A statement by CRWS Chair Lawrence Rosenthal on 4/27 events at Berkeley
The situation at the University of California does not conform to the claims of suppression of free speech that conservative politicians and commentators have been trying to tie it to.
Neither student groups nor the university administration are responsible for the threats of violence that surround Ann Coulter’s proposed appearance on this campus.
The threats of violence come from off-campus radical political groups. In particular, a formation known as the Black Bloc wants to use this occasion to foment confrontation, including violent confrontation, with conservative and far-right groups connected to the alt-right.
These are the same groups that have for decades tried to turn peaceful progressive demonstrations into violent confrontations with police.
The university has two responsibilities at play.
One is to unequivocally support free speech — to have all views, including Ann Coulter’s or Milos Yianolpolous’s, aired on campus. This is a fundamental value of the university and its community.
The second responsibility is security. At times such as this, when the likelihood of violence by off-campus actors is so great, the university administration may have to make the unfortunate choice of choosing security — avoiding the potential horror of serious injury or worse — over free speech.
There is a deeper story here which should not be overlooked.
On April 15 the alt-right staged a march in the city of Berkeley with the clear intent of provoking street fighting with the Black Bloc.
After the melee the alt-right movement’s founder, Richard Spencer, exalted in the violence. Finally, in his view, politics in the USA had come to resemble the situation of pre-Nazi Germany, where communists and Nazis squared off against one another in the streets.
Spencer argues that the fragmentation in American politics is moving toward a polarization where people will be forced to choose one or another armed side.
Fascist and Nazi movements combined an electoral party with a private militia — like the Brownshirts in Germany who were a component of the Nazi party, or the Blackshirts in Italy who were a component of the Fascist party.
This situation has not developed in the USA, even in this period of extreme political confrontation. But It is Richard Spencer’s goal.
The deepest significance of the ongoing “Battles of Berkeley” is the attempt by the alt-right to move the country toward fascist-anti-fascist violence.
Conservative politicians and commentators wishing to use the Berkeley situation as a cudgel in the name of free speech run the risk of enabling the dark goals of the alt-right.