A Free Speech Battle at the Birthplace of a Movement at Berkeley
By THOMAS FULLER FEB. 2, 2017
BERKELEY, Calif. — Fires burned in the cradle of free speech. Furious at a lecture organized on campus, demonstrators wearing ninja-like outfits smashed windows, threw rocks at the police and stormed a building. The speech? The university called it off.
Protest has been synonymous with the University of California, Berkeley, from the earliest days of the free speech movement, when students fought to expand political expression on campus beginning in 1964. Those protests would set off student activism movements that roiled campuses across the country throughout the 1960s. Since then, countless demonstrators have flocked to Sproul Plaza each day to have their voices heard on issues from civil rights and apartheid to Israel, tuition costs and more.
But now the university is under siege for canceling a speech by the incendiary right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos and words like intolerance, long used by the left, are being used by critics to condemn the protests on Wednesday night that ultimately prevented Mr. Yiannopoulos from speaking.
Naweed Tahmas, a junior who is a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, the group that invited Mr. Yiannopoulos to campus, said the cancellation had made him more determined to fight for freedom of speech on campus.
“I’m tired of getting silenced, as many conservative students are,” he said. “If we support freedom of speech, we should support all speech including what they consider hate speech.”
When the event was canceled, the Republican student group reacted by writing on their Facebook page, “the Free Speech Movement is dead.”
I’d have made it a little stronger and more ironic, but the key point is that there are individuals of principle in most institutions. The trend toward pure Who? Whom? reasoning is not wholly popular. There are Americans who will publicly defend American Constitutional liberties and the rule of law.