It was called the “Free Speech” movement. And the University of California at Berkeley was ground zero.
Way back there in the primordial days of the 1960s students at UC Berkeley were discovering their First Amendment rights. It all began in the autumn of 1964, as Reagan biographer Steven F. Hayward recounts in The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order 1964-1980:
The first harbinger of the agony to come for liberalism started at the University of California at Berkeley in the fall of 1964, when five students were summoned to the Dean’s office at the end of September for violating a new policy regarding political activity on university grounds. The students were facing suspension. By the time it was all over three months later, it was clear that university life would never be the same.
I’ll say. In a classic tale of the American Left and the penchant for violence that is in its DNA, the demand that students be free to set up tables “outside the Bancroft Avenue entrance to the campus to hawk their literature and enlist new cadres to their cause” would over time morph from a peaceful demand for free speech into a descent into violence and utter totalitarianism. And in a glimpse of what was to come, it should be said that Hayward quotes sociologist and onetime Berkeley professor Nathan Glazer as noting the irony aplenty that in this expression of free speech there were Berkeley students enthusiastically supporting a debate about the merits of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev versus those of Red China’s Chairman Mao — tyrants both who ruthlessly crushed free speech in their own countries.
As the struggle moved through 1964 and 1965, Californians — not to mention the nation — were awash in television images of an increasingly full blown rebellion against basic law and order on campus. Images of mobs surrounding a police car generated this headline in the San Francisco Examiner: “Reds on Campus” — accompanied by a photograph “displaying a book on Marxism.” The university descended into an ongoing deluge of protests involving as many as 10,000 students at a clip, with the university administration led by president Clark Kerr effectively losing control. As Professor Glazer would write in Commentary: “… one fears that the future of American higher education may be foreshadowed here… A great wave of energy has been released.” Norman Podhoretz agreed, saying he saw the Berkeley mess as a “warning shot across the bow.”
The long and short is not just that the turmoil produced a backlash that elected Ronald Reagan Governor of California in 1966. By 1969 the uprisings on California campuses had gotten so out of control that at one point Reagan sent in 2,700 National Guard and State Police to Berkeley, with helicopters spraying tear gas on what had now become full scale riots. One student was killed. At UC Santa Barbara, Hayward reminds that “student rioters… burned a Bank of America branch to the ground in Isla Vista, the bank being the most prominent symbol of corporate capitalism available to be trashed. UCSB was also the scene of several campus bombings; one exploded in the faculty club and killed a maintenance man.” Reagan called the “protesters” out for what they were: “Cowardly little fascist bands.” San Francisco State President S.I. Hayakawa famously grabbed a bullhorn as protesters swarmed on his campus, calling them — accurately again — “gangs of goons and neo-Nazis.” Hayakawa was instantly famous and was soon elected to the U.S. Senate from California.
There was more, as Hayward sums up thusly:
The Free Speech Movement led ironically to diminution of speech in the university, and to a new conformity vastly more stifling than anything (leftist social critic) Paul Goodman could have imagined at the time. Long after the fire of 1960s radicalism had burned itself out, its toxic residue remained to poison the intellectual life of most universities. That story is still being played out today.
And so it is. With the tyranny of anti-free speech political correctness blanketing colleges and universities all across the country. On Wednesday night UC Berkeley became yet again the poster-child for anti-free speech violence. This time? The excuse this time for the standard fascist violence that Reagan so accurately identified at Berkeley was Breitbart star Milo Yiannopoulos. Note well that Milo was born almost 20 years after Reagan was elected governor on a platform of getting tough with what had begun to emerge as the Anti-Free Speech Movement of, again in Reagan’s words, “cowardly little fascist bands.”
So there is Milo at UC Berkeley, in the midst of his college campus tour to protest today’s anti-free speech fascists. Invited by the College Republicans. And right on cue, masks in place to cover their identities in the finest style of the Ku Klux Klan, the fascists and Nazis of Berkeley or its environs show up to threaten a young Jewish gay man who has the bizarre notion that he is in fact entitled to free speech in America.
The Los Angeles Times, through MSN, headlined the story this way:
Violent protests force cancellation of speech by Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley
The story begins:
A speech by conservative firebrand and British writer Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled at UC Berkeley on Wednesday amid violent protests that sparked a fire in a campus plaza.
University officials called off the event about two hours before Yiannopoulos was to speak at the student union, where more than 1,500 people had gathered outside. Some hurled metal barricades and others smashed windows at the student union.
“This is not a proud night for this campus, the home of the free speech movement,” said Dan Mogulof, a Berkeley spokesman. He noted that the vandalism interfered with the ability of the Berkeley College Republicans — who hosted Yiannopoulos — to exercise their 1st Amendment rights.
Yiannopoulos, 32, writes for Breitbart News — a popular website among the far right — and he is an avowed supporter of President Trump. He’s also a flamboyant provocateur who has been denounced for propagating racism, misogyny and anti-Islam views, but he styles himself a champion of free speech.
Here is how it looked.
And then, in the finest style of Governor Reagan in the 1960s, President Trump stepped into the breech. Reported the Washington Post:
Trump lashes back at Berkeley after violent protests block speech by Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos
In full Trump mode the President tweeted this:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view —- NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
Exactly. Enough of this fascist totalitarianism is enough.
Let’s be clear. The First Amendment reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It does not say “except when we find someone’s views objectionable.” If it did, there wouldn’t be a liberal allowed within a country mile of a camera or microphone.
UC Berkeley had a responsibility to ensure Milo could give his speech. And if they couldn’t ensure this, then the current Governor of California, Jerry Brown, should have sent in the National Guard or the State Police to ensure that the First Amendment was enforced.
Bravo to Milo for his fight for free speech. And — yet again — bravo to President Trump, this time for standing up for Milo’s constitutional rights.
Somewhere Ronald Reagan is smiling.