Free Speech and the War on Words

October 10th, 2017 - by admin

Bettina Aptheker / University of California at Santa Cru & George Ciccariello-Maher / The Washington Post – 2017-10-10 23:35:31

Free Speech! Hold Firm!
We must affirm and protect the First and 14th
amendments to the Constitution with everything we have

Bettina Aptheker / University of California at Santa Cruz

(October 10, 2017) — The Free Speech Movement (FSM) at UC Berkeley in fall 1964 involved upwards of 20,000 students before it was over, and more than 800 of the Berkeley faculty voted in support of its demands at its Academic Senate meeting on Dec. 8, 1964. The FSM coalition spanned the political spectrum at the time from the Young Republicans to the Young Socialists, to communists, to students variously affiliated with civil rights, religious, and environmental groups.

As a result, the Regents of the University of California revised their regulations that had previously banned communists and “controversial speakers” from visiting the campus, and prevented students from holding rallies, distributing literature, and posting flyers.

The Regents affirmed that henceforth their regulations would not go beyond the purview of the First and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution. Only the time, place, and manner of speech would be subject to regulation so as not to disrupt classes or the flow of pedestrian traffic and so forth. Registered student organizations, departments and so on needed only to request permits for their events in a timely manner.

This movement effectively marked the end of the last remnants of the “McCarthy period” in which scores of faculty had been fired for refusing to sign “loyalty oaths,” and in which hundreds and thousands of folks across the country had lost their jobs and been blacklisted. From this point of view, historians generally mark FSM as a kind of watershed in re-establishing democratic traditions and First Amendment rights in the country.

FSM is also often cited as the first mass movement of what became the New Left, riding on the strength of the black-led civil rights movement that climaxed with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. FSM was credited with inaugurating northern student protests against the Vietnam War. For these reasons, among others, Berkeley emerged as an iconic symbol of radical and liberal politics.

Within weeks of the inauguration of Donald Trump, therefore, it is not at all surprising that the “alt-right” led by Milo Yiannopoulos determined to hijack the issue of “free speech.” Acting on invitations from a rightist student organization, he and Ann Coulter tried to speak on campus in February 2017.

While hundreds and hundreds of students assembled to peacefully protest their presence because of their racist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic hate speech, a smaller group known as antifa — shorthand for anti-fascist — engaged in disruptive street actions that shut the events down altogether because the university felt it could not “guarantee their safety.”

Shortly after this, Yiannopolous was widely denounced and forced to resign his position as a senior editor of Breitbart News when he condoned and seemed to advocate the legitimacy of sexual relations between 13-year-old boys and adult men and women. The Conservative Political Action Conference cancelled an invitation for him to speak, and Simon and Schuster publishers cancelled their book contract with him.

Neither Yiannopolous nor anyone else accused the Conservative Political Action Conference or Simon and Schuster of infringing on his rights of free speech. Presumably, however, UC Berkeley, as both a public university and an iconic symbol, falls under a different standard.

In August, Yiannopolous announced that he was coming back to UC Berkeley under auspices of a student group called Berkeley Patriots. And as provocatively as possible, garnering considerable press, announced that many others from the “alt-right” would join him including Coulter, Ben Shapiro, and Steve Bannon, lately of the White House, for what he called a “Free Speech Week.” He also declared that he was going to award Coulter the first Mario Savio Free Speech Award (Savio led the FSM in 1964).

At the same time, and with the same kind of deliberate and provocative bravado, he proclaimed that, “Mario Savio Is Dead.” For those of us who knew and loved Mario, including his widow, Lynne Hollander, these were particularly vicious statements. Buttons appeared on the campus a few days later, in the blue and white colors of FSM that proclaimed, “Mario Lives.”

In this uproar, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said the campus would provide whatever security was necessary to guarantee the “alt-right” their right of free speech. In the end the campus spent more than $800,000 for “security.” Whether or not this was necessary, one can see that the real purpose of the “alt-right” was to attack the integrity of the university itself under the guise of free speech.

Meanwhile, a considerable number of Berkeley faculty called upon the administration to ban the “alt-right,” citing, with considerable credibility, their hate-filled, racist and trans-phobic speech. Progressive students meanwhile, with tremendous effort and keen political acuity, put together a coalition of more than 30 student organizations. They, in fact, held a rally of hundreds from noon to 2 p.m. on Crescent Lawn against white supremacy and to “Defend Our Campus/Reclaim Free Speech” on Sept. 25.

At the same time, press reported that 25-30 people attended a speech by Yiannopolous on Sproul Hall Plaza that was not sponsored by anyone, and therefore had no sound amplification. The student group, Berkeley Patriots, had withdrawn its invitation. There was no Free Speech Week, and the speakers announced as part of it had either never heard of it, or had declined the invitation (except for Shapiro, a Brietbart writer, and a lawyer).

Over the next couple of days, the “alt-right” held impromptu rallies with a handful of people, marched to People’s Park, and back to the campus, and three anti-fascist organizers, including Yvette Felarca, a veteran of the anti-racist group BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) were arrested on misdemeanor charges. And an “alt-right” provocateur was arrested on felony charges for carrying an illegal weapon, a leaded stick.

I have carefully rehearsed this sequence of events, and placed them in the context of the legacy of the Free Speech Movement in order to demonstrate as clearly as possible that the alt-right hijacked the issue of free speech, about which they know nothing, and could care less, as a huge distraction.

Their aim seemed to be to attack the university itself, embarrass progressives, and garner as much publicity as they could while essentially engaging in a provocative, hate-filled, racist bluff.

As in Boston, when they tried a similar tactic in early summer, their non-events were dwarfed by the hundreds and thousands of people, of all hues, ethnicities, genders and political persuasions, who came out to affirm an anti-racist, pro-immigration, pro-gay free speech agenda.

In my view this is how to deal with the alt-right and their ilk. Dwarf their events with non-violent mass movements of unprecedented size and inspired coalition.

I believe we must affirm and protect the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution with everything we have. Under these amendments all the rights we have won, however contested they may be now, from the civil rights laws, to voting rights, to affirmative action, to gay rights, to reproductive rights and many more are under the aegis of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

And our right and ability to organize, assemble, protest, publish, and freely practice religion are protected by the First Amendment. The alt-right, and Trump ideologues, the neo-Nazis and Klan surrogates would have us fall into a trap to limit the purview of protections.

Once limited it will be the progressive and radical movements, the anti-racist, and pro-immigration movements, the gay and lesbian and transgender movements that will be its first victims. Even while these amendments are still intact the U.S. Supreme Court, in its new fall 2017 session, is deluged with legal efforts to further gut even the limited protections of civil and human rights that have been won.

Hold firm to the First and 14th. With warmth and strength.

Bettina Aptheker is a Distinguished Professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a veteran of Berkeley’s 1964 Free Speech Movement.

Conservatives are the Real
Campus Thought Police Squashing Academic Freedom

George Ciccariello-Maher / The Washington Post

(October 10, 2017) — Last week, I sent a string of relatively uncontroversial tweets in the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, in which I sought to answer a question about mass shootings in the United States: Why are these crimes almost always carried out by white men?

“It’s the white supremacist patriarchy, stupid,” I tweeted, before then diagnosing a sense of double entitlement — as white people and as men — that, when frustrated, can occasionally lead to violent consequences.

My argument was not new, but rather reflects decades of research on how race and gender function in our society. To be both white and male is to be subject to a potent cocktail of entitlement to economic and political power, and to dominate nonwhite and female bodies.

When that entitlement is frustrated, it can lead to what the criminologist Mike King calls “aggrieved whiteness,” an ambient furor based on the idea that white Americans have become oppressed victims of politically correct multiculturalism.

In my view as a researcher and professor of politics, these tweets were neither provocative in tone nor controversial in content. Rather, the insight they provided felt all the more pressing now that President Trump has brought this aggrieved whiteness into daily headlines.

As a scholar and teacher, giving context and depth to contemporary debates is an important part of what I do, and it’s a calling I take seriously. But more and more, professors like me are being targeted by a coordinated right-wing campaign to undermine our academic freedom — one that relies on misrepresentation and sometimes outright lying, and often puts us and our students in danger.

This time, the outrage machine geared up as it often does, with a minor conservative media outlet — in this case, the Daily Caller — chopping my tweets up into a misleading mishmash that transformed a nuanced diagnosis of white male frustration into an attack on white people in general.

When the Daily Caller posted the article to Facebook, moreover, the intention was clearly to incite: “Absolutely unforgiveable” (sic) read the post, which by now has been shared nearly 2,000 times and commented upon more than 3,000 times.

Hate mail and death threats began to roll in. “I will beat your skull in till there is no tomorrow.” “Soon all you p – – – – – s will get exactly what you deserve.” “Do the world a favor, and kill yourself . . . I’ll help you find death sooner than later.” One called me a “pig f- – – – er like Obama,” adding homophobic slurs for good measure. Many called me a “cuck” — a favorite racial and sexual insult of the alt-right — while others urged me to move to North Korea or Venezuela. One “love note from a WHITE American” wrongly identified me as a “greasy South American a – – hole.”

From there, the contagion was rapid, with Stephen Bannon’s Breitbart News and even Milo Yiannopoulos’s own website running their own cribbed copies of the same story. Then came FrontPage, the Blaze, the College Fix and the campus mercenaries at Turning Point. Soon, the manufactured story had hit the conspiratorial fringes of Infowars and online forums across the right: from “blue lives matter” to those preparing for the inevitable rapture.

Finally, the story crossed the mainstream-fringe barrier at its most permeable point: Fox News. Fox claimed that not only do I blame Trump for the Las Vegas massacre, but that I even somehow blame the victims. Threatening emails increased to a flood. An invitation to appear on Tucker Carlson’s show arrived in short order, only confirming the insular nature of the machine, which amplifies to a furious roar the same small group of voices. I declined.

I am by no means the first, and will not be the last target of this kind of smear campaign by conservatives aimed at academics. In every case, it is the same right-wing media outlets leading the charge, and campuses are increasingly the target.

Universities and colleges have become the perfect target for such crusades: Purportedly hotbeds of multiculturalism, “safe spaces” and political correctness, campuses represent everything the resentful right is afraid of.

At the same time that the right-wing media smears professors like myself, decrying our tenure and demanding our heads, they breathlessly chronicle the supposed intolerance of the left when confronted with provocative campus tours by Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, Charles Murray, Ann Coulter and others.

And things aren’t letting up. While noteworthy cases such as Saida Grundy and Zandria Robinson in 2015 gave a glimpse of what was to come, the months since Trump’s election have seen a generalized assault on anti-racist academics.

In May, Tommy Curry at Texas A&M was targeted for a years-old podcast; Princeton’s Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was forced to cancel public events after threats following a commencement speech; and Johnny Eric Williams at Trinity College was targeted and suspended reposting someone else’s words on Facebook. Increasingly, leftist professors are being targeted for “things they never really said.”

As Princeton’s Eddie Glaude has put it, when the right is so easily triggered by anti-racism and feminism, they make it perfectly clear who the “real snowflakes” are.

Caught in this wave of right-wing threats and provocations, many universities are scrambling to keep up with the coordinated onslaught. In the best of cases, university administrations and departments have publicly condemned threats against faculty and made clear that they do not cave to intimidation campaigns.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has even responded to our cases with new guidelines urging universities to resist the targeted online harassment of their faculty.

In response to such illegal threats of violence, Drexel has chosen to place me on administrative leave. Earlier in the week, I asked my students to explain the relation between white masculinity and mass killings, and they offered in a few short minutes of class discussion far more insight than any mainstream media outlet has offered all week. But now, their own academic freedom has been curtailed by their university, and they are unable to even attend the classes they registered for.

By bowing to pressure from racist internet trolls, Drexel has sent the wrong signal: That you can control a university’s curriculum with anonymous threats of violence.

Such cowardice notwithstanding, I am prepared to take all necessary legal action to protect my academic freedom, tenure rights and most importantly, the rights of my students to learn in a safe environment where threats don’t hold sway over intellectual debate.

Alongside organizations like the Campus Antifascist Network, I will continue to challenge white supremacists in an effort to make Drexel and all universities safe space for an intellectual debate among equals.

George Ciccariello-Maher is a tenured associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University

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