This Is Not an Issue of “Free Speech” for a White Nationalist with Connections to the White House
By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
Risking becoming the lone voice in today’s wilderness, we say today that somebody has to say “thank you” to the UC Berkeley students and community members who demonstrated against the white nationalist Breitbart News senior editor back on Wednesday, February 1st, and helped cause the campus to cancel the talk by Milo Yiannopoulos.
So, thank you.
The whole incident has now blown up, with claims the protesters violated free speech, with Trump threatening to cut off funds to UC Berkeley – which he cannot do unilaterally – and the subsequent push-back against him from school and California officials.
We also have now seen the requisite editorials in the LA Times and San Diego Union-Tribune decrying the violence and assault on freedom of speech by the protesters (it’s almost laughable now, but prior owners of the U-T had a thing or two to learn about free speech), and how it’s so shameful at the “birthplace of the free speech movement” blah blah blah, and the ubiquitous claims of ‘it’s all the fault of those outside agitators’.
So, a couple of points.
This citizen journalist has been around a while and I’ve seen via television and first hand many demonstrations in front of Sproul Hall in the main plaza at UC Berkeley over the decades.
And the demonstration the night of Feb. 1st was large and militant – but it wasn’t all that violent. A few windows were broken, a small fire was lit, a few things were thrown, some rubber bullets and teargas were shot at the demonstrators. Some businesses were vandalized.
But the scale of Wednesday night’s violence really is dwarfed by those of the Vietnam War era, where there were full-scale rioting at Berkeley, protesters in the streets – some famously throwing tear gas grenades back at the police, where the campus came to a halt and where blocks of the city were shut down.
Or when the National Guard teargassed the entire UC campus from helicopters circulating above in 1969.
Or when during protests in Berkeley, police shot and killed a rooftop onlooker, James Rector, during the People’s Park campaign.
The violence Wednesday night was against property. One Trump supporter was reportedly roughed-up and there were a handful of arrests. But it really was against property.
We, as Americans, have a long history of violence against property which includes a long history of militancy. Remember the Boston Tea Party? The Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War? Or the breaking of windows by women suffragettes? Or the sabotage of company equipment during strikes by workers fighting for the right to organize unions. Or during the Civil Rights movement when pickets and boycotts brought businesses to a halt.
Don’t forget that San Diego had its own Free Speech movement a hundred years ago, where firehoses and fierce beatings met people trying to exercise their right to speak in downtown San Diego. It was a huge fight, and some lost their lives – while City officials outlawed soapbox speeches in a large area in downtown. Free speech was won – finally – but it took outsiders using their influence.
America witnessed this militancy during the Black Power movement, during as noted the anti-Vietnam war period, and during the anti-nuke movement in the early-1980s with massive numbers of people being arrested.
The lighting of fires in trashcans along Newport Avenue in OB during a 1972 anti-Vietnam war protest. It’s a long list.
So Wednesday night was small potatoes.
Actions like these are always blamed on “outside agitators” – it’s never the good students or the good people or the Good Germans. They would never act that way. (Bizarrely, Robert Reich claims without evidence that the agitators were actually right-wing trouble-makers. There is an active Black Bloc of anarchist militants in Oakland and the Bay Area – why couldn’t it have been them?)
What about the free speech issue.
Let’s be clear – Milo Yiannopoulos’ free speech was not violated. This racist has connections not only to his own press, but has connections that run right up into the White House, where his buddy Steve Bannon advises the President and who now permanently sits on the National Security Council.
This is not about the free speech of the elite. There’s always ‘free speech’ for those at the top. The elite – whether political or economic or social – always have access to the press and are freely able to exercise their speech.
Free speech is the issue for those at the bottom. Those without access to the press or whose voices are not heard or recognized or even suppressed.
Those who were about to be maligned by Milo.
It turns out that Yiannopoulos was planning to use his speech at UC Berkeley to target UC students who do not have documentation and who live in the US.
Berkeley University officials warned Mr Yiannopoulos, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter, was planning to use the talk to target students who do not have documentation to live in the US.
“We are deeply concerned for all students’ safety and ability to pursue their education here at Cal beyond Milo’s speech,” the university’s Office of Student Affairs said in a letter sent to Berkeley College Republicans, the students hosting the event, on Tuesday.
“Milo’s event may be used to target individuals, either in the audience or by using their personal information in a way that causes them to become human targets to serve a political agenda.”
Milo has denied these claims. Yet, there is plenty of supporting evidence that he was.
George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor at Drexel University, claimed reliable sources believed Mr Yiannopoulos was planning on outing undocumented students. “Reliable sources say Milo planned to publicly name undocumented students @UCBerkeley. Debate over: shutting him down was necessary & good,” he wrote on Twitter.
Just a day before the event, Milo’s white nationalist news site Breitbart published an article saying Yiannopoulos would use the Berkeley talk to claim US universities have become “sanctuary campuses that shelter illegal immigrants from being deported”.
“Backed by the Freedom Center (Mr Yiannopoulos) will call for the withdrawal of federal grants and the prosecution of university officials who endanger their students with their policies, starting with UC President and former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano and Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks,” reads the article.
So much for his free speech issues.
Remember, free speech is the issue of the little people at the bottom. It’s never granted freely. Even during colonial days as our foreparents tried to fashion a new government and constitution, the people at the bottom refused to approve it without guarantees of a free press and of free speech, what became the very first amendment to the Constitution.
During the Sixties Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, free speech had to be won by the students. It wasn’t just handed to them by the administration. Today’s commentators are bemoaning its supposed death due to the “rioters” on campus the other night. But that’s just turning history upside down.
The free speech movement was ignited because college students back then had no rights to hold rallies, speeches or even set up political tables on campus, and after a long battle, the administration was dragged to the bargaining table screeching and flailing. It was a very militant movement that won.
So, what’s more violent?
What happened Wednesday night or a 1,000 students surrounding a campus police car which held a free speech movement organizer who had been arrested – and not letting the car move an inch, with people getting up on top of the car giving speeches? This happened during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964. This was the famous moment during the FSM when organizer Mario Savio climbed on top of the patrol car and delivered his famous “put your body on the gears” speech.
What’s more violent? Wednesday or 4,000 students in May of 1970 blocking traffic into the Naval Electronics Lab on Catalina Boulevard in protest of the military and Nixon’s expansion of the war into Cambodia?
What’s more violent? Wednesday or hundreds of anti-nuke protesters sitting down on Rosecrans Boulevard in front of Point Loma’s nuclear sub facility at Ballast Point and being arrested by the dozens back in the early 1980s?
Back to the present.
Let’s try to understand the historical context. It’s the utmost of hypocrisy for Trump to complain about Milo’s free speech being supposedly violated, when the Tweeter-in-Chief has called for a war on the press and the media, calling them the “opposition party” – attempting to undermine the entire concept of a free press and the very conveyor of free speech.
So, thank you UC Berkeley students and faculty and community for stopping this racist, this white nationalist, this fascist. Maybe if enough Germans had stood up against Hitler and his minions back decades ago ….