A group of students at Brown University has written a letter objecting to a speech by author and commentator Guy Benson, declaring his views are dangerous and that (gasp!) he may articulate the constitutionally protected right to free speech. Benson (full disclosure: we both work for the same media company) highlighted the criticism on Twitter:
A group of students has apparently determined my talk tonight at Brown University to be "dangerous to the well being" of marginalized groups and 'enabling' of white supremacy. They call the event "unacceptable."
It will go forward as scheduled. https://t.co/csoIsLvWwO
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 13, 2018
The feminist site that published the letter appears to be down but a Google cache of the page is still available (h/t The College Fix). In case you think Benson is exaggerating here, the letter makes it clear in the first paragraph that his support for free speech is their major problem with his appearance on campus:
Based on our research into the speaker, we anticipate that Benson will make arguments in support of the freedom of any person to make hateful, oppressive, or damaging remarks based on their constitutionally protected right to free speech.
We will not stand idly by as our proud history of student activism is belittled and the real emotional, physical, and psychological needs of marginalized students are denigrated as illogical and irrelevant. We, the undersigned, are staunchly opposed to this event. We consider Benson’s invitation yet another iteration of a conversation that is misguided, narrow-minded, and explicitly dangerous to the well-being and continued thriving of people of color and other marginalized people at Brown University and the broader community.
Notice the authors aren’t actually claiming Benson will make any hateful or oppressive remarks, they are merely concerned he will defend the free speech for others, including those he disagrees with. A few paragraphs later they lay out their objections to Benson himself. It’s not just his support for free speech but also his support for free markets:
There is a wealth of writing on the inextricable connection between Benson’s ideologies — fiscal conservatism and free market ideology — and real, tangible, state violence against marginalized communities. Such thinking is fundamentally at odds with any intention to pursue real justice for structurally and historically marginalized people. Arguments like Benson’s enable white supremacist and fascist ideas to fester and flourish by defending the speech of already empowered people over and above any concern for justice or histories of violence.
This is what happens when you read too much Salon, kids. But the authors don’t linger on the joys of socialism long before they go right back to the real threat: free speech.
How does Benson’s claim to free speech and his dismissal of the racism at the heart of ‘free’ speech debates, help our community heal, learn, and grow? OUR institution cannot simultaneously honor this speaker and claim a commitment to change.
This utilitarian approach to speech, i.e. only that which is socially beneficial is allowed, is not so different from the way things operate in North Korea where speech that doesn’t support the failed socialist system is judged harmful to the collective and is therefore illegal. It never seems to occur to the students who write these screeds that they might wind up being the people silenced under such a system.
In any case, Benson had plenty of support on Twitter:
Guy Benson is like the least dangerous person I've ever met. When my kid was a newborn he was more dangerous than Guy. https://t.co/4XxE0MnSZW
— Liz Mair (@LizMair) February 13, 2018
This is embarrassing. https://t.co/RGtXo2WNS9
— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) February 13, 2018
Brown students demanding @guypbenson not be allowed to give a talk are admirably clear about their belief Republicans have no right to free speech. None of the usual obfuscation here: https://t.co/bQGMRaDQh4 pic.twitter.com/uliI5hj9Wt
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) February 13, 2018
— Julie Roginsky (@julieroginsky) February 13, 2018
All these people jumping in to say @guypbenson isn't dangerous, but, you guys, I've seen him absolutely MURDER a pack of M&Ms.
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) February 13, 2018
— Jamie Kirchick (@jkirchick) February 13, 2018