anti-fascists or antifa.

The anti-Yiannopoulos protesters inflicted $100,000 worth of damage to the school’s student union in February before taking to the streets of Berkeley, where several businesses’ windows were smashed. Arreguin said inviting the former Breitbart News editor and other right-wing speakers was setting up a possible repeat of that destruction.

And here’s the inevitable free-speech buttery:

“I obviously believe in freedom of speech, but there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety,” the mayor said. “That is where we have to really be very careful — that while protecting people’s free-speech rights, we are not putting our citizens in a potentially dangerous situation and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing the windows of businesses.”

Okay, let’s step back and see what’s going on here. Are Yiannopoulos, Shapiro, and Coulter going to encourage violence? I strongly doubt it, as none of them have done that before, and Ben Shapiro abhors violence. The violence is coming from the protestors and Antifa (granted, there are likely to be peaceful protestors, too), and those are the people causing the trouble. You simply can’t blame speakers for violence that is done by people who are simply offended at a speech—a speech that does not call for violence. Those who will be to blame—and should be arrested—are those who are unable to protest peacefully, and begin going on the rampage. Certainly Yiannopoulos and Coulter are provocative (I find Shapiro less so: he’s a strong conservative but has actual arguments to engage with rather than craziness and ad hominem blather), but many speakers are provocative. The courts have long agreed that even speakers calling for violence, but not imminent violence, are protected by the First Amendment, but the speeches by these three aren’t going to do that.

No, the responsibility lies with violent anti-fascists. The Left should, as a group, decry the violence they commit unilaterally, for their actions do nothing to further our cause; indeed, they damage it severely. What’s surprising to me is that some purportedly progressive bloggers are actually urging on the violence, and approving the new trope of “punching Nazis.” If we’re to get power back, and raise our standing in the eyes of Americans, we must absolutely abjure violence. An attack by Antifa during Free Speech Week will signal to everyone that the Left doesn’t really want free speech.

We are now in the curious position of having to issue anti-speech against those who share many of our political views and who themselves are issuing anti-speech (or rather, anti-speech in the form of violence).

And Mayor Arreguin should know better.

h/t: jj, cesar

58 thoughts on “New UC Berkeley Chancellor and new Berkeley mayor clash over “Free Speech Week”

  1. How do we influence those who are ‘itching for a fight’, so to speak? I’m guessing (though I can’t be sure) that most of the antifa activists are quite young. They are angry. How do we channel all that energy into a prosocial action?

      1. Little boys like to fight each other: in play, in sports, in rival gangs, in wars. There’s no stopping them.

    1. I suggest the hammer and bell game which can be ratcheted up as they get more angry.
      There is also one for intelligence, different format (for under 5yo)but i can’t see that surviving an evening. Levity aside.
      I don’t envy the Berkeley Chancellor, mayor, the police. It is a local problem, keeping the peace but i am sure there would be an anti riot plan to handle it.
      How about meeting with the antagonist and get them to set up boundaries they can be held too, naive maybe, but you might get an idea what they have in mind. Inclusion might diminish some of the angst.
      With the wider implications to freedom of speech and democracy i say uphold the right and let the leviathan do it’s job.
      Also historically, it is not difficult to see to some individuals, communities the cost has been high, do you stop now?

  2. Taking a guess at what the mayor is thinking, it seems his position is predictable. What’s the upside for the mayor of a successful, non-violent Free Speech Week and three alt-right speeches? Not much compared to the downside of violence in his city and, possibly, getting a black eye for some mistake in his response or that of his police force.

    1. The upside is the support of democracy and the First Amendment. Unfortunately, that’s apparently not an upside in Berkeley, but someone who holds the office of mayor — especially in a town that was once known for its support of free speech — you shouldn’t be so pathetically gutless when it comes to upholding one of the most important and fundamental ideals of this country. You do what you need to do to uphold free speech because the costs of not doing so are far higher.

          1. I think it’s just totalitarianism coming from antifa. I doubt anything would be particularly organized or run on time with them in charge 😛

  3. Unfortunately, it is not obvious to all that if the mere threat of intimidation to shut down speech results in in a speaker being canceled then democracy is threatened. The good mayor needs to realize that the maintenance of democracy comes at cost and Berkeley needs to bear it in this instance.

    1. This is the sort of gutlessness (on the mayor’s part) that gets rolled into the “anything but a democrat” bundling of issues on the Trump/religious right.

      You can bet that a lot of the people supporting the Arpaio pardon aren’t all that concerned with immigration. What they *would* like to see are a bunch of spoiled-child vandals roasting in the sun in their pink prison underwear.

    2. Much of the cost will be borne by the city’s tax payers. Ask them what they think. And since the Cal Berkeley campus police force will be the first line of defense this will also cost the university a considerable sum. To what purpose? So that the campus Republican Club can
      have speakers tell them what they already believe? The purpose of the speakers is nothing more than the creation of the chaos that is sure to occur when they speak so that the demonstrators will look bad and they themselves emerge as heroes. Is all this really “defending free speech?”

      1. While it is true the taxpayers will bear the cost, isn’t the fault with those that make the police necessary? If we had real free speech, where the most one could expect is booing or heated discourse, there would be no cost to the citizens.

      2. Yes, there will be costs to bear. Allowing intimidation to work is far worse. The last thing a free society needs is for the intimidators to realize that they can get their way by simply hinting that violence could ensue if the speaker is allowed to appear. Intimidation will lead to more intimidation and you can kiss democracy goodbye. The Nazis found that intimidation was a good tool in bringing down the Weimar Republic.

      3. To what purpose?

        To defend the fundamental principles of a liberal democracy!

        Do you really want a society where mobs can prevent anyone speaking just by threatening violence? (See Pakistan and their blasphemy laws for how that turns out.)

      4. One purpose would be to allow the Berkeley students who attend the speaches to hear first hand what the message is from the right so they can decide for themselves to support or resist that thought. Interfering with speech not only takes away the right of the speaker to speak but it takes away the right of the audience to hear. My guess is that if the speaches are allowed, most of the audience will reject the message. It is Berkeley afterall, smarter than the average bear.

        1. I’d go even farther. The students need to hear educated commentary and debate on, and from, both sides. Let the best ideas (or at least the best-defended ideas) win!

      5. There is far more than monetary costs associated with not allowing clubs to have speakers come to campus because they are not left-wing (or even just not of the regressive left, as the deplatforming of many plain old leftists has taught us). It’s a cost the entire country bears, and one that continually builds as you allow more such censorship.

        The speech of the Republican and conservative clubs on a public campus is protected by the First Amendment (the same is true of taxpayer money to defend the rights of all people to protest for any issues they want). If you think mere money from a school whose own students force it to spend on their own violence is too much cost to uphold freedom of speech, then you need to readjust your weighing of the costs associated with each course of action.

      6. Some people also protested at how much it cost the taxpayers to protect the likes of Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. If only these pesky authors had just shut up.

    3. If the local police refuse to protect citizens exercising their constitutional rights, then the governor should call out the national guard. And if he refuses, Trump should pull an Ike and send in the 101st Airborne.

      1. Little Rock 1957? That’d work, back then the FBI and the feds were ultimately able to break the backs of the Klan and the segregationists. I’m thinking that it should be done sooner before Antifa resorts to bombing and assassination

  4. … I suspect that violence is indeed in the offing …

    I dunno. It’s when violence erupts unexpectedly that it tends to get out of hand. When it’s expected, the authorities usually mount a sufficient show of force to dissuade all but the most foolhardy.

  5. Agree 100%, except maybe the last sentence. It seems likely that the mayor is simply looking out for people’s safety. I can understand his concern if violence may in fact be inevitable. This has nothing to do with whether the violence is justifiable or not. What exactly is Jesse Arreguin supposed to “know better”? Do we assume the police will be able to keep things under control and arrest the culprits, without endangering speakers or peaceful protesters?

    1. Yes, lets ask the small business owners of Berkeley who are likely to receive damage what they think. Or even the peaceful citizens of Berkeley, how much to they want to pay for all the riot police that will be necessary? You know, all the people that the Mayor actually works for. Two choices seem to be, either call the whole thing off or insure you have overwhelming force to handle the demonstrations that will happen.

      Do all the folks sitting behind their computer screens at a nice safe distance, that say free speech at any cost, want to pay for that cost. Let’s just send them the bill.

      1. Better still, how about we send the bill to those that cause violence. You want to break windows, you pay to repair them.

        1. Trouble is, unless you arrest each and every one of the hoodlums who show up to do damage, where do you send the bill? Those who do the damage and destruction rarely pay for anything. That is what we call freedom to do damage and not pay…it is the American way.

          1. That’s why you arrest them. The courts can fine them and the shop owners can sue them. Id you’re caught and don’t want to pay the entire bill, roll on the other thugs.

            Consequences for you actions is a valuable lesson they haven’t learned.

      2. I see: “land of the free and home of the brave” was meant ironically.

        Actually, I do see your point and I think, for that reason, free speech week will be cancelled, but it will be a sad day for democracy when it is.

  6. “Running dogs”… nice reference to a favorite phrase of Chairman Mao during the “cultural revolution” days… a campaign which looks a lot like today’s ctrl-left/antifa/blm campaign to take offense and demand self-criticism from those who find themselves a tad on the impure side of the current extreme politically correct dogma.

  7. Violence should not be tolerated. There should be a very strong, enhanced, police presence at these talks. Can the National Guard play a role? Violent actors should be escorted out as fast as they raise a fist. Also, it might not be a bad idea to keep an eye on people as they arrive. Especially if they dress in black. I don’t mean preventive arrest, just to know where to allocate troops.

    1. The national guard is controlled by the Governor, so the Mayor would have to ask Brown for that support. This all falls right into the plans of our dear leader Trump, the crazy Russian ally. He wants to cancel Obama’s orders to not let the police have all the surplus military gear. Trump will give it to them. Maybe they can get some tanks as well.

      1. Ha! That’s all we need. A tank in Mayberry. Barney gets to drive it, but he’s only allowed one round of ammo.

      2. Trump today repealed the Obama ban on the transfer of military equipment to domestic police departments. These people agitating for a government crackdown on “hate speech” are about to get it, as Mencken once quipped, “good and hard.” I can’t understand how they can’t see that.

      3. I haven’t yet seen much planning by Trump. But even if he has plans, then if the folly of Antifa falls right into his plans, I do not think it is his fault.

  8. As I write this, Michael Krasny at KQED FM is interviewing Mark Bray on his “Forum” program. Bray wrote “The Anti-Fascist Handbook.” The interview hasn’t yet been posted to podcast, but soon will be. Here’s a link to the website for those interested

    This from yesterday about the protests in the Bay Area has been posted

    1. Indeed, I heard some of it as I was doing errands.
      If I understood Bray correctly, he was (as opposed to, he was saying that antifa was) advocating that “self defence” against the alt-reich included the right to punch a Nazi – the alt-reich’s speech is equivalent to a physical assault and therefore I may physically assault back. Even worse, it is “self defence” to shut down the expression of alt-reich views. A very dangerous position to take.
      Last night’s TV news also included comments from some of the counter-demonstrators at Berkeley at the weekend. There’s no doubt that the speakers considered alt-reich speech as the equivalent of physical assault able to be responded to by actual physical assault.
      The thugs on the left are becoming more dangerous than the agitators on the alt-reich, at least in California where you can’t bring a gun to a rally.
      If UCBerkeley does let Milo Yiannopoulos speak (as I think they should, though I despise what he represents), they had better assemble a lot more than the 400 officers the city of Berkeley had on hand last weekend, or they will have to do as they actually did and just pull back.

      1. Whenever I hear the idea that expressing certain ideas to certain people is a physical assault, it makes me so mad I want to hit someone. But I won’t.

      2. And, I forgot to mention, the costs to third parties – like the costs to shopkeepers to replace broken windows – are OK, because when they’re high enough, civil authorities will shut down alt-reich speech to avoid having people incur these costs. The ends justify the means.

        1. The costs are already high enough. The city of Berkeley has no control over what UC Berkeley does or does not do and has to suffer the consequences of UCB’s high minded policies. At the same time UCB continues to buy up more and more private properties within the city limits which narrows the tax base and reduces the resources the city has to pay for maintaining everyday functions.

          1. The city has to suffer the consequences of having too many Antifa thugs around. They are to blame for the costs, not the “high-minded policies” of UC Berkeley that would be considered normal just several years ago.

      3. “If I understood Bray correctly, he was (as opposed to, he was saying that antifa was) advocating that ‘self defence’ against the alt-reich included the right to punch a Nazi – the alt-reich’s speech is equivalent to a physical assault and therefore I may physically assault back. Even worse, it is ‘self defence’ to shut down the expression of alt-reich views. A very dangerous position to take.”

        We all knew this was coming. It was half the point of redefining all kinds of speech these people don’t like as “violence” (the other half being that they could claim they are literally under physical attack when their feelings are hurt and that any offensive speech makes everybody unsafe).

  9. “I obviously believe in freedom of speech, but there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety,” the mayor said.

    If you aren’t willing to defend freedom of speech, there is no public safety, there is just tyranny. Pick a side.

    1. And of course the speech itself poses no threat to anyone.
      The mayor doesn’t want the speech and he is willing to use mob rule to shut it down.

      1. “The mayor doesn’t want the speech and he is willing to use mob rule to shut it down.”
        I don’t think so. I’ve heard him on TV – he is concerned that: (a) there may be real violence, by which I mean people getting seriously hurt, and (b) there will be expensive damage to the property of the city or citizens of Berkeley, that (c) he does not have/cannot get enough police to control or prevent. These are not unreasonable concerns for a mayor to have; and I would not say that he was willing to use mob rule to shut down people like Milo for his expressing those concerns.
        Antifa and its allies are, right now anyway, simply a group that is prepared to say to the country “free speech for me, but not for you if you disagree with me.”
        How does civil society respond to that?

  10. Let’s be honest: when it comes to violence against speakers and their supporters on college campuses, it’s not just antifa, but plenty of other regressive leftists as well. As with Middlebury, Evergreen, and Berkeley before (as well as several others), there has been plenty of violent tendencies from regressive leftists without antifa’s help.

    I just hope UC Berkeley’s chancellor continues to stand up to these entitled tyrannical thugs. It can’t be easy, but she needs to do what’s right.

    No surprise that the mayor of Berkeley is not supporting the free speech of people who don’t come from the left. I have a feeling he probably believes what he’s saying, but if he doesn’t, he’s saying it because it’s politically expedient considering his position and where he holds it.

  11. While Ann Coulter has never called for imminent violence, she has certainly called for violence although some people think it is tongue in cheek.

    Quotes from Ann Coulter:
    “When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors.”
    And in 2012 followed by
    Do you regret saying that?
    Ann Coulter::
    Only that I didn’t say it loud enough and in a large enough public forum. And when I said we should “execute” John Walker Lindh, I mis-spoke. What I meant to say was “We should burn John Walker Lindh alive and televise it on prime-time network TV”. My apologies for any misunderstanding that might have occurred.

    “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.” later qualified:
    Of course I regret it. I should have added, “after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.”

    “I wouldn’t kill an abortionist myself, but I wouldn’t want to impose my moral values on others.”

    And Jerry Coyne in his “New Republic” riposte to AC noted her having said “I defy any of my coreligionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell”

    1. Then, let the Antifa folks say that they want Coulter executed, exploded, burning in hell, anything.
      (By the way, I find nothing wrong with wanting John Walker Lindh executed. He is a citizen of a country having death penalty for grave crimes, and he committed treason.)

  12. I feel for the people of Berkeley who may well be caught (literally?) in the crossfire on this one … people will resent taxes going up, roads being closed, etc. No easy answers, though I do agree with the free speech principles here.

Leave a Reply