Recent “protests” against conservative speakers on college campuses have been marred by violence, yet excused and legitimized by mainstream media.
University of California’s Berkeley campus, once the sight of iconic protests in favor of free speech in the 1960s, became embroiled in controversy last week after violent protests last Wednesday night shut down an event where controversial Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous was set to speak. A few hours before the event was set to start, groups of those in opposition to Milo began destroying property and their acts became increasingly more destructive over time. Numerous videos, posted on social media and captured by local news stations, also showed incidents where some of the protestors, apparently belonging to the anti-fascists or antifa movement, were beating people with flag poles and other objects. At least one man was beaten unconscious. As the violence began to spiral out of control, the event was ultimately canceled but not before over $100,000 in damages were done to UC Berkeley’s campus. Following the event, antifa groups took to social media to declare “war” on those with opposing views along with promises to “dismantle the state.”
Though this “protest” was undoubtedly disturbing, the aftermath has arguably been more so. Emboldened by the events at UC Berkeley, antifa groups elsewhere gathered at NYU to disrupt the scheduled talk of another conservative figure, Gavin McInnes – co-founder of Vice News and host and commentator at the Rebel Media. While police were able to prevent the same destruction of property and violence that had taken place at Berkeley, protestors infiltrated the event and McInnes himself ended up being pepper sprayed and attacked. Antifa members have also taken to making threats against alternative media reporters in the days since the riots at Berkeley. In one case, Cassandra Fairbanks of We Are Change – a media outlet that is neither liberal nor conservative in the traditional sense – as well as her young daughter were threatened on Twitter by the Arizona Antifa Front.
Despite the chilling effect this is likely to have on the expression of conservative viewpoints on college campuses – and potentially elsewhere – the media as well as many politicians and public figures have either condoned the violence or publicly supported it. Major publications such as the New York Times hardly even mentioned the violence, only choosing to reference “self-described anarchists clad in face masks and spoiling for a fight.” The LA Times adopted the same strategy, focusing on free speech issues and Yiannopolous’ political views and most controversial statements while avoiding any discussion of the violence. Liberal-leaning outlets, such as the Daily Kos, took it a step further, characterizing the incident as one where one of Trump’s “little Breitbart friends had a bad night.” In addition to “mainstream” media, some politicians even expressly praised the riots such as Florida Congresswoman Val Demings who called the events at Berkeley “a beautiful sight.”
In addition to praising or condoning the violence, some mainstream outlets used the opportunity to blame conservatives and the right wing for the protests. For instance, CNN ran the headline “Milo Yiannopolous is trying to convince colleges that hate speech is cool” following the riots even though Milo did not even speak that evening save for a response to the rioting posted on his YouTube channel.
CNN argued that Milo was promoting “hate speech” for the following past statements:
In his campus talks, Yiannopoulos spares few targets. He’s gone after Black Lives Matter activists and has argued rape culture on campuses doesn’t exist. He portrays white males as victims and views social justice as a form of cancer. He has said people become feminists because they are “deeply physically unattractive.”
Though these opinions may be unpopular (especially on college campuses), they don’t necessarily constitute expressly racist, anti-semitic, or fascist ideas – though they do largely consist of critiques (albeit often crude ones) of left-leaning movements. The accusations of Nazism or white supremacy regarding Milo also seem out of place considering that he is Jewish, an immigrant, homosexual, and strongly prefers the romantic company of African-American men.
However, some went even further – accusing conservatives and Breitbart News of actually orchestrating the riots despite the clear evidence that the violent protestors identified as part of the far-left “antifa” movement. For instance, Political commentator, UC Berkeley professor, and former Secretary of Labor under Clinton Robert Reich postulated that “Yiannopolous and Breitbart were in cahoots with the agitators, in order to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown on universities and their federal funding.” The “crackdown” to which Reich refers is based off of a tweet from President Trump that essentially warned Berkeley to protect free speech following the riots or face the possibility of a loss of federal funding. In an interview with CNN, Reich reiterated this scenario, saying that he “wouldn’t bet against it.”
Clearly, this disproportionate, and frankly dishonest, characterization of the events is ultimately creating a consensus among the viewers of these media outlets that violent “protests” are acceptable – that is, at least, as long as those being attacked are conservative. Whether this is intentional or not is up for debate, but its ultimate effect is not. Violence in lieu of responsible political discourse is never favorable and condoning it for one group but not the other is the most dangerous type of partisanship the media and public figures can practice. All evidence seems to suggest that the mainstream media is quickly becoming weaponized.
The divide made bare during the most recent presidential election is becoming more and more glaring. Yet, regardless of one’s political sympathies, there is clearly something amiss with the violence now targeting conservative speakers at college campuses. Though many college students are liberal-leaning, it is important that students have the opportunity to be exposed to variety of opinions. While Yiannopolous and McInnes are indeed controversial and consistently breach the conventions of “political correctness”, there is insufficient evidence to condemn them as Nazis and white supremacists (remember – Yiannopolous is a homosexual Jew and McInnes co-founded “liberal” and “hipster” Vice). Labeling speeches they have yet to give as “hate speech” based largely on mainstream media-driven consensus does a disservice to free speech.
If conservatives were the ones violently “protesting” liberal-leaning speakers, there is no denying that the media and political response would be immediate and devastating. Yet now, the media and political establishment seem content to let some elements of the political left in the United States transform into the very thing they are claiming to fight against – fascists – with complete impunity. Indeed, Winston Churchill predicted this decades ago, saying that “The fascists of the future will call themselves anti-fascists.” Will Americans be able to see past these attempts to divide us and pit us against one another? We can only hope, but turning off the television news seems like a logical first step.