Freedom of Expression,  Stateside

Trump, Yiannopoulos and Berkeley

President Trump – whose latest exploits include using a prayer breakfast to discuss Celebrity Apprentice ratings, cutting white supremacism from a counter-extremism programme and lashing out at that well known enemy of the free world, Malcom Turnbull – has now moved his sights to U. C. Berkeley. Even by Trumpian standards it’s hard to see how the University can be blamed for its conduct over the cancelled speech by alt-right leaning provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

Yiannopoulos was invited to speak by Berkeley College Republicans.  The University’s response seemed perfectly reasonable, particularly in a US context:

“While we realize that the presence of certain speakers is likely to upset some members of our campus community, University policy, principles of intellectual and academic freedom, and the U.S. Constitution require that students and faculty members retain the right to invite individuals onto campus to participate,” Mogulof said in an email.

However yesterday events took a dramatic turn. 150 masked activists descended on Berkeley and engaged in violent demonstrations against Yiannopoulos. A fire was started and several people seem to have been assaulted. Rocks and molotov cocktails were thrown and windows were broken.  Here you can see a woman being attacked with pepper spray. Faced with this alarming situation, the university authorities decided they couldn’t allow the speech to go ahead.  Substantial preparations had been made in order to provide adequate security for this event, but the threat to people’s safety meant that the UC Police Department felt it had no choice but to evacuate Yiannopoulos. The university strongly condemned the violent methods of protestors:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence and unlawful behavior that was on display and deeply regret that those tactics will now overshadow the efforts to engage in legitimate and lawful protest against the performer’s presence and perspectives,” UC Berkeley said in a statement.

Trump’s response was to threaten to pull UC Berkeley’s funding (Edit: he doesn’t have the power to do this).

It’s quite wrong to say that U. C. Berkeley tried to limit free speech – instead it seems to have tried its best to promote it.  It’s even more wrong – it’s bizarre – to claim that the university practiced violence.