The violence that erupted at UC Berkeley last week during the protest of a planned speech by Breitbart News senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos, known for his conservative and decidedly politically incorrect views, was a sorry display and a blow to free speech.
It is ironic that such a demonstration took place at the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement during the 1960s. The demonstration began peacefully, with up to 1,500 protesters expressing their opposition to the conservative journalist and speaker. But then about 150 black-clad and masked agitators infiltrated the event, shooting fireworks at police, setting fires and smashing windows on campus and in the surrounding downtown area. Several apparent supporters of the event were beaten or pepper sprayed.
The provocateurs are reportedly from a group called Antifa, which claims to be an anti-fascist organization, yet remains oblivious to the fact that it adopts fascist tactics to violently suppress opposing views.
"We regret that the threats and unlawful actions of a few have interfered with the exercise of First Amendment rights on a campus that is proud of its history and legacy as home of the Free Speech Movement," the university said in a statement. "[W]hile Mr. Yiannopoulos' views, tactics and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to our own, we are bound by the Constitution, the law, our values and the campus' Principles of Community to enable free expression across the full spectrum of opinion and perspective."
If only others, particularly on left-leaning college campuses, felt the same way. Even before the violent agitators arrived on campus, for example, the peaceful protesters voiced their opposition to free speech, shouting "Shut it down" outside the building where Yiannopoulos was to speak and cheering when it was announced that the talk had been canceled.
Yiannopoulos remained defiant afterwards. "One thing we do know for sure: the left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down," he wrote in a Facebook post.
Such actions by progressive students to stifle nonliberal campus speakers have become a disturbing trend, however, and have only intensified since the election of President Donald Trump.
There seems to be a cognitive dissonance among them of equating speech that they deem intolerant with violence, and then using actual physical threats and violence to prevent that speech.
It is a sad commentary on our supposed institutions of higher learning when diversity is idolized in every respect but the most important one — the diversity of thought; when tolerance is a virtue except when it comes to the tolerance of contrary viewpoints. The culture of too many college campuses has shifted from one of a search for knowledge and truth to indoctrination camps for immature, malleable minds and training grounds for social activism.
"Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're really in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise," political philosopher and author Noam Chomsky asserted. If our universities are to regain their reputations as places of serious scholarship and intellectual growth for our young adults, then liberal students, faculty and administrators must rededicate themselves to creating an atmosphere that embraces and respects the competition of differing ideals.
REPRINTED FROM THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER