What to Do When Angry Students Plan to Cancel a Speech

So the Chancellor of the University of California put out a defense of free speech when violent rioters  threatened to cancel a talk by a far-right agitator at Berkeley (see following item).  So the violent rioters overwhelmed the insufficient force of municipal and campus police and canceled the speech. Then what have we learned here? That high-minded statements unaccompanied by not enough law-and-order often do little or nothing for free speech.

What to do? The same thing we advise whenever this happens: don’t let the censors win. Be sure to invite the speaker back, even if it is the obnoxious Milo Yiannopolous, after negotiating enough local police and enough rent-a-cops to handle the feral young. This will make your commitment to free speech very clear.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

26 thoughts on “What to Do When Angry Students Plan to Cancel a Speech

  1. Yiannopoulos is what in Britain is called a “wind-up merchant”. He doesn’t mean half of what he says. He just says things to provoke humourless American SJWs. But as commenters above point out, it wouldn’t matter if he did mean it, or even if he really was a white supremacist. The authorities should defend freedom of speech, and the police should shoot those opposing it.

  2. John Leo feels the need to insult Yiannopoulos two times. Why? I imagine that insulting the guy is necessary to get a hearing from administrators who are inclined to suppress speech from people who don’t agree with them.

    Look, this guy is a provocative and entertaining speaker who makes people think – people who live in the academic bubble, detached from reality. Lots of students need to hear this kind of guy, particularly the students who shout him down with nonsensical slogans.

  3. One solution that I have been considering at my blog is the enforcement, not simply of free speech rights, but the rules of decorum, on college campuses. While I understand the objections, it seems to me that an argument against protests on the same the day of a controversial speaking event could be made. On grounds of showing an *invited* speaker the community’s “hospitality”, one could ban gatherings of people large enough to obstruct the proceedings, and even signs voicing disapproval.

    Relevant protests that seek to have the event cancelled could be allowed on the days prior to the actual event. There is something odd to me about describing university students as “feral” (unfortunately it does seem apt at times). It should be sufficient to insist on student IDs for people on campus, hanging around the venue, and then to threaten to discipline them for “conduct unbecoming” if their behavior becomes a threat to letting the event go forward.

    The idea of having to protect a speaking event on a university campus with a police force is just weird. The conditions under which such force is necessary could be prevented from gathering if we enforced decorum.

  4. “So the violent rioters overwhelmed the insufficient force of municipal and campus police and canceled the speech.”

    No they didn’t. The police were told to hide inside a building and allow the terrorists to assault women and freedom of speech at will. See this interview with one of the victims:
    The police wouldn’t allow victims of pepper-spraying into the building to receive medical treatment. The police were in effect accomplices of the rioters.

  5. Milo is not obnoxious to many who enjoy his speeches, nor is your opinion regarding him relevant.

    The only thing that is relevant is whether he breaks the law – no.

    And whether his detractors break the law – yes.

    And that he should be allowed to speak.

  6. Milo— far right?

    Good god, Leo, I can’t take you seriously. FDR sent citizens to internment camps, and I bet you have never called him a ‘far-right’ president, but you smear a free speech advocate because he gives the left the vapors, exposing their fascist/far right/ctrl-left tendencies.

    You are now on my ‘ignore’ list.

  7. If I were in Berkeley, had a concealed carry permit, some thug in a black balaclava swung a long pipe at me, I drew my weapon, and shot him dead, would I have broken the law?

    1. No – check out what happened when Yiannopoulos spoke at the University of Washington. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to get a carry permit in California.

  8. Milo isn’t “far-right.” More like alt-center. His political positions are quite mainstream, including limiting immigration and skepticism about feminism. He simply expresses his ideas in a humorous and campy way.

    1. Having extensive experience of both campuses, I can tell you that the security issues Berkeley faces (with radical activists, not campus crime) are incomparably more serious than at Chicago.

  9. Here’s another thing to do: set up cameras and use them and the security force to identify every protester they can. Anyone who is a student who participates in violence should be expelled – and that should be announced before Milo returns.

  10. …and if any of the “feral young” turn out to be students of the “university”, expel them. Immediately and irrevocably.

  11. We’ve come a long way, and not in a positive direction, when a fellow who stands up for classically liberal societal values and is branded “far-right” even by nominal conservatives.

  12. ‘Cancel’ is totally the wrong word here.
    Silence, muzzle, block, obstruct, shutdown all work.

    ‘Cancel’ implies some legitimacy to the effort, such as ‘the university administration canceled the speech’, or the College Republicans, or Milo himself…

    Thugs have no ability to ‘cancel’ anything.

    1. Until mobs of violent protesters start pouring in. Berkeley has plenty of experience of that, mostly decades ago. It gets you a total campus shutdown, plus occupation of the city by the national guard.

  13. 1. Milo Yiannopolous is not far right or any other nonsense. He is a libertarian. Anything to the right of Jane Fonda is a Nazi to anyone on the left.
    2. There is no such thing as hate speech. Milo Yiannopolous is exactly what the very hippies running college campuses of yesteryear were: an advocate of those who have a different world view than the bigots who run the diversity departments and most college classrooms do today.
    3. Remove my tax dollars from these indoctrination centers and transfer it to trade schools and alternative education, since Berkely has a 47% rate of graduates actually getting jobs from the shitty degrees at that riot training facility.
    4. Those students who were beaten and pepper sprayed should sue the school for MILLIONS of dollars and put out of business the diversity departments and administrative neanderthals who encourage and support and act out of these publicly funded institutions.
    5. It doesn’t matter what Milo was going to talk about, he has a first ammendment right not to be prevented from a bunch of cowards in black masks using violence and temper tantrums to get their point across, while the campus police LET it happen. It is insane and just nuts. Are Libertarians and Conservatives going to have to start packing their concealed weapons and pepper spray just to go to a speech. Picking off this human debris one by one would be a public service in my opinion.

  14. There is some evidence that the rioters are not students but an outside group being directed and probably funded by others. The FBI should take an interest in who these people are and who is organizing and supporting them. This looks like a RICO case.

  15. Letting fascist thugs win is gutless and beyond excuse — it’s aiding and abetting, and it obviously sets the stage for more of the same.

    “Even if it is the obnoxious Milo Yiannopolous”?

    No, ESPECIALLY if it is the obnoxious Milo Yiannopolous.

  16. I say F* Berkeley. Let the anarchists have it. They’ve been a hotbed of fascist thought for years. Build a fence around the campus, don’t let anyone out.

  17. Milo is only “far right” if you’re so far left that someone who champions free speech and points out the current fascistic derangement of the campus Left is somehow “right wing.” Which evidently you do.

    Milo is “obnoxious because he speaks very bluntly and confrontationally about the very blunt and confrontational rhetoric of the SJW Left, none of whose spokespersons would be banned or violently confronted when attempting to speak on a campus.

    You’re right the campuses must do more than give lip service to free speech. But the overwhelmingly far left ideology that rules most campuses, which you seem to share given your characterization of Milo, is not just a problem of bad manners or hypocrisy. It has become essentially a fundamentalist religion that never questions itself and tolerates no dissent or even questioning.

  18. Come on you don’t REALLY believe that they are for free speech?
    They knew what was coming, it had happened before, the rioters provided the excuse and the admin provided the cancellation.

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