In an embarrassing display of vulgarity and violence, rioters at the University of California, Berkeley lit fires and destroyed property to shut down a campus event featuring a speaker whose speech they oppose.
Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak Wednesday night, but had to be evacuated from campus when protesters masked with black scarves began throwing fireworks at the building where his speech was to occur.
“I have been evacuated from the UC Berkeley campus after violent left-wing protestors tore down barricades, lit fires, threw rocks and Roman candles at the windows and breached the ground floor of the building,” Yiannopoulos wrote on Facebook. “My team and I are safe. But the event has been cancelled. I’ll let you know more when the facts become clear. One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”
The good news for the protesters is that they shut down Yiannopoulos’ speech. The bad news for protesters is that this will likely help Yiannopoulos, as Reason associate editor Robby Soave explained in detail.
“[The protesters] turn Yiannopoulos into a free speech martyr, which is exactly what he wants,” Soave wrote. “When Milo is censored, Milo wins.”
A freshmen at Berkeley told Soave that the press gained by the riots turned Yiannopoulos’ event from one that was going to be attended by 500 people to one that attracted the attention of thousands.
“It was a 500-person event, that’s like the max occupancy of the room,” said university freshman Kevin Quigley. “If it was just 500 people going to hear him talk it wouldn’t be in the news, but when you have thousands of people gathering in the streets … they’re just making him more famous.”
Many of the people hearing about the riots will, as Soave wrote, see college students and social justice warriors acting in a belligerent fashion. The riots may even cause those who aren’t familiar with Yiannopoulos to seek him out on social media and evaluate his message for themselves. Either way, the campus speaker stands to become more famous — the opposite of what the rioters intended.
At the core of this situation is the First Amendment, and whether people with differing opinions should be allowed to speak.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education released a statement on the riots late Wednesday evening: “FIRE condemns both violence and attempts to silence protected expression in the strongest terms. We also urge that decisions affecting long-term policy be made only after all the facts are gathered and with appropriate opportunity for reasoned discussion.”
The university had previously refused to cancel Yiannopoulos’ speech, which was organized by College Republicans. Changing speech codes to kowtow to violent disrupters could send the message that violence is a suitable response to disagreement, and that censorship is valid.
Former President Barack Obama on numerous occasions told college students not to shut down those with whom they disagree, but to use peaceful dialogue and verbal arguments.
President Donald Trump weighed in on the violence, questioning whether the school should lose federal funding as a result its handling of the anti-free-speech riots. It is unclear what authority the federal government has to remove funding over the actions of violent protesters and students.
Those who resort to violence stand to lose public support. Moving forward, UC Berkeley will have to be strong in defending free speech to avoid becoming the new face of censorship among college campuses.