Recently a hundreds of rioters on the campus of UC Berkley attacked police, hurled rocks, broke windows and set fires in an effort to shut down a talk by Breitbart editor and Internet provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. The rioters succeeded in forcing Yiannopoulos to be evacuated from the campus which was then put on lockdown by law enforcement. The incident has attracted the attention of President Donald Trump, who tweeted, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow #free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”.
Ironically Berkeley saw the birth of the “Free Speech Movement” which held to the proposition than any form of speech, no matter how outrageous, should be allowed on college campuses. Fast forward over 50 years and the same university was the scene of a person’s free speech being suppressed by violent protestors. Berkeley is not the only university where such an incident has happened. The assault on free speech has fallen heavily against conservatives and libertarians with speakers shouted down and speech codes enacted to suppress rhetoric that some find objectionable.
To be sure Yiannopoulos.is often deliberately provocative and has been accused of just about every form of bigotry that can be imagined. He is also out and proud gay, something that likely gets under the skin of many of his opponents as he does not adhere to LGBT orthodoxy. But, as advocates of free speech point out, the first amendment was not written to protect rhetoric that people feel comfortable with but rather the outrageous and disconcerting.
If President Trump is serious about his idea of denying federal funds to institutions of higher learning that deny the right of free speech on their campuses the resulting cognitive dissonance would be entertaining to watch.
Like Yiannopoulos, Trump has been accused of about every form of bigotry in the English language and, to be fair, he has been known to have said alarming things. However, if he becomes a champion of free speech against the fascists who want to suppress the same, President Trump will become an unlikely hero. Maybe that’s the plan after all.