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Monday, February 19, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

There are few prospects in life more appealing than the silence of Ann Coulter. She brings to mind what novelist Mary McCarthy said about playwright and Stalinist Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'” If the world never suffered another emission from Coulter’s toxic brain, it would be a better place.

But she said she would speak at the University of California, Berkeley even though the school administration had canceled the speech she was scheduled to give April 27 at the invitation of two student groups. Faced with that challenge, the university changed its mind, sort of, proposing to let her appear May 2. All I can say is something I never thought I would: It will be a great thing for Ann Coulter to speak.

UC Berkeley is an exceptional institution whose history includes the 1964-65 protests that gained fame as the Free Speech Movement. Long known as a hotbed of left-wing activism, it has lately gained attention as a place where right-wingers venture at their peril.

In February, the administration abruptly called off a talk by then-Breitbart News troll Milo Yiannopoulos after protesters threw stones and firebombs and smashed windows. In all, they caused $100,000 in property damage and several injuries.

The destruction came not from students intolerant of unwanted opinions, according to the university, but from masked self-styled anarchists bent on wreaking havoc. After Yiannopoulos was invited, the administration had issued a ringing statement condemning his views while defending his right to speak. It affirmed the university’s commitment to “the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”

The event was canceled only after it became clear that the unexpected violence might prove “lethal,” as campus police said. Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof offered a plausible excuse: “We have never seen this on the Berkeley campus. This was an unprecedented invasion.”

Whatever turmoil might attend Coulter’s appearance, though, would not be unprecedented, and it would not be impossible to contain. With so much advance notice, the university should be able to mobilize an abundance of police resources to prevent and, if need be, suppress another riot.

By deciding to deny her a venue until a time it deems suitable — September was its preference — the administration gave the strong impression that its devotion to intellectual liberty is negotiable.

Its partial reversal Thursday may have been a way of avoiding the embarrassment of having Coulter show up in defiant glory. Or it may have stemmed from the greater embarrassment of letting feral troublemakers shut down any event they choose. But Coulter, noting that students will be on break May 2, has vowed to come April 27.

At other public institutions, the record of tolerance is mixed. When white nationalist Richard Spencer was invited to Texas A&M, the school defended his right to free speech and deployed riot police to handle any violence — while sponsoring a well-attended counter-event.

Conservative writer Heather Mac Donald’s talk at UCLA went off as planned but provoked angry yelling from some in the audience, ending with her being escorted out by cops. When Spencer was invited to Auburn, the university said no — only to be overruled by a federal court.

Auburn’s excuse was the same one offered by UC Berkeley: It couldn’t permit an event that might jeopardize safety. That policy defers to what lawyers call the “heckler’s veto” — which gives those inclined to violence the privilege of silencing any speech that might upset them.

State universities, being organs of government, are bound by the First Amendment. That may be why some of the worst episodes, including the one at Middlebury College when conservative writer Charles Murray was shouted down and physically attacked, have occurred at private institutions, which may ban speech they don’t like. But the spirit of free inquiry ought to be upheld at any college or university worthy of the name.

For any school to impede speakers because critics might protest violently is to give the critics control of who may speak. That’s why UC Berkeley’s handling of Coulter is so dangerous. At the moment, it’s rewarding thugs for being thuggish and thus encouraging more thuggery. It threatens to make the school a hostage to bullies instead of a place where ideas may be heard and answered without fear.

UC Berkeley faces a dilemma that implicates the most vital part of its mission. And right now, it’s making the wrong choice.

Steve Chapman blogs at Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


14 Responses to The Un-Free Speech Movement At Berkeley

  1. I’m unbashedly a Liberal… but stopping people from speaking just because you don’t like what they say is cowardly and, long-term, moronic.
    It’s also completely irrational.
    What are these libtards doing??????

    • They’re doing just what your own NZ Labour leader, Andrew Little, said when he remarked that there was a difficult line to draw between protecting free speech and pushing back against statements “calculated to cause harm or incite unhealthy responses”. Little talked about the “free speech nutters.”

      “We do have to, and sometimes on very difficult occasions, preserve the right of people to express views, even if sometimes they are unpopular or unpalatable to us.” “But there is a difference between that, I think, and clearly calculatingly harmful, prejudicial statements.” He was talking about New Zealand’s hate speech laws.

      In your neighbour Australia, the Australian Senate rejected attempts to water down Australia’s hate speech laws. The Malcolm Turnbull Government had proposed to change the law, replacing certain words.

  2. As caustic and rabidly nationalist Coulter may be, she should be allowed to speak.
    The best thing to do would be to utterly ignore her, and let her coterie of supporters attend her talk—alone. The school would be wise not to give her any special favors—just a lectern, some crackers and some water

    At the same time, and this is a wise tactic employed at another university, sponsor and hold a parallel talk, with a focus completely anti-Coulter and anti-vehement nationalism.

    This way, Freedom of Speech is insured, and the consequences of persisting in sowing the seeds of dissent and rancor will fall on Anne’s shoulder, and will be part of her ignominious legacy. Don’t deprive her of her place in the annals of Infamy, alongside Donald, Bannon and the other racists in the past and today, and all other misanthropes.

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    • Flagged the spam for you,

      Coulter should be allowed to spread her hate.
      But should a State University pay her to spread her hate?
      Should a State University provide a venue for her to spread her hate?

      Then turning to the other side; if Coulter is allowed to spread her hate; then aren’t the Koch Brothers allowed to spend their money promoting their own political philosophy?

      No, Brother, I don’t have answers. I’m stuck wandering in a logical quagmire. Looking for a consistent position I can hold.

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      • Anne should be allowed to spread her hate, but as you say, she shouldn’t be paid for it, nor facilitated to do so. Instead, we need to encourage individuals to want to change their attitudes and actions in a comprehensive and dignified manner. That way, people like Anne and Steve Bannon, etc. will find themselves operating in a vacuum with very few people willing to listen to them.
        The same principle will apply to the Koch brothers. If they won’t to waste the gift of wealth granted to them by the Creator then that’s their business. You and I can best counter the Koch’s by ignoring their attempts to buy our loyalties, and reject their self-centered materialist preoccupations, dreams and schemes. When there are no buyers for one’s wares and bleak ideologies, the seller goes out of business, loses interest, and eventually becomes an empty shell.

  3. I am an very passionate liberal and life-long Democrat, but I agree whole-heartedly with the author of this article. Free speech as long as it does not incite violence must be protected at all costs. These protesters are very misinformed if they think their actions can shout down anyone they disagree with. The university if it knew there would be violence should have called in all the security force it needed. I did not serve as a Marine in Vietnam to have a bunch of rioters trample all over the 1st Amendment. If these protesters really do incite violence, they should all be arrested, taken to a makeshift compound in the desert, and fed bread and water for at least a week until their trial comes up.

  4. I always thought that Berkeley was a college of intelligentsia, but apparently I’m wrong. If someone is invited to speak, no matter whether they are left, right or center, they should be allowed the opportunity. If a student doesn’t want to listen to them, they don’t have to attend, simple? Apparently, our college students have not be raised the same as we were, which was to respect a person’s right to speak and our right not to attend or listen. Also, the fact that anarchists are allowed on the campus to cause an uproar is totally out of line! The campus should have been prepared, whenever a speaker is invited that might be controversial, to keep an eye on these people and keep them from causing problems. Even the students should attempt to stop them from destroying their campus no matter what the cause! It just astounds me how people act nowadays…’s ridiculous, especially for a college that has always bred intelligent individuals.

  5. Free Speech should remain free speech. I do think that the far right is using free speech as fuel to incite anger. Just as the KKK marched through the deep south and the Orange Men marching in Ireland. If the right really wants a dialog then they should try to create one rather than talking over their opposition. This way leads to disaster.

    • Again, more liberal Lies and BS. Libwrals, the champions of free speech, unless, of course, they don’t agree with that free speech. It is the liberals that are rioting, inciting violence, and are willing to do ANYTHING to keep power. Where was the right rioting after Emperor Obama was mistakenly placed jn our White House? There were none. Get a grip on reality.

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