After the riots at Berkeley last year aimed at no-platforming conservative speech, the school set up a commission to write a report on what went wrong. The commission has released its report and, according to Politico, it blames the violence on conservative speakers who wanted to “incite” the far left to violence to make universities look bad.
“Contrary to a currently popular narrative, Berkeley remains a tolerant campus,” the report contends, pointing to a survey of incoming freshman last fall. It found three-quarters of them agree that “the University has the responsibility to provide equal access to safe and secure venues for guest speakers of all viewpoints — even if the ideas are found offensive by some or conflict with the values held by the UC Berkeley community.”
The report says that all of last year’s most disruptive events, including highly publicized events featuring Yiannopoulos and commentator Ann Coulter, were sponsored by “very small groups of students working closely with outside organizations.“
“Although those speakers had every right to speak and were entitled to protection, they did not need to be on campus to exercise the right of free speech,” the report says. “Indeed, at least some of the 2017 events at Berkeley can now be seen to be part of a coordinated campaign to organize appearances on American campuses likely to incite a violent reaction, in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.“…
The report continues: “Many Commission members are skeptical of these speakers’ commitment to anything other than the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency. Speech of this kind is hard to defend, especially in light of the acute distress it caused (and was intended to cause) to staff and students, many of whom felt threatened and targeted by the speakers and by the outside groups financing their appearances.“
This is the sort of bass-ackward argument I would expect from a commission at Berkeley. The report is saying right-wing speakers knew the far left would use violence to enforce their heckler’s veto, therefore they (the speakers) are responsible for inciting that violence. After all, they didn’t “need” to exercise their rights at Berkeley.
There’s no other realm in which this argument would be considered reasonable. Try this variation: Police didn’t need to show up in that high crime neighborhood, knowing it would incite violence from local gangs. How about: She didn’t need to wear that short skirt to the party, knowing it would incite sexual harassment and assault. Or maybe: Being openly gay, he didn’t need to go to that bar, knowing it would incite gay-bashing violence. These arguments all seek to blame violent behavior on the victim for going somewhere he or she wasn’t wanted.
Even if Berkeley is absolutely correct about the speaker’s motives (I think they’re partially correct at best), it’s completely irrelevant. A line exists legally and morally between speech and violence. The conservatives went to Berkeley for constitutionally protected speech. The masked goons on the far left were there for intimidation and violence. Appeals to the “acute distress” this speech might have caused if allowed to happen are special pleading. Anyone who claims speech incited violence on the grounds of psychic pain is endorsing the heckler’s veto. The correct answer here is very simple: There was no excuse for the left-wing violence at Berkeley.
As for Berkeley being a “tolerant campus,” the College Fix reports today that the tolerant Berkeley student government is voting on whether or not to defund the Berkeley College Republicans and redirect the money it would have received to the Black Student Union:
Senator Rizza Estacio, a member of the Associated Students of the University of California, proposed the reallocation of funding on the grounds that the College Republicans’ behavior during campus events was in violation of school policy.
“Some of what this organization has done has broken regulations that we uphold to every registered student organization,” Estacio told the student newspaper The Daily Californian. “I want to make it clear that if you break these rules, you are no longer eligible for our funding.”
In a statement obtained by The College Fix, the Berkeley College Republicans expressed hope that the student government “censures Senator Estacio for this poorly researched and unscrupulous proposal.”
I’m actually hoping the Berkeley report is less idiotic than Politico’s summary makes it sound. The school has made a fairly good defense of the First Amendment, even creating a website to explain the basics to people who might be confused. “Freedom of speech does not give someone the right to drown out the words and speech of others; freedom of speech would mean little if the audience was able to silence anyone with whom they disagreed,” the site states. They should stick to that.