This is less robust a defense of Coulter’s rights than Bernie Sanders gave the other day, with Warren declining to directly answer Tapper’s question about whether hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. Still, having the two most prominent leftists in Washington warning students to chill out the next time a thought-criminal comes to campus can only help soothe the savage “anti-fascist” beast. More like this, please.
I’d be interested in hearing Warren explain when she thinks showing up to protest is a proper response to a speaker and when staying away to deny that speaker an audience is the way to go. Some members of “the Resistance” turned out for Trump’s inauguration; was that the right call or should they have boycotted instead? Does it depend on whether the speaker is an elected official, accountable to the public, versus a private citizen? Does it depend on whether the speaker is a provocateur, as Coulter is, in which case the worst thing you can do to her is to show disinterest? Does it depend on whether the speaker is likely to draw a large crowd of supporters, in which case a boycott by critics won’t even register?
These campus anti-fascist eruptions seem to me to be as much a defense of territory as ideas, and I’m not sure Sanders or Warren gets that. If Coulter decided to move her speech to a neighboring town, how many Berkeleyites who are prepared to smash windows if she shows up on campus this week would bother driving 10 minutes to riot at the new location? Not many, I’m guessing. The concept of the “safe space” really is about space — they’ve sealed off their enclave from impure thoughts and trespassers will be dealt with harshly. It’s like antibodies responding to a virus: They’re going to try to neutralize the invader before it propagates. That being so, how can the local mob take Warren’s advice? If they choose to boycott the speech instead of protesting it, more conservative speakers will feel comfortable coming to campus and, before you know it, the safe space won’t be as safe anymore for liberal orthodoxy. If you want to deprogram anti-fascists, that’s the place to start. Not with advice on how to handle Coulter but by smashing the fetish for intellectual “safety.” Although, in order to do that, you’d first need to convince them that right-wing ideas aren’t per se pernicious and malevolent. Are Sanders and Warren prepared to make that case? If not, don’t be surprised that some young idiots would see a quasi-religious duty to cast out evil, with violence if necessary, when it appears before them.