By Charles Megginson | Staff Columnist
Across the United States, conservative students and organizations are shamed and silenced by their progressive counterparts. One such example came at the University of California Berkeley, on Feb. 1, when violent protesters prevented an event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative journalist and author.
There exists a hypocrisy among millennial leftists who preach tolerance of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation but seek to silence individuals who possess opinions contrary to progressive ideals.
It is true that America thrives on diversity; our culture is a melting pot. But the diversity that makes America so great isn’t limited to one’s national origin, skin-color or gender. Rather, it extends to his or her ideas.
For any person to claim himself as tolerant, only to protest a speaker who promotes an ideology that he disagrees with, is duplicitous and un-American. Efforts to silence conservatives are often successful.
According to Reuters, protesters at UC Berkeley “smashed windows and set fires at the school.” The protesters were far from tolerant as they threw Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers and wreaked havoc among the peaceful protesters.
UC Berkeley regards itself as the “birthplace of the free-speech movement.” Just four days before the event was to be hosted, the university’s chancellor issued a statement supporting the school’s decision to allow the event. “The first of these principles” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks wrote, “is the right to free expression, enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and reflected in some of the most important moments of Berkeley’s history.”
It was not the intention of the university to cancel the event in order to silence Yiannopoulos, his supporters or the organization hosting the event. But, it became the responsibility of the university to protect its students from the danger posed by the far-left protesters who used the event as an excuse to terrorize their community. As the protesters became violent, officials faced an important decision: protect the First Amendment right of Yiannopoulos and his audience or protect the safety of their students.
However righteous their decision, it sets a dangerous precedent: that all one must do to silence a dissenting opinion is act riotously and threaten the safety of others. This precedent is one that will surely lead to more riots, property destruction and safety concerns. We find ourselves in a conundrum – How can we protect both the right of citizens to peaceably assemble and the safety of those citizens?
President Donald Trump does not have the right answer to this question. In response to the event’s emergency cancellation, he tweeted, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
While cutting federal funds isn’t the solution to the problem, Trump does, by his predecessor’s standard, have the authority to do so. In fact, Barack Obama routinely used this tactic. In 2012, the Obama administration threatened to take away federal funds from schools which elected not to abide by the strict regulations of the National School Lunch Act. He did the same in 2015 to compel schools to provide specific restroom accommodations for transgender students.
Nevertheless, such an action would do nothing to protect the First Amendment rights of students at Berkeley or elsewhere.
There are two factors which will allow for the maintenance of both the First Amendment and public safety.
First, protesters must have a clearer understanding of the First Amendment. They must understand that we have the right to advocate our opinions, however provocative or insensible they consider those opinions to be. Protesters must understand that policy disagreements do not always equate to “hate speech” and that the only kind of speech which is not permitted is the kind that threatens the lives or safety of others. Protesters must understand the hypocrisy associated with preaching tolerance but protesting individuals who hold dissenting opinions.
Second, police forces must be better trained and equipped to suppress acts of violence. This will protect the rights of all parties involved. In the case of UC Berkeley, had the Police Department been better prepared to contain the threat posed by the lawless agitators, both Yiannopoulos and the peaceful protesters would have been safe, as would be their First Amendment right.
Instead, the night ended with over $100,000 in property damage and a precedent which threatens our most cherished freedom. Rather than holding colleges and universities hostage by withholding federal funds as his predecessor did, Trump should direct his Justice Department to immediately increase efforts to train law enforcement agencies to handle violent protests.
The department should train police forces to specifically target and apprehend agitators who strive to turn peaceful protests into violent riots.
Some Duquesne students have expressed outrage about the incident at UC Berkeley.
“These violent protesters should be arrested,” said Andrew White, a freshman journalism and public relations major. “Their behavior is unacceptable and un-American, and the failure of the UC Berkeley Police Department to bring the violent individuals to justice is an affront to Milo’s right to free speech, which was taken away from him.”
Jesse Anzelone, a candidate for President of the Duquesne University College Republicans, expressed similar outrage.
“The events that recently transpired at UC Berkeley were extremely disappointing,” Anzelone said. “The violent protesters’ actions were both illegal and immoral, not to mention hypocritical. What’s most ironic is that the same people who were violently protesting advocate tolerance and love. I just hope with all the vitriol and hatred coming from these extremists, our country can become unified again.”
Unfortunately, so long as these agitators seek to silence their opposition and achieve social change by anarchic means, unification is unlikely.
The officials at UC Berkeley acted in the interest of their students in cancelling the event featuring Yiannopoulos. Nevertheless, Yiannopoulos’ rights and the rights of his audience were violated by the lawless protesters. Further, the agitators prevented any dialogue between the peaceful audience at the Yiannopoulos presentation and the peaceful protesters outside. President Trump also acted rashly in threatening the university without first understanding the totality of the situation which forced officials to cancel the event.
Should it be determined, however, that UC Berkeley, or any other institution which receives federal funds, is preventing the practice of the First Amendment, it is within the President’s unilateral authority to withhold certain funds. President Obama set this precedent in 2012 and reaffirmed it in 2015. Finally, it should be noted and respected that conservative students exist on college and university campuses across America, and if we value diversity and tolerance, those virtues should also be applied to alternative opinions and ideologies.