There are varying accounts regarding what happened on Wednesday night at UC Berkeley, most of them indicating that the rioters were not students – rather, they were unwelcome invaders who transformed a peaceful protest into something shameful. This group of 150 or so masked individuals sought to attract media attention and send an aggressive message to the right. They failed miserably.
Milo Yiannopoulos uploaded a short video to YouTube late Wednesday night after being rushed to safety. Wide-eyed and somber, he used the online platform to express his disbelief at the violence that led to the cancellation of his speech on cultural appropriation.
It is not a subject, you would imagine, that would prompt the kind of violent riots that you’re now seeing on every major broadcast network in the United States. And it’s not something that I expected to happen tonight. But it turns out that the progressive left, the social justice left, the feminist/black lives matter [unintelligible], the hard left, which has become so utterly antithetical to free speech in the last few years, has taken a turn post-Trump’s election where they simply will not allow any speaker on campus, even somebody as silly and harmless and gay as me, to have their voice heard. They’re absolutely petrified by alternative visions of how the world ought to look.
If you look closely at his expression, his signature impish smile is present, albeit muted. Because the reality is, Yiannopoulos lives for controversy. It is his oxygen and the concrete foundation upon which he builds his career. He would be unemployed without the appalled reactions of left-leaning college students – or, as he derisively labels them, “liberal snowflakes.”
The violent demonstrators played right into his hands, not to mention those of right-wing leaders across the country. By silencing him on campus, they only succeeded in amplifying his indignation online and in the minds of his thousands of fans. Suddenly, he was portrayed as a victim and a hero – fighting tirelessly against the hypersensitivity and censorship of the left.
It is imperative that people of Milo’s variety are allowed to visit American universities and speak freely. Sure, arrange a peaceful protest of your entire student body. Go ahead – boycott the event so Yiannopoulos is forced to preach to a sea of empty seats. Be my guest and smear him on social media, write articles tearing him apart, or scream your frustrations into a megaphone.
Just don’t. Resort. To violence.
As soon as the fists or the fires or the smoke bombs surface, the other side has won. The extremists are the ones people pay attention to when they switch on the evening news, and their presence overshadows and delegitimizes the hard work of peaceful protesters. In an era where our country is this divided, we need to be changing minds, not confirming biases.
It is only fair to mention that Milo has been explicitly cruel in the past. He was banned from Twitter for encouraging verbal abuse of actress Leslie Jones, and condemned by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for singling out and belittling a transgender student by name during a speech hosted on that campus. Yiannopoulos is in a position of influence, especially to many conservative young adults, so providing him a platform to encourage abuse towards individuals is absolutely unacceptable.
His privilege to speak on a college campus is contingent on his ability to criticize ideas and groups, rather than singling out people. As long as he plays by this simple rule (and whether he is able to or not is an entirely separate argument), Milo reserves the right to freedom of bigotry.