Education

Conservatism in the People’s Republic of Berkeley

The Sather Gate on the Berkeley campus (Simathers/Dreamstime)
Unless checked, universities will become violent echo chambers where intellectualism dies and Marxist dogma goes unchallenged.

For all of the talk about violence and threats against minorities on college campuses, there is little recognition of one group regularly singled out for harassment and intimidation: campus conservatives.

I have been harassed, stalked, chased, punched, and spat on during my time at UC Berkeley, and in early 2017, I was chased by a mob of masked, black-clad thugs. These thugs, members of a fringe political faction, threw bricks at police officers, launched Molotov cocktails, set fires, beat innocent bystanders, and cut a wide swath of destruction through the downtown area of an entire city.

This was not an outbreak of sectarian violence in a developing nation. This occurred here in the United States, on the campus of UC Berkeley, once home of the Free Speech Movement. The thugs who chased me were far-left anarchists styling themselves as “Antifa” (short for “anti-fascist”). They were responding to a planned talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, which administrators canceled for the safety of the speaker and the attendees. Police made only one arrest that night.

I was 20 years old at the time, a junior, and a member of the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR). Although I had expected a strong reaction from fellow Berkeley students for hosting a conservative speaker, I had never in my worst nightmares expected to have to run for my life from a mob determined to shut me down, in their own words, “By Any Means Necessary.”

By the next day, we were international news. But over the next few days and weeks, I watched as well-regarded voices in the political realm rose in condemnation, not of the violent acts of Antifa, but of us, the Berkeley College Republicans.

Critics included Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, who said that he was “appalled” not by the violence but by President Trump’s threat to revoke federal funds from Berkeley, and former United States secretary of labor Robert Reich, who scurried to Berkeley’s defense with completely unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Conservatives staged the violence, Reich suggested, “to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown on universities and their federal funding.”

Perhaps most distressingly of all, the UC Berkeley school paper, the Daily Californian, published five opinion pieces justifying the use of violence to shut down the event. One headline stated, “Violence Helped Ensure Safety for Students” (George Orwell would be proud of such a title).

All of this left ordinary Americans asking, just what is going on at Berkeley?

As a recently graduated conservative UC Berkeley student, I am here to tell you that it is even worse than you think. Members of the Berkeley College Republicans have been viciously attacked, harassed, and had their contact information publicly divulged in “doxing incidents. BCR is a perennial target for vandalism and graffiti — slogans such as “Kill BCRs” are visible throughout the campus and surrounding city — and not infrequently has its tabling events targeted for “bum-rush” attacks. The university’s inaction has only emboldened agitators to escalate their harassment, free of any consequences.

In fact, on several occasions, the university has locked arms with these leftists and helped to shut down our events through bureaucratic maneuvering. In 2017, three of our speakers, including the one I mentioned above, were canceled in just this manner: Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, and Milo Yiannopoulos.

Finally, in late 2017, we managed to host our first successful event in months, with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. But in order for him to speak safely, UC Berkeley police determined that the campus and adjacent roads had to be closed off. Several leftist protesters attempting to disrupt the event were arrested that night.

Around the same time, we took Berkeley to court. In our lawsuit, now backed by the Department of Justice, the judge agreed that Berkeley’s speech policies were unconstitutional. But is there a way to fight for free speech on campus without filing lawsuits that eat up taxpayer money?

State legislatures have been quick to pass free-speech legislation, but we need to find a solution to the problem that rests with ordinary citizens like you and me.

That is why I am encouraging all donors to major universities such as UC Berkeley to follow the lead of Dilbert creator and UC Berkeley alumnus Scott Adams and cease giving financial support to universities that do not respect free expression. Adams, who received his MBA from UC Berkeley, said many would “possibly try to club me to death if I walk on campus” because his political views did not align with the campus majority.

The anti-free-speech philosophy that is roiling UCB does not come from nowhere. It lies at the very heart of the modern university and is taught every day by professors at major American universities. Nor is Berkeley alone, although it may be one of the worst offenders.

American universities receive millions in donations from parents and alumni each year, and these donations are a major portion of their financial support. If donors start to speak, then universities will notice. And if there is anything that should be able to unite Americans of all political stripes, it is support for the great freedoms laid out in our First Amendment.

Should these trends continue, universities will transform into violent echo chambers where intellectualism expires and Marxist dogma goes unchallenged. Gone are the days where students challenged mainstream ideas in the pursuit of truth. “Ignorance is strength” will be the new motto of American universities.

Naweed Tahmas — Naweed Tahmas is a recent graduate of University of California, Berkeley.

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