After a week of back-and-forth posturing between conservative author Ann Coulter, her student-group backers, and the University of California-Berkeley, those who threatened violence against the speaker have won.
“It’s a sad day for free speech,” conservative author Ann Coulter told The New York Times Wednesday afternoon. Until Tuesday evening, Coulter was set to speak Thursday evening regardless of whether Berkeley approved, but by 4 p.m. on the 25th, it was clear Berkeley wouldn’t take any steps necessary to protect the speaker or the students attending her speech.
Young America’s Foundation, one of the student groups sponsoring Coulter’s event, announced Tuesday evening they could “not jeopardize the safety of its staff or students.” The organization had requested Berkeley treat Coulter the way it has treated liberal speakers in the past, and provide protections for her and attendees, including a “zero tolerance” policy for disruptors and police protection.
Berkeley would not or could not provide these things on the night of the 27th, but had offered to provide some of these requirements on May 2, a date Coulter was unavailable and students would likely not be on campus.
“Berkeley made it impossible to hold a lecture due to the lack of assurances for protections from foreseeable violence from unrestrained leftist agitators,” YAF staff wrote.
‘Everyone Who Should Believe in Free Speech Ran Away’
The organization suggested Coulter might still come to campus, but Wednesday afternoon, she told The New York Times that without backing from the student groups, there was no point.
“Everyone who should believe in free speech fought against it or ran away,” Coulter said. In addition to YAF, the Berkeley College Republicans that had been cosponsoring Coulter’s talk also reportedly stood down for fear of violence.
The original cancellation of Coulter’s speech sent the clear message that violent rioters could veto speakers with which they disagree. It was a dangerous message for the future of political discourse. But Coulter and the conservative groups stood tall, insisting the event would go on as planned, and refusing to give in to threats of violence.
But there always seemed to be a breaking point. If Berkeley police had a “stand down” order to ignore violence that wasn’t immediately life-threatening, then students attending Coulter’s speech were at risk of physical harm. If Berkeley refused to treat Coulter as it treated other speakers, then it was sending a clear message that conservatives don’t deserve to be heard and that political debate is unwanted.
There doesn’t appear to be legal action available to the student groups or Coulter, outside of the lawsuit that has already been filed. YAF said it plans to go forward with its lawsuit against Berkeley’s stifling of conservative student’s First Amendment rights, but this latest development is a step back. Berkeley has shown that it won’t do what’s necessary to protect students, instead opting to restrict conservative speech.
The Consequences of Dropping the Event
If YAF had decided to continue on with the event, they would have been putting students’ lives at risk, something the organization certainly didn’t want to do. They may have opened themselves up to liability if they had gone through with the event despite warnings of violence.
The consequences of not holding the event, however, are obvious. Would-be violent rioters now know they can shut down speech with which they disagree by claiming it is racist, sexist, or bigoted. They can claim that speech with which they don’t agree amounts to “hate speech” to justify physical violence. This latest setback will only ensure that the next confrontation is more brutal, because when rioters see threats accomplish their goals it justifies their aggression. They will be more likely to threaten it again, and expect less resistance. And the more brutal one protest is, the more other schools will be nervous about inviting conservative speakers.
Liberals are only harming themselves by denying conservative speakers the right to speak. Today’s liberal students aren’t being taught how to debate or defend their viewpoints, they’re only being taught how to shut down other opinions. There’s no way they can stamp out all dissent from the world; at some point they’re going to have to defend their positions, and if they continue to simply stand up and shout or throw rocks and punches, they won’t be taken seriously.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union appears to be against the Left on this issue. In a tweet sent Wednesday, they typically leftist organization condemned the “heckler’s veto” that led to Coulter’s cancellation.
The heckler’s veto of Coulter's Berkeley speech is a loss for the 1st Amendment. We must protect speech on campus, even when hateful.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) April 26, 2017
I understand that the student groups had no choice, but this has still empowered the violent Left.