Controversy Erupts Over Shutdown of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley
Feburary 4, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a member of the Revolution Club, SF Bay Area:
There is intense controversy all over the country but especially here in the Bay Area in the aftermath of the shutdown of Milo Yiannopoulos’ speaking engagement at UC Berkeley. The morning after the shutdown media reports decried the “violence” of the shutdown and how this was a “dark day for free speech at the home of the free speech movement.” President Trump sent a tweet threat: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view—NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
So quickly several of us from the Revolution Club printed out several hundred copies of the revcom piece “Three Points on the Righteous Shut-Down of Fascist Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley” and made two posters, “Talk to me about the righteous shutdown of the fascist Yiannopoulos ” and “Yiannopoulos is not engaging in ‘free speech.’ He is consciously spearheading the Nazification of the American university,” and headed to the campus.
For over three hours, we kicked off and anchored a swirl of debate with anywhere from 50-100 students at a time. Media outlets that had come to the follow-up reporting listened in as well. Most definitely, the shutting down of the fascist Yiannopoulos was hugely controversial.
There were students in the mix that thought it was righteous that Yiannopoulos was shut down and some of them spoke up. It was really important that we were out there to lead people to see the bigger picture this particular protest was part of. Most students—even those who recognize the profound bigotry, white-supremacy, misogyny, and viciousness of Yiannopoulos—have very little understanding of his links to the highest offices in the land or how his campus tour fits into a whole society-wide assault on critical thinking, real intellectual inquiry, and the search for the truth. In contrast, many students were not coming to terms with the fact that Yiannopoulos is a fascist operative for the Trump regime.
Too many were just seeing Yiannopoulos as just another person engaging in free speech, or just as an asshole and internet troll, and that by shutting him down, it was just feeding the troll. People saying that they hated Yiannopoulos’ misogyny and xenophobia and racism, but still treating him like he was just a social provocateur—too much of all this was separated from the real world, Yiannopoulos’ real track record and the real fascist regime of Trump he is an operative for.
There were people who were against Yiannopoulos, but a number of them said what happened the night before did not discredit him, but instead gave him more attention which is what he wants. Some argued that people should have just ignored him. Or that the protest should have been more “protest as usual” and “people registering their dissent.” That what happened played into the hands of the right-wing forces who could now portray themselves as victims of the intolerant left. I mean people really had the view that people everywhere were going to be turned against the students at UC Berkeley because the media was portraying them as bad.
We struggled with people that: First, it is not the case that if you ignore fascism it will go away—that these fascists are running the government, and we asked how’s ignoring them been working out so far? Second, whether most people agree with a protest (or anything else)—or whether the media is able turn people against something—is not how to determine whether it was right. The Abolitionists were demonized in their day, but they were right even when most (white people) disagreed with them. Third: we argued that it was completely one sided to think that everyone who saw the media reports were going to think Berkeley students were “intolerant.” We argued that tens of millions of people across the country, let alone around the world are already sick at heart and outraged at the Trump regime and will be inspired that people stood up and said no to fascism! I felt the students were largely missing this, not giving people enough credit, including for being able to read “between the lines” of the way things are reported and slandered in the mainstream media.
We challenged the students, “If you were around in Nazi Germany in 1932, and the lecture halls on the university campus were being filled with Hitler Youth—and knowing now what you know about the horrors that followed—would you have not done everything you could to shut down the Nazis? Some students clearly said they would, others really had to pause and consider the comparison and others did not want to or refused to go there. And, yeah, there were a few so stuck in their framework who said that even back in Hitler’s time he should have been allowed to speak.
Some of the students said they were concerned about how the way the media reported things would cause Trump’s fascist followers to be against the students, along with Trump’s threats to withhold millions in federal funding. We told them that even before the fascist Yiannopoulos was shut down, Trump and his regime resented the campuses—resent that it is a place where people think and are encouraged to think critically, more than in the rest of society. The fascist regime of Trump and Pence don’t like that; they feel threatened by it. We asked where were the protests the most intense after Trump’s election victory? The universities! They want to shut that down. They want to get a fascist foothold on the campuses and that is the purpose of Yiannopoulos’ tour in the first place.
We asked the students, how can you just look at Yiannopoulos from the framework of “free speech” when the regime he is an operative for, and Trump, who Yiannopoulos calls “daddy,” is the absolute antithesis of critical thinking and we used the point from the flyer: “Yiannopoulos’ campus tour is part of a larger, rapidly escalating, society-wide fascist assault on critical thinking, science, the ability to discover basic truths about objective reality and to challenge fascist lies. The Trump-Pence regime is relentlessly lying, muzzling government agencies, threatening the media, and firing or threatening government officials who stand up to them. This is because their fascist program is violently at odds with both basic facts about the world and what most people think is just. It is part of preparing their fanatical thugs to mindlessly carry out atrocities in service of their program.”
We told the students, Yiannopoulos and the Trump regime are fascists, they don’t care what you think. They are not about having a dialogue. They don’t want to debate with you about the merits of fascism. What is Trump telling 1,000 people at the State Department who have expressed disagreement with them? “Agree or go.” They want everyone intimidated and cowed. They operate on the principle of “might makes right” and imposing their “alternative facts” on the world. And Yiannopoulos is not dangerous because his ideas are so edgy and powerful, but because of the fascist regime that is behind his ideas and backs his warped ideas.
Some people thought Yiannopoulos should be shut down, but not the way that he was. Windows were broken and there was a fire and this “violence” “... makes the students look bad or turns everyone against the movement.” There is debate and more to get into, but once again I think the real thing was these students resist confronting that this is a fascist regime we are up against. Why do they resist that? Do they really think it can’t happen in the U.S., because of some inviolable principles, some checks and balances, or some senator that is going to ride in on a horse to save the day? These are questions we need to continue to explore.
We challenged the students to look at the violence and havoc already carried out by the Trump regime. The women around the globe suffering a violent assertion of patriarchy by Trump’s global ban on abortion, the tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees trapped in violence because of Trump’s ban, the threats of war that Trump had made in just one day on Mexico and Iran! We asked the students: Were they sleepless at night? Were they in anguish over that and Yiannopoulos’ promotion of that? We asked the students if they knew that Yiannopoulos came out on stage in a cop uniform in one of his recent appearances at a border state university and ran out his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim venom. We asked: What about how Yiannopoulos rails against Black Lives Matter and all the Black people that have already been murdered with impunity during Obama’s presidency and how Trump wants to put all that “law and order” on steroids? Let alone for all the people that have been victims of hate crimes because of the white supremacy, the misogyny, the xenophobia that the Trump regime—and yes, their operative Yiannopoulos—are pumping out and whipping up. What about ALL THAT violence?
There was something really troubling when some of the students accused all the two thousand or more people that were involved in shutting Yiannopoulos down of bringing the “wrath of the right.” Once again, “Let’s just be quiet and maybe those fascists won’t notice us.” It completely misses everything that is in the “Three Points on the Righteous Shut-Down of Fascist Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley” statement and we told the students it is the moral equivalent of blaming the civil rights activists for the brutality they suffered, the Freedom Riders who went South to fight against segregation, it is the equivalent of blaming them for “bringing trouble.”
So here we were standing out on the famed Sproul Plaza, home of the Free Speech Movement having this intense debate. And one student said to us, “This is where the Free Speech Movement started and this is where it died.” And to me it is crazy. The fact of the matter is the Free Speech Movement was a movement against official oppression, the oppression of the state!
In the immediate sense, most of the students did not agree with us. This is how things often start out when thousands of people are newly drawn into political debate—most come with the assumptions society has instilled in them. At the same time, powerful forces are working overtime to put students and others on the defensive for the righteous political resistance they were part of. For these reasons, it was so important that revcom.us spoke to this whole situation in such a timely way and that we were out there broadly engaging, debating, listening, and leading a process of people sorting out what is actually true and what is the bigger picture this particular protest was part of. People did a great thing together in standing up against Milo Yiannopoulos. The powers that be are hitting back. Now, we have to go out even more broadly to build on the real lessons and positive experience and draw even more people forward with even deeper understanding to take things forward from here.
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