On Sunday, Berkeley was the scene of a free speech rally put on by Conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos in partnership with the Berkeley College Republicans and other groups. Yiannopoulos and others scheduled the rally in response to the cancellation of Free Speech Week, an event organized by the Berkeley Patriot where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. In theory, rallies of any kind should be allowed to proceed unfettered up to the point where the attendees become violent. Whether the rally is in support of white supremacism, gay pride, or any issue in between, the right of people in this country to speak out on an issue is paramount. Sadly, on Sunday Berkeley was just the latest example of free speech being trampled upon in practice.
Berkeley was ready for war. The Police Department deployed in full riot gear and had support from numerous units of California Highway Patrol. Many businesses were closed and barred even during the middle of the day, and those that were open near the location of the rally had few customers. Even with all their preparations, many aspects of the event did not go as planned. The Berkeley Police Department processed people at an incredibly slow rate. One woman alone held up the line for fifteen minutes, and yours truly waited in line for 45 minutes to even get a glimpse of the metal detector through which people had to pass to gain entry to the rally space. Police also insisted on asking for tickets to gain entry to the event, despite no tickets being sold for the rally.
Ariana Rowlands, candidate for Chairwoman of the California College Republicans, was one of the scheduled speakers at the rally. While she and others intended to speak at the rally, the violent tactics of Antifa forced the cancellation and evacuation of the speakers to protect their own safety. “Free speech is on life support at UC Berkeley and the rest of California,” Rowlands said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also officially declared free speech “under attack” on college campuses in a speech delivered Tuesday morning. Nowhere is that statement more true than Berkeley, and while the police deserve commendation for their service and readiness to protect the rights and safety of the speakers at Berkeley’s Free Speech Rally, more needs to be done to protect their rights and allow them to speak.
While the speaking event itself may have been cancelled, the rally proceeded throughout the day. Hundreds of people on both sides assembled at Sproul Plaza in UC Berkeley, holding signs and chanting. CNN reports that 13 people were arrested in confrontations that broke out later in the day, when a large number of left-wing agitators surrounded a smaller group of right wing protesters. Berkeley Police also said that one officer was injured while making an arrest.
When observing the larger context of free speech in Berkeley, it is impossible to gloss over the cancellation of the main event, Free Speech Week. The event was organized by Conservative group The Berkeley Patriot, and was cancelled after negotiations with UC Berkeley administrators broke down. While the administration at UC Berkeley holds ultimate responsibility for the cancellation of the event, the Berkeley Patriot should have pressed on in their efforts to host the event. Campus administrators cannot unilaterally cancel events without reason, so they instead attempt to intimidate and coerce a group into cancelling the event on their own. Rowlands was also scheduled to speak at Free Speech Week, and when asked about its cancellation said “if the student group had… stuck it out, ignored the scary but empty threats of the administration, the event would have gone on.”
Freedom is the bedrock of this country. The freedom to speak, to freely exercise religion and to peaceably assemble, among other freedoms, are central to the values that form America. Sadly, freedom is exactly what is being attacked by the modern Left. Antifa and other groups like them claim that they exercise their First Amendment right when they shut down white supremacist events and assault Conservatives attending rallies, but any who engage in the active suppression of ideas they find objectionable demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. While college administrators may not be able to unilaterally shut down free speech in the way that groups like Antifa do, they engage in the suppression of speech in a much more subtle way. They coerce, intimidate, and threaten Conservative groups until the only choice is for them to silence themselves, but the First Amendment protects the speech of all, no matter how reprehensible that speech might be. A free society does not silence speech, but engage it. College administrators, government officials, and left-wing agitators everywhere would do well to realize that fact.
Written By: Matthew Vitale
Executive Editor, The New American Right
External Vice Chair, College Republicans at UCR