On February 1, the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) were scheduled to host a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial speaker and writer who made himself famous with his provocative and impolitic put-downs of the prevailing multi-cultural orthodoxy.

Everywhere Milo goes he is resisted by student-led efforts to shut down his events, on the grounds that his remarks are distressing and could propel bigots to harass and assault women and minorities. Berkeley was no different; the administration received multiple demands that Milo be turned away in spite of BCR’s invitation. To his credit, UCB Chancellor Nicholas Dirks rejected those demands, writing in a January 26 open letter to the campus community,

“we are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance. In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”

Amen.

Well, as the video shows, on the night of the event violent anarchists overwhelmed what had been touted as a peaceful protest, setting fires, damaging property and endangering the public, giving sufficient cause for UCB to cancel the Milo event. The aim was to “Shut it down,” and shut it down they did.

Another name in the news this week was the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was mentioned by President Trump at an event celebrating Black History Month.

We can guess that a refined man like Frederick Douglass would be no fan of the decidedly uncivil Milo Yiannopoulos. But what would Frederick Douglass say about this disgraceful episode at Berkeley?

Let’s imagine, using excerpts from his 1860 article, “A Plea for Free Speech in Boston.

“The world knows that last Wednesday a meeting assembled at UC Berkeley to hear a talk by a young provocateur and challenge his illiberal assertions. The world also knows that that the campus was invaded, insulted, captured by a mob of violent protesters, and thereafter broken up and dispersed by the order of the authorities, who were unable to protect the event, though called upon to do so.”

“These rioters brought their respect for tolerance and justice with them and proclaimed it loudly while in the very act of being intolerant and breaking the law. They railed against fascists while conducting themselves in the very worst manner of fascists.”

“Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.”

“Even here in Berkeley, and among the friends of freedom, we hear two voices: one denouncing the mob that broke up our meeting on Wednesday as a base and cowardly outrage; and another, deprecating and regretting the holding of such a meeting, by such men, at such a time. We are told that the event was ill-timed, and the parties to it unwise.”

There can be no right of speech where any individual, however lifted up, or however humble, however young, or however old, is overawed by force, and compelled to suppress his honest sentiments.”

“Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money.”

It’s worth noting that the rioters did both: after shutting down the Milo event they smashed ATMs at several banks and grabbed the cash. Smart call by Frederick Douglass, eh?

Here are the Douglass excerpts as he actually wrote them back in 1860:

The world knows that last Monday a meeting assembled to discuss the question: “How Shall Slavery Be Abolished?” The world also knows that that meeting was invaded, insulted, captured by a mob of gentlemen, and thereafter broken up and dispersed by the order of the mayor, who refused to protect it, though called upon to do so…

These gentlemen brought their respect for the law with them and proclaimed it loudly while in the very act of breaking the law…

Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power…

Even here in Boston, and among the friends of freedom, we hear two voices: one denouncing the mob that broke up our meeting on Monday as a base and cowardly outrage; and another, deprecating and regretting the holding of such a meeting, by such men, at such a time. We are told that the meeting was ill-timed, and the parties to it unwise…

There can be no right of speech where any man, however lifted up, or however humble, however young, or however old, is overawed by force, and compelled to suppress his honest sentiments…

Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money.

Frederick Douglass was a great man and an American hero. Too bad our shut-it-down protesters can’t be more like him.

 

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