A couple days ago, conservative students at the University of California at Berkeley invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus. Not-so-conservative students launched a large and noisy protest, calling for the University to cancel his appearance. A few anarchists later joined the protest to add some violence to the mix. The University cancelled Yiannopoulos’ visit. President Trump threatened to withdraw federal funding from Berkeley.
Let’s get one thing straight to begin with: Milo Yiannopoulos is a nasty piece of work. He is an editor at Breitbart News, a major outlet for the so-called alt-right (the White Supremacist movement). He has made a name for himself by viciously attacking women, trans-gender people, African Americans, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t lily-white like him.
Having said that, there are a few points to sort out here:
FIRST, the students who invited Yiannopoulos to speak had every right to do so. That’s what the First Amendment is about. No matter how objectionable a man like Yiannopoulos is, or how offensive the things he says are, he has the constitutionally protected right to speak, and the students who invited him have the right to invite him.
SECOND, the students who protested his planned appearance had every right to protest. That’s also guaranteed by the First Amendment. Berkeley has been a champion of free speech since at least the sixties.
THIRD, the anarchists who showed up to attack people and destroy property had no such right. Violence and vandalism are not protected by the First Amendment. To the extent that the police were able to identify them, I hope they will be arrested, tried and convicted.
FOURTH, the decision by the University to cancel Yiannopoulos’ appearance was wrong. They made a decision to allow one kind of free speech — protests — and to disallow another — Yiannopoulos’ speaking engagement. I was disheartened to see Berkeley turn its back on free speech. The administration should be ashamed.
FIFTH, why the heck did President Trump decide to chime in with such a dumb threat? The answer is that Yiannopoulos is an editor at Breitbart.com, the site run by Steve Bannon before he jumped on the Trump train, and is a personal friend of Bannon. You remember Steve Bannon, right? He is the President’s closest confident and chief advisor. Please, Mr. President, stop embarrassing yourself and the country wish this kind of pettiness.