Free-speech suppression at the University of Wisconsin

June 8, 2019 • 10:30 am

Reader Gregory called my attention to this piece in the Washington Post (it may be paywalled for you, but judicious inquiry might yield a copy). Click on screenshot to read:

Now the University of Wisconsin campuses are public institutions, and are therefore covered by the First Amendment. But many people are calling for a suppression of free speech in this latest case, in which a student, during the campus celebration of Israel Independence Day, held up a sign that, says the Post, had a swastika and the word “Gas.”

Joel Berkowitz was outraged when a University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee student held a sign bearing a swastika and a hateful message directed at students celebrating Israel’s independence: “Gas,” the sign said.

In other words, the sign’s message was “Gas the Jews”.  In fact, the sign was considered so horrible that the picture accompanying the article, taken from a tweet, had the sign censored, even though there was no censorship in the original tweet from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Original tweet. Curiously, I don’t see the word “gas” on the sign, and it’s hard to make out what the other words are:

What’s in the Post article:

Crikey, did they really need to blot out the swastika and the message? The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a pro-Jewish organization, didn’t find it necessary!

At any rate, the students were outraged, as were faculty like Joel Berkowitz, who runs the school’s Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish studies.  Here are some quotes by Berkowitz and others about how this student should have been punished or even beaten up:

“They weren’t even denouncing a swastika in the middle of campus,” Berkowitz said in an interview. Yet Berkowitz, whose family includes Holocaust victims and survivors, acknowledged the difficulty honoring the principles of open discourse and respecting dissent that pushes the limits of decency. Shouldn’t limits be placed on speech so repugnant — gas the Jews — that it implies a threat of violence, he wonders?

“No one that I’m talking to is saying that we should ride roughshod over the First Amendment,” Berkowitz said. “But there are discussions about what are the limits of free speech. They are not absolute.”

Sadly for Dr. Berkowitz, this sign falls squarely within the limits of free speech as defined by American courts. Even if the sign did say “Gas the Jews”, that’s not an incitement to imminent violence against the Jews. For crying out loud, this lone moron is not going to inspire people to immediately run out and buy Zyklon B!

There’s more. The Provost issued a statement decrying the speech but asserting that the protest was legal. (I’m not even sure he should have given an opinion on the speech. While the sign is clearly odious and disgusting, what should a university say about less repugnant forms of “hate speech”?)

The May 6 incident on the Milwaukee campus began when students organized a rally marking Israel’s independence, and a student appeared with a sign showing a swastika. Calls for disciplinary action against the student, including expulsion, started soon after, and Mone issued his first statement the following day.

“Under the First Amendment, displaying offensive symbols, such as a swastika, to a general audience in a public space is protected akin to speech,” Mone wrote. “Nevertheless, please know that we emphatically renounce such hateful symbols and do not support or condone any viewpoint that is hurtful, harmful or disparaging.”

For some, the chancellor’s words made things worse. Mone apologized and acknowledged that his first statement had fallen short.

“Please know I have heard you and acknowledge my message did not fully capture or reflect how deeply saddened, frustrated and angry I am personally, as a member of this community, that anyone would inflict such pain and fear on our Panther family,” he wrote. “I strongly condemn the swastika and other messaging that it contained for what it is — hateful, anti- Semitic and an affront to our University’s values and dedication to inclusivity and diversity.”

His “clarification” smacks of bullying, as the first statement is fine—if you even require that the University express an ideological opinion. And of course even the later apology didn’t satisfy the mob, who wanted the student expelled, arrested, or even worse. They seem to have forgotten the ACLU’s defense, on First Amendment grounds, of the Nazis marching through the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois in 1977. The Supreme Court allowed the Nazi march to take place.

There’s more

[Provost] Mone declined to comment. Other university officials, citing privacy laws, wouldn’t say whether disciplinary action had been taken against the student. But as the controversy spread, students and members of the Jewish community criticized the university’s apparent lack of action.

“How evil! He should be arrested!” a commenter wrote on Artists 4 Israel’s Facebook page.

. . .Some responded with strong language of their own.

“Of course, there’s always an alternative resource that’s also available on and off-campus, which employs a blanket, three hefty individuals and a baseball bat,” read an article on, an online site for the largest weekly Jewish newspaper in the United States.

Jebus, and shades of Evergreen State! Not even milkshakes are enough for this miscreant. He should be wrapped in a blanket beaten up with a baseball bat!

Berkowitz wants a process established, even though there are already ample legal guidelines for what constitutes free speech (and this is free speech).

Berkowitz said the school’s response should include establishing a formal process to determine whether a university member should be penalized for hateful speech that shades toward a threat, as he believes occurred here.

“Just because you have the right to say something under the Constitution doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. There can be other kinds of policies in place,” Berkowitz said.

Oh yeah, Dr. Berkowitz? Like what?

Look, I’m an atheistic Jew, and generally more sympathetic towards Israel, and condemning of anti-Semitism, than many on the Left. But what happened with the anti-Semite above is simply his exercise of free speech. Seriously, does he pose an immediate threat to Jews? Of course not! He will be demonized and shunned on campus from now on, and deserves that opprobrium. This is one reason to have free speech: even when it’s repugnant, it allows you to identify those who are your enemies, and to counter them with your own speech.

In my view, the best thing to do would have been to ignore this guy. He wanted attention and he got it. If nobody commented on this, or made it a big deal, others like him would be less likely to sell their wares. If you want to stop actions like his, ignore it. He is not a threat to Jews.

The world is full of anti-Semites, and unless you think their speech deserves a response (this incident does not), you should ignore them. If you think that this kind of speech will lead to more anti-Semitism, then fight it with counter speech. But don’t try to punish those exercising their First Amendment rights. That is a slippery slope, and believe me, “hate speech” is a slippery slope.

This reminds me of part of Andrew Sullivan’s column in New York Magazine this week (click on screenshot):

I’m not referring to the title article, which is about immigration (and well worth reading), but about the nastiness of the Internet, and about Sullivan’s views on “hate speech” being banned or de-monitized on YouTube (Sullivan doesn’t like that). At the end of the second bit, Andrew says this (“Maza” is Vox producer Carlos Maza, who, tired of being called “faggot” and other homophobic names by the right-wing YouTuber Steve Crowder, launched a successful campaign to get Crowder and others demonitzed an/or blocked on YouTube):

It’s not fun to be called names. But as a cab driver once told me, “Butch it up, honey. It’s gonna be a tough decade.” I’ve been openly gay since 1987 and an openly HIV-positive writer and editor for 23 years. The sheer scale and ferocity of the hatred and abuse — from right to left — I have absorbed during that time is hard to describe. There was close to a decade at the Dish when I was emailed almost every day by someone saying I had AIDS dementia. I’ve been called every variety of “faggot” you can imagine, been assaulted in public by a political foe, been picketed, heckled, and am now routinely described as an anti-Semite, a white supremacist, a eugenicist, a misogynist, a transphobe, and just the other week was compared to Ernst Röhm, an actual gay Nazi. None of this is pleasant, and there are times, I confess, when it gets me down, as it is intended to. But the idea that I would go running to the big-tech muckety-mucks and try to get my verbal abusers punished or canceled for it? Not in a million years. I’m a grown man. This is a free country.

You need to learn how to ignore abuse in the public square; you need to live with the fact that people will lie about you; you have to set boundaries and stick to them. I don’t care about what people say about me as long as it isn’t true — and if it is true, and I’ve fucked up in some way, I’ve learned to be grateful for it, even if that takes a while. Maza is young, so maybe this desire to shut down other voices or run crying to the authorities because mere words hurt his feelings will wane. I sure hope so.

“I’m an adult. This is a free country.” Those are words worth remembering, especially for the outraged folks at the University of Wisconsin. Part of living in a free country is tolerating free speech and not crying to authorities when they host free speech that offends you.

h/t: Gregory, Simon

84 thoughts on “Free-speech suppression at the University of Wisconsin

  1. ““Of course, there’s always an alternative resource that’s also available on and off-campus, which employs a blanket, three hefty individuals and a baseball bat,” read an article on, an online site for the largest weekly Jewish newspaper in the United States.

    Jebus, and shades of Evergreen State! Not even milkshakes are enough for this miscreant. He should be wrapped in a blanket beaten up with a baseball bat!”

    Why ‘shades of Evergreen’? The comment about baseball bats was in a Jewish newspaper right? What does that have to do with the university itself, and why should it stain them? This feels like…narrative-creep.

    As far as I can see, many of the complaints about this incident have come from _outside_ the university, from Jewish organisations, from Jewish media, etc. I’m not sure why this is yet again framed as over-privileged students trying to get freedom of speech revoked.

    There will always be people complaining about free-speech laws. That’s the reason we need them in the first place. But AFAICT no-one approached this little prick with the sign. No-one hit him, no-one even got into a shouting match with him. And the university subsequently came out and reiterated its commitment to the legality of what he did. His right to tell people to ‘gas the Jews’ WAS protected, and given that that statement is pushing pretty close(pretty damn close) up against incitement to violence I think that’s an impressive example of the sturdiness of the law and of the university’s commitment to it.

    Again, I question why this is given such borderline apocalyptic treatment at WEIT.

    1. The comparison is to students at Evergreen who patrolled the campus with blunt instruments, threatening anyone who who didn’t agree with them with a beating. This incident wouldn’t have reached outside media if people on campus hadn’t publicized it, presumably students.

      1. threatening anyone who who didn’t agree with them with a beating.

        Quite sure this didn’t actually happen. I think the ‘shades of evergreen’ is now just a short-hand for ‘students behaving badly’ and ‘not understanding the 1st amendment’. Evergreen makes an easy target for criticism for a number of reasons, not all of which are legitimate, imo.

        1. I saw a video of bat-carrying vigilante students threaten another student who was writing slogans on a wall in chalk.

          1. I saw that video as well (or at least one very similar). It appeared to be a confrontation between some students – I wouldn’t go so far as to assume they were threatening anyone on campus who disagreed with them as the other poster stated. That said, I think we all know there were some students behaving badly, but roving bands of violent sjws beating up anyone with a diverging opinion is not something I’ve seen evidence of.

            1. They literally took a picture of themselves holding their bats and posing in (what they thought were) intimidating positions. The police chief of the school told the Weinsteins not to come to campus because there were students looking for them. Several students reported being followed by this group. At least one reported being physically assaulted outside the cafeteria.

              I’ve asked this many times, and you’ve never explained: what is your connection to Evergreen? Because, every time people talk about literal facts of what happened there, you always try to minimize or deny them, and I find it confusing because you’re otherwise usually reasonable.

              1. I’ll take your last bit as a compliment, BJ, because I do try to be reasonable. I don’t intend to deny or minimize facts, but I do think it is valuable to take statements like the one above and bring them back to reality a little bit.
                As for my connection, I live in the region, and know several faculty members from TESC. I also know a number of former students (the PNW tends to be a bit of a small world at times). I see the rhetoric about Evergreen from folks who haven’t been to the place or know anything more than what they’ve seen on the internet to not be the most accurate or reliable. So, I feel inclined to say something when people assert things I’ve not found to be true. I’ve met Bridges (when I lived in SE WA) and he was president of a much fancier, more expensive school (Whitman College), one I think people would not so readily malign even though the students are as likely to misbehave.
                Evergreen serves an important role in higher education in WA. They have a large number of veteran and non-traditional students who they accommodate very well. Also, I’m a sucker for WA state in general, and like what we try to do here. So when folks hope for Evergreen’s demise I don’t know that they realize the types of students that would hurt. I hope that explains a little bit.

              2. Yes, it definitely was a compliment! I understand being upset by rhetoric, and ploubere certainly did engage in that (what he/she said was, at the very least, and exaggeration of what happened). I hope we can agree on the facts of what happened, which is what I presented. Regardless, I appreciate the civil response and explanation.


            2. I also saw photos of them posing with bats and such. Perhaps it was all bluster, but the threat was still tangible.

              Beyond the grounds of Evergreen, we have seen plenty of antifa thuggery, most notoriously by adjunct college instructor, Eric “Bicycle Lock” Clanton.

      2. I understand the comparison, it just doesn’t make sense. Why compare the university of Wisconsin with Evergreen…because of a ‘baseball bats’ comment made in a Jewish newspaper, by someone with no apparent connection to the university itself?

        That specifically is what I was referring to.

    2. The comment above will explain the Evergreen allusion. It is not at all “narrative creep”. It is analogy, not an equivalence.

      As for the students, I went by this report “But as the controversy spread, students and members of the Jewish community criticized the university’s apparent lack of action.”


      Calm down, please. And you don’t get to tell me what to write about, or how I should write about it.

      1. I’m perfectly calm. And I have never told you what to write about, I have only ever expressed my opinion here. I’m aware of how you feel about people telling you what to write and I do my best to remain within the confines of the rules. I’m not going to remain schtum if I don’t agree though, and I don’t know how I can express myself any more politely and carefully than I have.

        Re. the Evergreen comparison, my reply to ‘ploubere’ explains precisely what I was referring.

  2. It is a pretty garbled message (other than the swastika). I didn’t see the word “gas” either, just “civil war” and some numbers. Who knows what his message is. Did anyone ask?

      1. In that case, it is perhaps surprising that the person who was so offended by the placard that they filmed it didn’t record and post the other side of the sign.

        1. No idea what point you’re trying to make. There’s an 11 second clip above and it doesn’t show the other side, so…what?

  3. The sign that is shown does not say “Gas the Jews”. It shows around the swastika:

    top left: 13% = 50%
    top right: 113 Coo???
    bottom left: 24%
    bottom right: Civil War

    It’s pretty bad when the newspaper fabricates their own spin, and hides it by censoring the picture.

    I have no idea what the sign means, probably nothing nice towards Jews, but my guess is that it equates Israel with the Third Reich. It looks to me that way, based on the sign (no apparent right-wing slogan), the appearance of the person and the environment. It’s highly unlikely to see a Nazi protesting openly at Campus and calling for genocide, however, leftist anti-colonial rhetoric is much more likely.

    1. I think the top right is “113 count”. Possibly a reference to the indictment count against the California synagogue shooter? Who knows?

      If one can’t deliver a clear message, even if it’s a hateful one, what’s the point?

    2. “leftist anti-colonial rhetoric is much more likely.” – this is what happens when you only read articles about how awful the left is. You immediately adopt your own narrative and dismiss details that don’t support it.

      BTW, it says ‘gas’ on the reverse of the sign, along with numerous (())) echoes, and the guy in question is quoted in the following article ranting about Jews and African Americans:

      1. Thanks for clearing this up. But you are mistaken in the first paragraph. 1) I am also of the left.
        2) Jerry reported of anti-semitism at campus a couple of times. 3) the report and the image did not match, which made me doubt their take, for the reasons I gave.

        1. Then you could have taken the sixty seconds I took to double check, instead of implying that the whole thing was made up and it was actually left-wingers who were responsible.

          1. Nobody said “the whole thing was made up”, I wrote: “The sign that is shown” didn’t include the phrase. I still believe it’s accurate that the Left has an anti-semitism problem, as much as the Far Right does.

            1. You said the newspaper “fabricates their own spin”. But they didn’t.

              I don’t agree(to put it mildly) about your implied equivalence between the far-right and far-left on the degree of their anti-semitism so I’ll leave it there. That’s a whole other issue.

              1. I admit that I was under the impression of a real news video I saw earlier, reporting on anti-semitism in Germany. They’re a left outlet, I generally like, but see the comments there from the audience. This is largely the impression I get from my left peers.

        2. What’s the difference if it comes from left, right, or center? The First Amendment protects all comers. We must suffer the slings and arrows of jerks and fools, if we are to have free speech, any of us.

    3. … leftist anti-colonial rhetoric is much more likely.

      That you’ve jumped to a conclusion unwarranted by the evidence available is even more likely.

  4. Just make another sign. Kissing Hitler on the lips may not kill you, but you’ll never smile again.

  5. I’m disappointed to see the Simon Wiesenthal Center call for the campus cops to get involved. What’s the fuzz supposed to do, arrest his ass for bigoted mopery?

  6. I have to agree with commenters 1 and 2 above. However, it is interesting that the Post article had to cover up the swastika in the picture, a slightly ridiculous example of the pearl-clutching prissiness behind much discussion of “hate speech”. A bit like those articles on the Danish Mohammed cartoons which primly avoid showing the cartoons themselves.
    I recently observed a related example of this sort of primness. In a discussion about homeless encampments, one poster committed the offense of referring to the campers as “gypsies”. He was taken to task for using that offending word, rather than the proper terms “Roma or Romani” (or even, I guess, the best approved PC usage of “Roma and Sinti”.)

  7. “Butch it up, honey. It’s gonna be a tough decade.”

    Words of wisdom, if ever such words there were.

  8. Mixed feelings. I think free speech on Youtube and free speech on campus are fairly different. Youtube is, as I understand it, a private entity with no particular intellectual tradition (as opposed to public universities, where free speech / thought is very much a tradition, or at least one that is aspired to) and so it more or less their prerogative if they want to limit what is said on their platform. You can’t, for example, go to a mall and go around screaming whatever you want – the mall has the right to protect their brand and their product by calling security.

    While I think having free speech at a nationwide level is a positive thing, I actually think it is counterproductive to earnest debate in most online arenas. It seems to me that you see the same dynamic play out over and over again in venues that are not moderated – they are overtaken relatively quickly by cabals of trolls who are either conspiracy theorists, zealots, or just get their jollies by bullying people anonymously. People who have something interesting to say or add get fed up and leave in response, thus decreasing the trolls to earnest commenters ratio, thus continuing the downward cycle of discourse. I don’t think people should be moderated everywhere on the internet, of course – if someone has their own platform, they have their right to free speech. But I understand specific companies wanting to avoid that dynamic and moderate content. That’s free speech within a free market, to my mind, and I believe in both.

    So, I think they dynamics of the internet and the dynamics of college campuses (where you have real groups of people interacting in real time, which is very different,) are quite different.

    1. The problem when it comes to Youtube, Facebook, and Google is that the largest internet social media and video platforms have become the de facto public forum, and this will only increase over the coming years. The vision of free speech is for all ideas to be expressed freely within the public forum, but nobody could have foreseen a revolutionary new technology completely transforming where and what that public forum was.

      Free speech no longer hinges on the ability to stand on a soapbox on the street corner or pass out pamphlets. The power of a company like Google to stamp out entire ideologies, viewpoints, political and corporate opponents, etc. is beyond anything we have seen (short of an actual federal government through the use of violence). If we don’t recognize that the public forum has shifted to the digital sphere and begin treating it that way, we will lose our right to free speech.

    2. And I agree that it’s mostly fruitless to have “debates” online, but that was never the core idea of free speech. Free speech has always been a sort of free market for ideas, rather than about debating them. The average person has never shown up to lecture halls to watch two people with differing views debate. The point of free speech is for anyone to have the power to express their speech and, hopefully, if enough people are expressing a good idea, the good idea wins out. They were never arguing one-on-one while everyone watched.

      We may debate ideas we’ve heard around the dinner table, or among friends, or on campus, but never in history did anyone except for .00001% of people actually stand in front of big crowds to have debates. That’s not really the point of having free speech, though it is a nice perk for people like me, who do enjoy going to lecture halls to hear intelligent and well-regarded opponents debate each other.

      1. I think one’s view of that is subjective – but again, I would liken it to a public space. Public spaces are generally either regulated or they are taken over by the most thuggish group around and they’re not places you want to be anymore.

        To your first comment, I think that speaks more to whether or not various tech companies have a monopoly. I think anti-trust issues are important and should be looked at when appropriate, but I have to say, I bristle when people use the argument (not saying you are as you haven’t gone into detail, but I’ve seen it,) that Youtube or Facebook are somehow ‘different’ because they’re more important and so the government should in some way shape or form either take them over directly or regulate them by insuring First Amendment Rights on those platforms. It bothers me that this generation seems quite eager to have the government intervene on their behalf and go in to seize someone’s business, in whole or part, when they can’t upload the videos they want. I think it’s worth remembering that, like free speech, that is it’s own very slippery slope – there are plenty of countries where the government will just seize your company if it becomes too big or too influential. They are not places you would want to live. In a democratic society with rule of law, the idea that the government protects what you’ve built is huge, and I find the attitude of the younger generation, which at times borders on “I want it, take it on my behalf” worrisome in that area.

        1. When I see public spaces in meatspace, I don’t see places dominated by “the most thuggish group.” And, when it comes to the internet, I would say the most thuggish group is the extreme left, which has managed to get companies to ramp up censorship and deplatforming of opponents. The extreme left (and the left in general) largely holds the institutional power on the internet (though the right may hold an edge in soft power, though this doesn’t seem to translate to any ability to fight back against the institutional power). Making the largest public forums on the internet and the companies that run them subject to the First Amendment and Constitution in general will decrease the use of thuggish tactics rather than increase them by allowing everyone a voice. No longer will people and an occasional media campaign be able to say “I don’t like what you have to say. Nice Youtube/Twitter/Facebook account you’ve got there. Shame if something happened to it…”

          I agree with you in principle regarding government regulation/intervention, but I’ve felt that antitrust laws have needed a comeback for many, many years, and long before it was about internet companies. I thought they needed to be brought to bear on many of the banks involved in the 2008 crisis (hell, if they had been before the crisis, it might never have happened!), and those banks only grew bigger. I don’t think it’s as easy to apply antitrust laws to a company like Facebook. With Google, you could use it regarding many of their various other business interests, but I don’t see how it can be used when it comes to the front-facing industries of social media and video content. Anyway, I think there’s a large difference between a discussion about antitust laws to be used against companies like Google for what they do on the back-end, and new government regulation for how content can and cannot be censored, removed, etc. on the biggest internet public forums. In many senses, I don’t see what one has to do with the other.

          The only way I see forward is to recognize the largest, most interconnecting (between human beings) places on the internet as the new public forum, or part of the new public forum, and apply the First Amendment to it. We should also be applying our Constitutional laws to internet service in general, seeing as how the internet has become entangled in everyday life beyond just the ability to communicate. Most people need the internet to work, socialize, and live. We already took a step in this direction when the Obama administration’s FCC adopted net neutrality laws (shockingly, considering the head of the FCC at the time and the interests aligned against it). These regulations were unfortunately repealed by the FCC in 2018, if I remember correctly.

          1. The only way I see forward is to recognize the largest, most interconnecting (between human beings) places on the internet as the new public forum, or part of the new public forum, and apply the First Amendment to it.

            This sounds like the “social media as public utility” theory that I recently read about. I have to say I’m not a fan. To be fair, I have expressed amazement at students who want censorship on campus, somehow thinking that implementing such a system will never come back to bite them (it will). So maybe I’m being inconsistent – but to my mind free market arenas are very different and have their own mechanisms for self-regulation. If an authority in the government or at a school bans a viewpoint, there is no real recourse. If Youtube bans a viewpoint, then either we find that we really are all pretty much happier with that viewpoint gone or, alternately, they create a market for it somewhere else, and eventually a new platform will pop up. The presumed endpoint is that people are then free to choose the type of environment they wish to interact in, which actually creates more platforms where people can comfortably communicate all around.

            Again, I am wary of this generation’s views on such things (although of course I realize this doesn’t apply to everyone or even a majority, as I don’t have information on that). On the one hand they tend to see authority as systematically oppressive and think it needs a complete overhaul from within; on the other they want to create a system wherein they rely on these same authorities to step in on their behalf and enforce the kinds of codes they feel are correct, be it for more free speech (Youtube) or less (universities). That’s sends an extremely mixed message, at best, and at worst is sounds disingenuous. If I thought someone was oppressing the *ell out of me, my first instinct would not be to go and ask that same person to regulate my life.

            1. I mean, we could have been having this conversation about telephones several decades ago. To me, this is the same debate, just a different mode of communication. If we wouldn’t apply these rules to telephone communication, we shouldn’t apply them to the newer form of communication.

              It is, in part, the public utility argument, and when the Obama administration adopted the Net Neutrality regulations, they basically classified the internet as a public utility. I agreed with them completely. Trump’s FCC decided to undo all of that.

              1. I’m talking specifically about social media as public utility, though, as opposed to internet access in general.

              2. Which makes sense, but I think that the philosophy of making the internet a public utility follows the same philosophy. And I still think the telephone analogy is an excellent one.

    3. I’ve not yet been given a convincing argument as to why people should always have the right to post anonymously wherever they want. A huge chunk of the hatred and enmity would dissipate if people had to post on YouTube using an account that tied them to their real identity.

      I’d be perfectly happy to see YT and other organisations require personal ID and real names before they were allowed to post and I’ve not found the counterarguments particularly persuasive. There could still be anonymous zones online, fora for people who wanted to post anonymously, but when you go on YouTube or Facebook or the Wapo comment section or serious places where you’re interacting with all kinds of different people then you do the bare minimum in taking responsibility and you tell us who you are.

      People instinctively bridle at this idea, and it’s not happening anytime soon, but I don’t really care. I’m utterly sick of people sat at keyboards with fifty different sockpuppet accounts spamming someone with racist death threats, and taking no responsibility whatsoever for what they write. If you say that stuff, own it.

      1. “I’ve not yet been given a convincing argument as to why people should always have the right to post anonymously wherever they want.”

        Two reasons, just off the top of my head:

        (1) If you feel, like me, that the internet is the de facto public forum now, nobody ever had to show their ID to speak on a street corner or go to a protest, etc.

        (2) Surveillance state. The internet is the biggest possible boon in history for the new surveillance state. Just as we don’t like the idea of cameras on every street corner tracking our every movement while identifying us through facial/gait/whatever recognition, we don’t like the idea of the government collecting data to form political profiles of every citizen who uses the internet. Imagine the enormous power that could be yielded ten years down the road if this was allowed to happen. What if we move increasing toward totalitarianism, and this system has already been in place for years? What happens when that new government decides to use those profiles against “political dissidents”?

      2. As an extension of (2): consider that, even in most of our current Western democracies, we are fast hurtling toward full surveillance states in meatspace. What happens when even an ostensibly democratic government starts using AI on these profiles to, say, try and predict people who are more likely to commit terrorism, or people who are more likely to be connected to groups that try and get refugees across the border illegally? The list could go on, but the point is that we’ll enter an era of pre-crime, where certain people are monitored with even greater scrutiny until there is enough evidence to bring them in for questioning, and that “evidence” need only be a consistent support for some views and activity on certain websites, rather than any direct evidence of crime.

        Give the state the power to know everything you do on the internet at all times, and their ability for surveillance will be increased to a level hitherto unknown and unimaginable, and it’s a snowball we will never be able to stop from rolling and getting bigger once it begins.

        1. 1. It’s not the equivalent of showing your ID on a street corner, it’s the equivalent of showing your face when you talk to someone, or at the very least grounding your comments in some form of real-world responsibility.

          And again, there would still be plenty of areas where you could talk anonymously, but the general ethical expectation with mainstream media organisations would be that commenters should be required to be who they say they are; that if you are going to send thousands of death threats to people you don’t like, tell them that you’re going to hang them or blow up their house, that those actions should have some kind of tangible effect beyond one of your fifty-plus sockpuppet accounts getting suspended.
          If you are a sockpuppeteer, and you don’t like those rules, then sorry but you don’t get to post on YT/tweet on twitter.

          2. We already have Facebook gathering data on us and our political affiliations. The fact that we’d have to put a real-world name to our comments in certain circumscribed situations doesn’t seem like much of an extension to the situation as it is.

          “Give the state the power to know everything you do on the internet at all times…”

          I was careful not to suggest anything like that. Besides, how would having your real name next to your comments on YouTube or Twitter be qualitatively different from having your real name next to your comments on Facebook?
          There would be more data for governments to collect than before – sure. That’s not ideal. But there’s no reason to think it’d tip society into civil war or authoritarianism.
          Whereas the poisonousness of online discourse, the absolute, total impunity to do and say whatever you want online without a lick of punitive reinforcement ever coming your way, actually _is_ an existential threat to the structure of society.

          I understand your caution, and I used to baulk at the idea, but the more I thought about it the less reasonable the objections became.

          At present people are able to follow others online and post them pictures of their children getting murdered or gassed to death, tell them they’re going to kill them soon and they know where they live – and those people never experience any kind of social stigma for doing so at all…that is utterly, utterly perverse, and no society in human history has had to deal with anything like it before. The freedom to behave that badly without consequence is something completely unprecedented – it’s socially unnatural.

          Something will have to be done about it I think. My proposal is pretty moderate in the scheme of things.

          1. “And again, there would still be plenty of areas where you could talk anonymously, but the general ethical expectation with mainstream media organisations would be that commenters should be required to be who they say they are; that if you are going to send thousands of death threats to people you don’t like, tell them that you’re going to hang them or blow up their house, that those actions should have some kind of tangible effect beyond one of your fifty-plus sockpuppet accounts getting suspended.”

            So, because .ooo1% of the population does something like this, we should screw everybody and vastly increase the surveillance state? That doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s the same argumentation used for the Patriot Act and other such nonsense.

            “It’s not the equivalent of showing your ID on a street corner, it’s the equivalent of showing your face when you talk to someone, or at the very least grounding your comments in some form of real-world responsibility.”

            People seeing your face is not anywhere close to being analogous to the situation of people (and the State) being able to forever connect every single comment you’ve ever made to you and your identity. I feel like you must know this. If you say the “wrong” thing just once, you could lose your job, your reputation, etc. Not to mention, again, the state surveillance.

            “We already have Facebook gathering data on us and our political affiliations. The fact that we’d have to put a real-world name to our comments in certain circumscribed situations doesn’t seem like much of an extension to the situation as it is.”

            Of course it’s an extension because it’s an extension from private corporations doing it to better make money through advertisement, to the State for who knows what. Furthermore, do you think Facebook, Google, etc. doing this is a good thing? Because it’s only going to get a hell of a lot worse. I think we should be regulating information collection and use, not expanding it further and also giving the State enornmous powers with it.

          2. “The freedom to behave that badly without consequence is something completely unprecedented – it’s socially unnatural.”

            Also, this is just plain not true. We have always understood that freedom comes with costs, often social ones. Freedom of movement and from surveillance comes with freedom for a very small portion of the population to do highly damaging and even fatal things. Unless you think something like the Patriot Act was a great idea because it may have stopped something somewhere, you live by the credo “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” That’s the crux of the issue: you want to give the State massive power to stop a handful of people from sending (almost exclusively) never acted-upon death threats. That’s insanity. You don’t give up that kind of power to stop a handful of bad actors. If we even argue about giving up that kind of power to stop freaking terrorism, we shouldn’t be talking about it for a handful of children and immature adults from sending ultimately physically harmless death threats.

            I have nothing more to say about this.

            1. I honestly don’t know where to start. The sheer amount of speciousness, point-missing and lazy mischaracterisation in those two posts would mean me writing another hour’s worth of a comment, and I think I was precise enough in my original posts.

      3. Also, who will be charged with ensuring that names are legitimate, and what will happen if they fail to meet that obligation?

        What entities will be subject to the regulation, too? Will every online game require “Keith Douglas” instead of “HuntaKilla” or some silly alias that is part of the fun of the game?

  9. His [Provost Mone’s] “clarification” smacks of bullying …

    I dunno; that’s a tough one. If Mone says nothing, he risks being seen as lending tacit support to the Nazi-symp. Maybe he merely should’ve made a statement of general disapprobation regarding bigoted speech.

    But it’s hard to remain a little bit pregnant on this sort of thing.

    1. He originally said this:

      “Nevertheless, please know that we emphatically renounce such hateful symbols and do not support or condone any viewpoint that is hurtful, harmful or disparaging.”

      Isn’t that enough? It wasn’t enough for some people, who forced him to make a second statement, and that need to apologize and clarify is that I objected to.

  10. Is this not simply a case of harassment? He spends hours making a nuisance of himself with an antisemitic sign in front of a group of jewish students. Surely they have a right not to be harassed by an antisemitic bigot. Should someone be able to parade in front of an African-american student group with signs displaying the N word?

    A university needs to permit free speech, but not harassment. I see a difference.

    1. This “harassment” falls clearly within the legal bounds of free speech. This is different from workplace harassment, which is not protected by the First Amendment.

      Once you start trying to prohibit speech because it’s “harassing”, like the above, you go down a real rabbithole. Any criticism of anything could be interpreted as harassment, and it often is.

      1. Thinking by typing: Public university campus’s are both public and a place of employment. Berkowitz is an employee, albeit a privileged employee, possibly with tenure? I agree Berkowitz “butching it up” makes sense from far away. I suspect that the Mone has lawyers & HR staff who told him that this are the tricky waters of potential EEO claims by employees or students. In my experience, those kind of concerns are often cited to explain executives saying silly things.

        1. I’ve met Mark Mone in the context of university/neighborhood relations. (I live a couple of blocks from UW-Milwaukee.) My impression of him is of him as a conciliator and someone who would rather “facilitate” than take principled positions. I don’t know him well, but I doubt that his comments, especially the second one, were driven by legal or HR staff.

    2. I think for “harassment” to fall outside the strictures of the First Amendment it must constitute a continuing course of intimidating conduct directed at a specific individual or group of individuals.

      Seems to me, this doesn’t qualify.

    3. I’ve only watched the video at the top of this post, but if the content is representative of what he did for three hours, he could hardly be described as harassing anybody. He just stood in one spot holding up a sign.

        1. It did…and? If we start classifying speech that upsets people “harassment,” we will very soon find ourselves in a position where a lot of speech is suddenly considered “harassment,” as there are an awful lot of people out there who are easily upset by speech we would both consider innocuous or simply disagreeing.

          As a Jew who had ancestors die in the Holocaust, it would obviously upset me to see this sign. But hey, I’ll bet it upsets this guy to see a whole bunch of students supporting Israel. It doesn’t mean he’s being harassed.

      1. He was there for hours parading in front of a group of jewish students who were doing nothing but minding their own business while he held a sign to their faces that said gas jews. How long? How persistent?

  11. An alternative to ignoring losers like this is to mock them. I read recently an interesting newspaper article about how a town in Germany responded to neo nazi marches with mockery. The town organized a counter protest where people dresses up as clowns and belittled the losers with mockery and taking the piss out of the losers. There is a reference to that in the link below (sorry not sure if this will end up as a link) and also a description the idea spreading to the US:


    1. I think that’s a great approach, as long as the mockery doesn’t verge into aggression, because then you’re giving them what they want. But just turning up and parodying them, in a lighthearted fashion, making them seem silly, is brilliant. They absolutely hate that.

      I’m less and less sure that ‘ignore them’ is that good a response any more. Mass mockery, if done properly, without aggression and without the same hatred that powers the racists, is a very effective tool.

      1. Agreed, many times it’s the best approach and that last bit, about leaving out the aggression and hatred, is the key to its power.

        1. Yes; it doesn’t work if it’s got an edge to it. People get turned off by that, even if you have the moral high ground.

          The key thing to bear in mind at all times is the kind of impression you leave on neutral observers.

          In a confrontation between liberals and racists there’s no point appealing to either your own side or the other side – instead you should be thinking about how best to appeal to the people who aren’t on either side, the people who aren’t that interested either way, the people who watch footage of the confrontation on the evening news, or who see it on YouTube.
          It’s kind of counterintuitive, but the people you’re appealing to shouldn’t even be at the protest. Otherwise you’re just doing it for your own sense of self-satisfaction.

  12. If anyone thinks speech is free, they haven’t been watching their stock portfolio as Trump runs his mouth.

  13. If we’re going to beat up and/or ban anyone who says, “gas the Jews,” we’ll have millions of people to do it to, and that’s just Americans. Also, probably 1/4 of Youtube commenters and half the boards on 4chan.

    (for those who don’t know, “gas the Jews” has literally become a meme that antisemites post all over the place, even in comments sections and on discussion boards where the subject of Jews, Israel, or anything relating to Jews at all isn’t even being discussed)

  14. Carlos Maza exemplifies the adage, ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’. Or milkshakes, for that matter. Or casually toss around epithets like ‘white supremacist’, ‘bigot’, etc.

  15. I don’t know what to say about this, except that I am sickened by such antisemitic behavior. Free speech, though, is by far the important issue. Anyone with any sense will know this is trash.

  16. In Mazas case, I’m perfectly fine with YouTube demonetizing Crowder. It’s a lot more serious than just a case of hurt feelings: he’s been dissed,he’s recurved multiple death threats, and this sort of thing has resulted in swatting and days in the past. To say it’s only a free speech and hurt feelings issue is to ignore modern reality.

    1. Also, the free speech argument completely misses out one crucial factor that is present in the real world but is missing in the online world: social stigma. If someone starts yelling ‘faggot’ at Maza in the street he can be filmed, and subsequently avoided, or taken to task by people who recognise him, his friends might stop talking to him, his neighbours too, employees might think twice about him…

      When it happens online it comes from anonymous sockpuppet accounts, owned by people who will never experience any stigma whatsoever. It is consequence-free in a way that free speech in the real world isn’t.

      In the real world you can say what you like, but if you do you have to take responsibility for it. Online you can scream death threats at the parents of school shooting victims from fifteen different accounts and no-one on earth but you knows you did it.

  17. When the Nazis were allowed to march through the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois in 1977, anti-Nazis ended up winning.
    Rather than being embarrassed by a large hostile crowd, the Nazis never marched there.
    The case, though, made it easy to raise money to create the National Holocaust Museum in DC.
    Free speech works.

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