The mayor of Berkeley is urging the University of California, Berkeley, to cancel an upcoming appearance by controversial right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, citing his concerns that anti-fascists will “use large protests to create mayhem.”
“I’m very concerned about Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter and some of these other right-wing speakers coming to the Berkeley campus,” mayor Jesse Arreguin told the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday. “It’s just a target for the black bloc to come out and commit mayhem on the Berkeley campus and have that potentially spill out on the street.”
But don’t try to tell Arreguin that his suggestion might in fact be an infringement on free-speech rights. “I obviously believe in freedom of speech, but there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety,” he added.
He couldn’t be more wrong. No such line exists. To the extent that free-speech rights must be balanced with concerns for safety, the law must always come down the side of controlling and punishing those who use violent force to silence those with whom they disagree, not on the side of using government power to smother any expression that might provoke riots.
Arreguin is effectively suggesting that the brute force of the loudest mob defines when and whether Americans are free to express unpopular ideas. “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,” he added.
In his view, if violent crowds turn up in the town square and break enough windows because they’re enraged by your free expression, well, sorry, but you’re going to have to shut up. That isn’t free speech; it’s mob rule.
Rather than asking Berkeley to cancel Yiannopoulos’s appearance — and those of other controversial right-wing figures – Arreguin ought to request that city law enforcement deploy the full extent of its resources to quell every violent riot that occurs in response to these events. Anything else would be to allow the left-wing masses to dictate the terms of free expression in his city.