Politics & Policy

The Battle of Berkeley

A Trump supporter is pepper-sprayed by counter-protesters in Berkeley, April 15, 2017. (Reuters photo: Stephen Lam)
The leftist mob has sown the wind. Now, the whirlwind looms.

If the media accurately and comprehensively reported on leftist mob violence, it would see that a pattern has emerged: On campus and in the streets, a violent or menacing core seizes the ground it wants, blocks access to buildings, and shuts down the speech or events it seeks to suppress. This violent core is often surrounded and protected by a larger group of ostensibly “peaceful” protesters who sometimes cheer aggression wildly and then provide cover for the rioters, who melt back into the crowd. After the riot, the polite progressives condemn the violence, urge that it not distract from the alleged rightness of the underlying cause, and then do virtually nothing to enforce the law and punish the offenders.

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We’ve seen this play out time and again as mobs shut down campus speech, occupy campus buildings, and even assault innocent people — all without facing any real fear of arrest or meaningful punishment. In the aftermath of the Middlebury College incident, where protesters blocked Charles Murray from speaking, surrounded his car as he tried to leave, and sent a professor to the hospital, academics from across the political spectrum said all the right things. But the authorities have so far done nothing. Conservative Princeton professor Robert George has taken to tweeting a daily reminder that the mob is still winning:

Saturday, we saw more clashes in what now threatens to become an increasingly vicious, violent war for control of America’s streets. Leftist “antifa” or “black bloc” rioters met pro-Trump “Oath Keepers,” bikers, and alt-right goons in a barely contained battle royale, with assaults and beatings streamed live and posted to YouTube. Police struggled to control the violence and often appeared completely absent as brawls broke out across entire city blocks. By the end of the fighting, Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer said, “Militias, alt-right, nazis etc. won today in Berkeley. They outnumbered the opposition, pushed it back, and held downtown.”

We are now teetering on the edge of a truly terrifying incident, one trigger-pull away from a slaughter. Campus and urban progressives have a choice to make. Is this a nation of laws? If it is, then it’s time to grow a backbone, protect free speech, punish rioters, and expel those who disrupt the educational environment regardless of ideology. There should be no more sympathy or leniency for the lawless social-justice warrior than there is for the lawless neo-Nazi.

Every single time the progressive establishment ignores, minimizes, or whitewashes leftist violence, it sows the wind. Americans have watched mobs attack police and burn buildings in Baltimore, Ferguson, Charlotte, and Minneapolis. They have watched mobs riot over politics and free speech in Middlebury, Berkeley, Portland, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Is anyone at all shocked that when the police hang back, others will step into the void? Leftists are fond of saying “violence begets violence.” If we don’t restore the rule of law, we’ll all find out just how right they are.

— David French is a staff writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.

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