On Monday, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said he was so “concerned” about Antifa violence at a scheduled speech at the University of California–Berkeley that the school should cancel it altogether.
In other words: His strategy for stopping Antifa violence is to give the group exactly what they want, and to let them know that the reason they’re getting what they want is because of their violence — and there really just aren’t enough desks in the world for me to smash my head on when I think about how dumb that is.
The speech in question, of course, is one by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. A conservative campus newspaper, the Berkeley Patriot, scheduled it as part of its “Free Speech Week,” and Arreguin says that the risk it might spark a violent reaction is one that his community should just not be willing to take.
“I’m very concerned about Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter and some of these other right-wing speakers coming to the Berkeley campus, because it’s just a target for black bloc to come out and commit mayhem on the Berkeley campus and have that potentially spill out on the street,” Arreguin told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I obviously believe in freedom of speech, but there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety,” the mayor said. “That is where we have to really be very careful — that while protecting people’s free-speech rights, we are not putting our citizens in a potentially dangerous situation and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing the windows of businesses.”
Arreguin’s concerns are, of course, warranted. After all, the outcome that he’s worried about has happened before: In February, UC–Berkeley had to cancel one of Yiannopoulos’s speeches because Antifa showed up and started smashing windows and shooting off fireworks at the venue, causing $100,000 worth of damage to the school’s student union.
Now, what happened in February was obviously unacceptable, and Arreguin is completely correct to say that he doesn’t want that happening in his city. Here’s the thing, though: Canceling the speech because of this violence is sending Antifa the message that its violence works. Arreuin toldt the Chronicle that he didn’t “want Berkeley being used as a punching bag,” but the truth is, that’s exactly what he’d be turning it into by bending over and allowing Antifa thuggery to dictate what kind of events its campuses can host. It’s lazy, it’s short-sighted, and quite frankly, idiotic.
Thankfully, the school doesn’t seem to be heeding his advice. UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof told the Chronicle that officials at the school “have neither the right nor ability to interfere with or cancel invitations based on the perspectives and beliefs of the speakers.”
Truly, it’s terrifying to imagine what kind of place this country would become if we started allowing extremist violence to limit our speech. If you, like Arreguin, think that Antifa’s violence is dangerous, then the absolute worst thing that you could do would be to tell them that it’s actually the perfect way for them to get exactly what they want. Yes, Arreguin may say that he “obviously believe[s] in freedom of speech,” but his reaction proves that he’d rather just sacrifice it than actually take the time to figure out how to do the job that government officials like him are elected to do — which is to protect the basic rights of the people whom they serve.
The fact that an elected official in the United States could actually look at what happened in February and think that the lesson to be learned was “Oh, okay. Well, then now we know that we just limit speech then!” is idiotic and lazy at best, and terrifying at worst. Obviously, the focus should instead be on learning how to better prepare your community to face this threat, which is about so much more than just protecting its buildings and windows from damage. It’s about protecting its people’s very right to exist as free individuals in a free society, and there should be nothing more important to our elected officials than that.