By GRANT RAYCROFT
On Feb. 1, the University of California, Berkeley cancelled a planned speech from a noted Alt-Right figure in the wake of on campus protest. While this is not the first time university students have vocally protested the presence of the Alt-Right speaker, the University of California entered the national spotlight when Donald Trump tweeted his disapproval and issued a threat to withdraw federal funding. Another one of Trump’s complaints was that the university was not allowing the speaker the opportunity to practice free speech.
First, it is important to provide some background information. The speaker in question was Milo Yiannopoulos, best known as an editor for the Alt-Right outlet Breitbart News. For reasons I will explain later, I’m going to call him “M.Y.” M.Y.’s limited persona is of a supposed provocateur who stirs up controversy at the expense of “sheltered” liberals. These actions include calling rape culture a fantasy, threatening his unpaid writing staff, and harassing Saturday Night Live actor Leslie Jones on Twitter to the point the social network banned him. M.Y. also has a college speaking tour series called “Dangerous Faggot.”
One of the problems of talking about M.Y. is that much of his persona is an overt attempt to draw attention to himself despite his lack of qualifications. Even when he mocked the video game community in the past, M.Y. rose to prominence when he became a core member of the online harassment campaign known as GamerGate. Similarly, he uses his identity as a homosexual man to bully other queer people and validate the homophobic rhetoric of his followers and peers. As such, I’ve chosen to refer to him as M.Y. as even being critical about him is also playing into his goal of gaining attention. I am also going to use “Alt-Right” and “white supremacy” synonymously since that is how they are described by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
A major complaint about preventing M.Y. and other white supremacists from speaking at college campuses is that it inhibits their right to free speech. This is only functioning with a definition of free speech that implies that every individual is entitled to say what they please without being criticized or punished. Thus not hosting M.Y. is censoring his political ideology. However, this overlooks that any criticism against a person’s statements is also free speech. As such, the University of California students protesting M.Y. wasn’t suppression of free speech, it’s a mass demonstration of it. Similarly, Alt-Right ideology isn’t a genuine political platform designed to offer answers to how a governing body should function. It offers hate speech which is designed to justify the oppression of others while feigning legitimacy. M.Y. acts like his statements are provocative, but he’s not actually saying anything qualitative that undermines the institutions he opposes. Using transphobic slurs or calling Black Lives Matter a hate group isn’t thought provoking, it’s the equivalent of a child using swear words on a playground so his playmates will think he’s cool. In fact, Alt-Right leader and Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer said so after hearing one of M.Y.’s speeches, “It’s edgy and dangerous, it’s cool and hip. It’s that thing our parents don’t want us to do.”
Letting white supremacists like M.Y. speak at schools isn’t simply gross negligence but dangerous. While he ignores his critics as thin-skinned, the harm he inflicts is real. At the University of Wisconsin, M.Y. outed a transgender student, dead named her (using a name she no longer uses), intentionally used incorrect pronouns, dehumanized her, and made lewd sexual remarks about her. Professor Alan-Michael Weatherford of the University of Washington was targeted by M.Y.’s supporters for helping to organize the protest against him. Another protester at the same campus was shot by a M.Y. supporter. None of this is surprising as Alt-Right leaders actively recruit on college campuses. To quote Richard Spencer again, “I think you do need to get them while they are young.” Given that Donald Trump led in the polls with white college-graduated men, the Nazi might have a point.
It falls on the responsibility of university campuses to keep out white supremacists like M.Y. To let these hateful people in and to give them a soapbox isn’t a celebration of free speech but a mockery. The Alt-Right has plenty of platforms to speak from. What offering a hand does is draw out the marginalized people who are endangered by these people. To let white supremacists into universities puts their student body and faculty at risk and who the campus sides with says far more than an attention-seeking shill.