Wang: UC Berkeley riots threaten free speech

Larry Wang, Columnist

On Feb. 1, University of California, Berkeley’s campus was gripped by the throng of chaotic violence.  What started as a peaceful demonstration earlier in the day morphed into something even the campus police were unable to contain as evening fell.  Provocateurs, which the college claim to be from Oakland’s black bloc while far-right news outlet Breitbart assert stemmed from the Berkeley Antifacist (or Antifa) group, and who were at least partially organized by Yvette Felarca of the belligerent activist organization By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), infiltrated the protests and instigated riots.  The rioters, most decked out in black and wearing face masks to shield their identities, shattered windows of campus buildings, set fire to a light tower generator, verbally accosted and chased people down with clubs, pepper sprayed a woman being interviewed by an ABC affiliate, and beat people repeatedly with flagpoles after cornering them against metal dividers.  One man was bludgeoned on the back of the head while lying face down unconscious in the middle of the street.

These riots emerged from protests to Milo Yiannopoulos’s scheduled appearance on campus that day, which was one of his stops on his nationwide “The Dangerous Faggot Tour.”  Yiannopoulos is infamous for his provocative criticism of third wave feminism, social justice and the nation of Islam.  He is gay, Jewish, British and holds conservative leaning libertarian views, but has been labeled by mainstream journalists such as Kelly Lawler of USA Today, Emma Margolin of NBC News, Sara Ganim of CNN, Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune and Rick Anderson of the Los Angeles Times as a white supremacist or white nationalist, either explicitly or by association. Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, likewise called Yiannopoulos a white supremacist even in a public response to the Berkeley riots. These unfair accusations were made despite Yiannopoulos declaring at a University of Colorado, Colorado Springs talk earlier this year that “white pride, white nationalism, [and] white supremacy isn’t the way to go” and that people “should be focusing on what unites people and not what drives them apart.”

Violence should never be used to silence an opposing opinion. Such a statement as that seems to go without saying, but seeing those excusing the rioters at Berkeley or somehow justifying the violence that occurred there suggests otherwise.

America is a country founded on freedom of speech and expression.  Everyone has the right to interact with and contribute to the free marketplace of ideas. Ideas that are backed by logic, reason and evidence garner traction, while baseless and ludicrous ramblings are thrown to the wayside. If you disagree with the point of view of “alt-right” activists like Yiannopoulos, then argue against them. If you think they’re wrong, present your case, back up your claim with facts and statistics, and people will take your side. If you find that you lose these arguments despite your efforts, then perhaps you’re not making much of an argument at all.  But to resort to violence, or even condone violence, against those you disagree with and are unable to successfully mount a defense against is antithetical to democracy and has no place in this country.

When violence is justified against conservatives because it is apparently okay to punch a “Nazi,” or when “hate speech” and “microaggressions” are considered comparable to physical assault, the line between what is right and what is wrong blurs. Normalized violence has already resulted in a conservative journalist being punched in the face by a man at the Women’s March, a girl’s hair being set on fire at Trump’s inauguration and a disabled white Chicago teen being kidnapped and tortured for days at the hands of two black men and women. And we’re only a month and a half into 2017.

Whichever group happened to commit the crimes at UC Berkeley earlier this month, whether it was Oakland’s black bloc, a student-led wing of Antifa, or the radical BAMN, needs to be condemned as the domestic terrorist organization that it is, by both the right and the left.  Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims” and what was perpetrated against Yiannopoulos and his supporters was exactly that.  These nouveau organized crime syndicates need to be unequivocally disavowed if we hope to maintain our liberties as Americans. And this goes both for the right to free speech and the right to peacefully protest, as the two are ultimately the dual faces of the same coin. If politically motivated violence persists, people will be intimidated into silence for fear of their safety, and genuinely peaceful protests will be undermined.

To those who still stubbornly hold out, who still hold some satisfaction in watching Yiannopoulos being forcefully shut down from speaking and in seeing his fans being beaten to the point of hospitalization, who believe the end justifies the means, I leave you with this quote from Congressman Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi: “Today, I will make you this promise: there will come a day where you will cry out for the enforcement of the law.  There will come a day where you will long for the law to be the foundation of this Republic.  So, you be careful what you do with the law today.  Because if you weaken it today, you weaken it, forever.  With that I would yield back.”  

Lawlessness begets lawlessness. Violence begets violence. Let us instead use the rights by which we are all entitled and have a conversation.