Remember all the controversy over the ACLU of Virginia’s decision to defend the free speech rights of white supremacist groups in Charlottesville? Briefly, the city wanted to force protest away from downtown and the ACLU fought it on free speech grounds. After the day turned violent, the ACLU of Virginia’s executive director, Claire G. Gastanaga, put out a press release blaming the police for failing to protect people. The police handling of the protests in Charlottesville was denounced by people on both sides of the clashes, but this didn’t stop people on the left from writing think pieces blaming the ACLU for the violence and the death of Heather Heyer.
Which brings us to today when Claire Gastanaga was scheduled to speak at William and Mary on the topic of “Students and the First Amendment.” Moments after she was introduced, a group of protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter came to the stage and began shouting her down. From Reason:
Students took to the stage just a few moments after Gastañaga began her remarks. At first, she attempted to spin the demonstration as a welcome example of the kind of thing she had come to campus to discuss, commenting “Good, I like this,” as they lined up and raised their signs. “I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well. Then I’m going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience.”
It was the last remark she was able to make before protesters drowned her out with cries of, “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too.” They also chanted, “the oppressed are not impressed,” “shame, shame, shame, shame,” (an ode to the Faith Militant’s treatment of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, though why anyone would want to be associated with the religious fanatics in that particular conflict is beyond me), “blood on your hands,” “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” and, uh, “liberalism is white supremacy.”
After twenty minutes, the protesters were handed a microphone and allowed to read a statement. When the statement was over, they continued chanting, refusing to engage with the speaker or the audience. From William and Mary’s college paper, the Flat Hat:
One student who attended the event, Laith Hashem ’19, was bothered by protesters’ refusal to engage in an open, two-sided discussion.
“I think they had every right to do what they did. I don’t agree with their method, [but] they’re completely entitled to their opinions,” Hashem said. “But the thing I disagreed with most was that every opportunity they had to have a discussion, both with the speaker and the audience, they responded by increasing their volume and shouting louder.”
Thirty minutes into the protest, the discussion was cancelled…
After the cancellation was announced, remaining students clustered around Gastañaga, hoping to ask questions and voice concerns. These students dispersed, however, when the protesters began circling around them, drowning out Gastañaga and chanting with increased volume.
Hashem, the student who came to the event hoping to speak to Gastanaga, told the Flat Hat the incident bordered on physical intimidation. William and Mary President Taylor Reveley released a statement saying, “Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community.” The students did not identify themselves during the protest but later William and Mary’s chapter of BLM took credit for shutting down the event. The group also gave a statement to The Black Voice, another William and Mary publication, explaining that the real target of the protest was free speech:
“This is not about AMP [Organizers of the speech]. This is not about the ACLU. This is about liberals use of the concept of free speech in the furthering of White Supremacy… Our goal is to silence white supremacy, to not allow it a platform like the ACLU has done for a long time.”…
“It’s not just the ACLU that has done this, it’s liberal organizations. Most liberal students on this campus believe that white supremacy should be valued as free speech, as discourse, and we firmly disagree with that.”
So it seems fair to say the key chant at this protest was “liberalism is white supremacy.” Liberalism in this case meaning anyone who respects the right of those they strongly disagree with to exercise their right to speak. That’s not something these students believe in as they demonstrated today. Here’s a video of the disruption (the “liberalism is…” chant can be heard at 16:00 minutes):