Last Friday a group called Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) was asking students to sign a petition against campus speech codes. To promote their petition in an eye-cathing way, the group brought along a 6-foot beach ball on which passing students could write any message they wanted about any topic. The beach ball was there as a colorful symbol of freedom of speech. The College Fix describes what happened next:
“I remember he took our free speech petition, hands visibly trembling, and wrote his name as Karl Marx,” said Brian Pryor, a field representative with the Leadership Institute, in an interview with The College Fix. Pryor is not a student, and was on campus to help Young Americans for Liberty with their effort.
“Then he went up to our free speech ball and kept shifting to an area where we couldn’t see him writing on it,” Pryor said. “We saw later that he wrote the Latin phrase ‘sic semper tyrannus,’ meaning ‘thus always to tyrants’—the phrase uttered by the Roman senate before killing Julius Caesar and by John Wilkes Booth before assassinating President Lincoln.”
“The entire situation was bizarrely theatrical,” Pryor added.
After Karl Marx left, the ball began to deflate. YAL members realized that it had been stabbed right next to where the student had written his message. They called campus police to file a report. Looking over the petition, they noticed that while Karl Marx hadn’t used his real name, he did use an email address that belonged to the communist bookstore on campus. Pryor and other YAL members walked over and immediately recognized Karl Marx. He ran while one of his “comrades,” a much older man, tried to shove Pryor out the door. Moments later, Marx came out a back door where he was stopped and handcuffed by police (video below).
The school released a statement confirming the incident: “A Free Speech ball was being passed around at a Young Americans for Liberty group event on campus. The ball was passed to one student who took out a pocket knife and punctured the ball. Police were summoned and questioned the student. The owner of the ball decided not to press charges for vandalism and the student was never arrested. The student has been referred to the Office of Student Conduct.”
As for Karl Marx, UC San Diego’s Guardian reports the student (whose real name I won’t include) says he stabbed the ball because there were “reactionary, opportunistic, and hypocritical slogans” written on it which did not “constitute a free exercise of rights.” He claims there were “obscene slogans condoning gang rape” written on the ball and says stabbing it was a “poorly-considered attempt to symbolically protest.”
Honestly, I don’t know what was written on the beach ball. And, given that the group had been passing it around and giving anyone a chance to write on it, it’s not clear who wrote what Karl Marx saw there. But even if there were some genuinely offensive things written, none of them constituted a threat. In other words, this really was an example of free speech.
The fact that one student, a communist, felt the need to destroy the free speech ball because it triggered him is as close to a perfect metaphor as you get in real life. As YAL chapter president Jonah Ghalib Naoum told the College Fix, “I am literally giving you permission to write ‘Capitalism sucks, communism rules’ — but the student decided to ruin it for everyone.”