Shouting Down Speakers—a Regular, Organized Campus Business

Last week a mob of chanting students prevented author Heather Mac Donald from speaking at Claremont McKenna College. After the students prevented entrance to the assembly hall, Mac Donald managed to give her talk by remote livestream for a while, until police cut her short out of concern for security; students had discovered her whereabouts and blocked all exits to the building. A noted author on a wide range of subjects (and former colleague of mine at the Manhattan Institute), Mac Donald has drawn particular ire of late by defending police departments against claims of racism brought by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Will the Colleges Even Try to Cope?

The campus attacks on speech are getting bolder and more organized, aren’t they? The night before Claremont, Mac Donald’s speech at UCLA had been disrupted, though with less physical obstruction. At Middlebury College last month, the assault on the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray came near to injuring him and did injure faculty member Allison Stanger. Nor are conservatives the only targets: last month Princeton philosopher Peter Singer was shouted down at the University of Victoria, in Canada, by disabled-rights activists accusing him of “able-ism.”

Having long ago tired of hearing apologies for such attacks on speech, I’m also tired of efforts to dismiss them as scattered incidents blown out of proportion. “You keep talking about six or eight episodes but there are thousands of campuses.” Think of all the books we aren’t burning!

In Britain, where “no-platforming” has been going on for some years, they’re franker about these things: of course, it’s an organized movement with goals. Early on the distinction began to blur between urging campus officials to disinvite someone, and physically preventing them from speaking once invited. By now it is accepted that the goal of no-platforming is to stop hated figures from speaking not just on campus but to audiences more broadly — before public assemblies, on broadcast media, you name it.

They Won’t Even Debate Free Speech

Rather than equivocating on the question of whether their adversaries should be free to be heard in public debate, student activists will now just flatly say no, they shouldn’t. (This is beginning to happen in America too.) And once “direct action” against wrongheaded speakers comes to be accepted, the terrible trio of institutional risk aversion, security expenses, and insurance considerations tends to do most of the rest of the practical work in disposing of targeted speakers.

At Claremont, as at some other campuses in comparable episodes, there has been bold talk of consequences. “Blocking access to buildings violates College policy,” announced Claremont McKenna president Hiram Chodosh. “CMC students who are found to have violated policies will be held accountable.”

Well, that’s good. But if the script runs as before, his comment will stand in retrospect as the peak of any tough administrative response by the institution.

The working partnership between college administrators and security personnel, while successful in this instance at preventing injuries, will not turn out to have been optimally structured to gather the evidence needed for either criminal charges (should any be pressed) or college disciplinary action.

The College Censors Have Lawyers

The in-house process of investigation and discipline will be slow, while the national spotlight moves on. Affluent parents will hire lawyers to minimize consequences. The wider campus community of faculty and administrators, assuming it was privately on board with a hard line to begin with, will wobble. Time is on the disrupters’ side.

What’s particularly notable is that the Claremont action was planned in large part openly, on Facebook and other social media posts with visibility levels set to “public.” “Bring your comrades, because we’re shutting this down,” declared a Facebook event shared not only among students but by officially supported campus organizations like Pitzer Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault. (Pitzer is one of the five Claremont colleges.)

A training session for “accomplices” to the action was announced for the Scripps Student Union (Scripps is another of the five) with the advice, “For white accomplices: Please keep in mind that your role at this protest, aside from acting in solidarity with POC students at the 5Cs, particularly Black students, is to serve as a buffer between students of color and the police. That means, if the police come, it is imperative that you stay at the protest with fellow accomplices and engage with cops should it come to that.”

Training sessions for disrupters and allies are an important element of direct action, and they usually follow formulas closely informed by lawyerly knowledge of how to skirt the line of later-provable illegality. (Just because persons showed up in response to a call to “shut down” a speaker, can you prove they’re an unlawful assembly?) With the players prepared ahead of time, lucrative counter-claims can also be generated should police or authorities respond with too much force or the wrong kind of it or with the wrong timing.

Even if it doesn’t come to that, the university may find it difficult to establish precisely which students were responsible for what — and in this context, unlike that of a Title IX trial, federal agencies will not be in the background pushing for the use of standards more favorable to guilt-finding. Video evidence, if it exists, will be scantier than one might wish; reportedly angry demonstrators rushed student journalists from the conservative Claremont Independent whom they saw trying to videotape the events.

Why Not Ban Direct-Action Training?

If the will and the staying power were there, universities could fight back. Given advance word of an attempt to shut down speech, as they had in this case, they could make sure experienced videographers were there under university sponsorship to document what happened for the sake of both guilty and innocent. They could declare direct-action training (including for “accomplices”) contrary to university policy and deny meeting space to it. They could note as evidence students’ social-media promotion of calls for disruption, and strip university funding and official recognition from groups that openly promote such actions.

Failing such will, this is not going to stop with Mac Donald, Murray, Singer, or whoever is the next target after that, or the next, or the next.

Walter Olson is senior fellow at the Cato Institute

6 thoughts on “Shouting Down Speakers—a Regular, Organized Campus Business”

  1. “Our” governments encourage a dumbed-down population because their motto is always: “There’s No Money In Solutions!”

    And people only send their children to college to compete in the marketplace; getting accredited is an expensive requirement for success, so they know in advance that all they’re really doing is paying other people who say they are smart, to say their kids are smart, too!

    Worse, the “Publish or Die” mentality means that ‘researchers’ and ‘intellectuals’ have to LIE all the time, in order to continue extorting money from the suckers who fund their institutions of higher learning! That’s their “Progress!”

    They have to lie by making up new, false words and false definitions to describe the very same, ages old things.

    And unfortunately, just like with all other false-idol human ‘institutions,’ there’s only so many symptoms of “Do Not Attack First!” cause-and-effect scientific truths and logical facts one can address with “laws” of physics, and philosophy, only so many right answers, before one must veer off into exploiting the almost infinite number of sorta almost right,(but really wrong) answers, in order to keep up the pretense that the educators are actually doing something responsible to earn their pay and to continue to enjoy the right to govern others – the very same point in which, after whence reached, all human social organizations decline into criminality and their empires fall into ruin.

    At best, educators are exactly like their delusively clueless students – in fact, in many if not most cases, they ARE still really only perpetual students: those who were too timid to try (or tried once and gave up after failing) to make it in the “outside” world of competitive business and free markets, so they decided to return to the nest (if they ever left) and from paid teaching assistants simply promoted them selves to full, tenured professorships and remained glued thereafter to their safely lucrative academic chairs.

    Remember the old adage? “Those who can’t do, teach” (others endless excuses to re-name their failures, too)!

    😉

  2. What is “hate-speech” and why should it be considered a crime if it’s NOT already: a) a threat; and b) slander (fraud)?!

    If it’s not either PHYSICALLY threatening speech – or emotionally threatening BECAUSE it could physically impact one’s life, like how fraudulent slander causes other people to react to one as if one were a criminal in need of hating and beating – then it’s THE TRUTH: and so it SHOULD cause one the emotional distress of ‘hurt feelings!’ So it isn’t objectively “offensive,” but is, in fact, socially beneficial in that it helps defend society from criminals, whether or not said predictably victim-blaming criminal is subjectively “offended” by their victims being notified about THEIR offenses!

    Having no facts to justify their aggressive hypocrisy, all criminals will resort to using emotive ‘arguments’ to justify their crimes by playing the victims. So they can be relied on to try to criminalize hurt feelings and to make offending people, (i.e: the criminals, by accusing them of their crimes) illegal, too!

  3. So, “WHY ARE OUR UNIVERSITY AND COLLEGE CAMPUSES SO SCREWED UP!?” (you might ask?)

    Here’s how the so-called “soft” sciences aka “humanities” (anthropology, psychology, sociology, and even criminology) really work: They all started off by examining the various symptoms and EFFECTS of human behavior, thinking, group-thinking behavior, and of criminal free-will CHOICES, respectively, but then self-invalidated by looking for hidden mysterious predestined and predetermined inevitable force “CAUSES” of it all, which degraded them all into only one criminal, excuse-making alibi topic: “VICTIMOLOGY!”

    So we get these two, permanently opposed philosophical poles:

    Law-abiding Conservatives: “Criminal behavior is an effect of free-will choice!”

    Criminal libertines: “But what CAUSED that choice? There’s always a cause!”

    Their implication is that there are no crimes nor criminals because we’re all “victims.”

    In this way, they proudly enslave themselves to the crime-excusing ‘inevitable force’ alibi!

    Further, there is no cause-and-effect morality: Since predation CAN happen, “Therefore” it WILL always happen; “So” we MUST form ever-larger gangs to pre-emptively, defensively extort & deter enemies in order to safely accuse and punish them for their potential crimes BEFORE they can commit them!

    Finally, as all criminals inevitably do, they assert that, while they feel perfectly free to claim that we are all ruled by the iron hand of predetermined, predestined, inevitable forces, these forces are also all hidden, mysterious, and beyond not only our control but also our comprehension! We are all (they claim) equally dangerous fallible beings if not outright mistakes which must be controlled in advance for both our own good and for the safety of all others.

    So the only real crime is to accuse another victim of being a “criminal” simply because they seemed to choose to commit their “crimes” against other helpless victims!

    (Ignoring that, by accusing criminals with the evidence of their crimes, by their own rules we just couldn’t help ourselves, either LOL)!

    *THE ONLY “CAUSE” OF HUMAN-INITIATED EVENTS THEY PRE-EMPTIVELY DEEM INVALID, IS FREE-WILL CHOICE ITSELF!*

    Their “pre-emptively defensive” slanderously victim-blaming victimology habits (with which they, by claiming to be perpetual victims, slander all others as permanent oppressors, by implication) let them insist that we must always all “GO ALONG” (with criminal lies) “TO GET ALONG” (with lying criminals)! – that submissive suicidal masochism is the highest holy virtue, while offending others (criminals) and hurting their feelings with the often-painful truth, is the worst offense anyone can commit – ignoring, of course, that offense can rarely be given, it can only be taken by the one choosing to take offense!

    They claim that, since life is too complex for anyone to ever really understand cause-and-effect, all so-called facts are really only opinions anyway, such that the libertine criminals’ entirely fact-free subjective opinions are to be held IN LAW as the diversely opposite equals to those silly law-abiding conservatives’ objective facts!

    That’s what’s behind their immoral relativism! “Remember, kids, there are no wrong answers! Everyone gets a prize for losing! Whee!”

    Like all criminals, libertine “liberals” always want ever-more rights (like, to own our stuff) with ever-less responsibilities (as in, having to work for or to otherwise earn it)! And the best way for criminals to convince their victims not to counter-attack them is to pretend that they were always really ever only victims anyway, and also that their criminal attackers are and always were really ever only equally innocent victims, too!

    This, they call “Progress!”

    Such defeatists don’t believe in winning, so they will only work to make sure everyone else is as much if not more of a loser than they themselves are; (adopting a static stance of hostile aggression, asserting that they are permanently “Better than you!” instead of “I can and will still improve myself!”) – as proudly pessimistic fatalistic and cynical masochists, (which cowardice they call ‘shrewd’ and ‘realistic’) they always seek to control their own fears, BY causing those very same, worst-case scenario problems which cause the pains they fear the most (like, in sadistically antagonizing innocent others by slandering them as equally criminal) which gives them their favorite backwards victim-blaming alibi to excuse their own crimes:

    “It’s not a crime since we (i.e: you) all do it, too!”

    But as Dracula proved, the real cause of criminal choices was the calculation that they could get away with it!

    His 15th Century Wallachia was the only place on earth ever to enjoy a ZERO crime rate!

    Closer to home, there’s daily evidence that even modern leftopaths are quite capable of observing and obeying cause and effect rationality logic and facts: They are able and willing to stop at four-way intersection stop signs, and then wait patiently for their turn to go – simply because their lives depend on it!

    Which proves criminals, no matter how libertine, can resist their criminal urges and aren’t forced into it!

    There’s nothing beyond their own free-will choices CAUSING them to commit their crimes (or not)!

    😉

    Finally, victimology is slanderous extortion, (because perpetual victimhood implies perpetual oppressors) and perpetual extortion is called SLAVERY.

    And naturally, such anti-social, slanderously paranoid personalities will “succeed” and even consistently “fail upwards” in such environments, because after all their motto is: “There’s No Money In Solutions, so Please Give Generously – AGAIN!”

  4. Want to stop this nonsense? Completely sever all connections between state and federal government and higher education. No government loans, grants, subsidies, research funds, etc., regardless if the university or college is titularly “private” or explicitly government-run. No Title IX. Separation of government and education to avoid violations of the First Amendment.

    When parents and their children are faced with the full cost of an education, when they can no longer rely on taxpayers to defray their expenses for idiotic courses and majors, when they face the actual consequences of their anti-freedom attitudes and actions, then many of these budding statists and collectivists will discover they do not qualify for admission to these colleges or cannot afford postponing adulthood while hiding out in what are becoming sheltered, cult-like campuses.

  5. “You keep talking about six or eight episodes but there are thousands of campuses.” Think of all the books we aren’t burning!

    I think more in terms of the speakers not being invited.

    Rather than equivocating on the question of whether their adversaries should be free to be heard in public debate, student activists will now just flatly say no, they shouldn’t.

    The “student activists” are nothing more than the “useful idiots” of the tenured radicals in the faculty & administration– don’t think for an instant that a good chunk of them are in the background encouraging & organizing this.

    The “student activists” themselves are nothing but followers, cowardly individuals hiding behind the anonymity of the mob. If you confront them directly & individually, if you “stare them down” (and I have), they will flee like cockroaches. It’s the people behind them who are dangerous.

    If it were merely this, a case could be made for free speech & academic freedom — but not when the resources of the institution are used to organize, facilitate, & protect these protesters. (At a public institution, there are real “color of law” issues and I’d love to see a 46 USC 1983 suit tried.)

    I once had a Student Affairs office take out an ad in the student newspaper — encouraging students to protest & disrupt my event. This was done “officially” with the University logo, seal and everything — and things got ugly.

    …. until police cut her short out of concern for security; students had discovered her whereabouts and blocked all exits to the building.

    As opposed to clearing the exit and arresting those who refused to move. I assume the State of California and/or the City of Clairmont has a fire code — and if necessary, they could have requested the assistance of the Clairmont PD and/or the CHiPs.

    But no, the police response is always to shut down the event — and usually to blame the victim. Yes, to blame the speaker and the students who invited her — to consider them to be criminals and not the thuggish protesters who truly are.

    Even worse, the police usually make it clear that they have no intention of protecting conservative students from physical assaults.

    That’s what’s behind this and that’s what makes it so scary.

    The “Student Activists” are little more than lemmings — it’s the institutions themselves that are behind this thuggery and it will take a wholesale administrative purge (perhaps facilitated by a Federal Grand Jury) to end this stuff.

  6. Thanks to Mr. Walter Olson for this helpful post (and also for his work against gerrymandering — a key issue here in Wisconsin). I’m a college professor, and in order to provide intellectual firepower to us free speech advocates, could you please address the “heckler’s veto” question? I.e., what are the key issues that non-lawyers should know in order to convince others that the heckler’s veto is illegal (?), ultimately counter-productive(?), technically legal but against the spirit of free speech? Any guidance is welcome.

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