The Lesson Of Berkeley’s “Free Speech Week” Fiasco: Jerks Make Terrible Champions And Martyrs

Conservative agitator/ campus troll Milo Yiannopoulos’s Free Speech Week in Berkeley, California was advertised as a major event, bringing some of the most Left-reviled  conservative speakers and rabble-rousers together for four straight days of speeches and events on a campus that has repeatedly disgraced itself by being hostile to speech its primarily progressive denizens consider “hate speech.”

The University of California was taking elaborate measures to avoid the violence that protesters there and at other campuses have brought to appearances by many of the featured speakers. It was rumored that as much as $600,000 would be spent on security. The prospect of the rhetoric of such professional provocateurs as Yiannopoulosas, Steve Bannon and Ann Coulter, to name the best known, echoing around the school where it was least welcome promised an instant cultural touch-point, like a right-wing Woodstock, while challenging leftists and ideological censors to reveal their ugly, totalitarian sides.

But by the end of the week, many were predicting that the event was a mirage. Speakers whose names had been promoted on preliminary schedules either pulled out, denied they had been contacted  or said they were never planning to go. The campus publication sponsoring Yiannopoulos’s circus, The Berkeley Patriot, never reserved indoor school venues. Yiannopoulos kept up the pretense, announcing on Instagram a planned march through campus tomorrow in protest of Berkeley’s hostility to free speech. “It’s time to reclaim free speech at UC Berkeley and send shockwaves through the American education system to every other college under liberal tyranny,” Yiannopoulos wrote.

Today, the day before the “Week” was to begin, UC Berkeley announced  that ‘Free Speech Week’ was officially cancelled, saying,

“Representatives of the Berkeley Patriot student organization have informed UC Berkeley’s administration that all of the events scheduled for the coming week have been canceled. It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement was made at the last minute, even as the university was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life in order to provide the needed security for these events.”

Now there is mass confusion, with strong indications that the event was a sham from the start. Lucian Wintrich, one of the planned speakers, e-mailed Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof this morning,  to say that the event had been a set-up from the start. “It was known that they didn’t intend to actually go through with it last week, and completely decided on Wednesday,” Wintrich wrote.

“Wait, whoah, hold on a second,” replied Mogulof. “What, exactly, are you saying? What were you told by MILO Inc? Was it a set-up from the get-go?”


Wintrich replied, “Yes.”

An account of the chaos and miscommunications surrounding the event published by The Atlantic yesterday certainly made this development seem probable. Milo, as late as this afternoon, insisted that the intention was always to hold a real week of speeches. He has as much credibility as someone who makes his living creating controversies and infuriating his ideological foes deserves to have: none.

What’s going on here?

I have no idea. Maybe this was a master trolling effort, forcing a school that has done much to undermine free speech values to waste money protecting the campus against violence that its own biased anti-freedom of thought and expression culture seeded. Maybe it was a hoax to trigger embarrassing reactions by the school to the looming horror of unwelcome speech, like those I wrote about here, and here. Maybe this is another example of incompetent event planning and management. I do know this, however:

While it is true that the importance of the First Amendment is that it protects controversial, unpopular and inflammatory speech, since measured, popular and reasonable speech seldom need protection. But  jerks, creeps and assholes make lousy champions. For one thing, their association with free speech makes free speech look bad to those who don’t comprehend or agree with the basic principle. For another, because they are jerks, assholes and creeps ( let’s call them JAC*, for short) they are likely to abuse the right. You can’t trust jerks, assholes and creeps.  Moreover, when they are abused, they make terrible martyrs, as we saw in Charlottesville. Ethics Alarms had to defend the right of white nationalists to hold  a Nazi-style torchlight parade without having to face urine-bombs thrown by antifa  jerks, assholes and creeps, but I knew that most people’s brains shut off regarding such fine points of civil rights and ethics. It’s a little like defending the Exclusionary Rule, which allows criminals to go free even though police have found smoking gun evidence because the authorities violated the Fourth Amendment acquiring it. You know you’re right on law and ethics, but you still feel terrible making the argument.

I also know that while launching a phony event to freak out Berkeley, trigger weak-minded students and  create massive controversy is unethical, Berkeley and much of the academic community were asking, begging  to be treated this way. The Mercury News wrote,

In the days leading up to the supposed start, students and faculty said they were fed up with the time and public resources being spent on accommodating a man who has made a career of trolling people online and spewing racist and sexist vitriol.

“It’s just too much,” said UC Berkeley junior Dominick Williams, 20. “We’re just trying to learn.”

Max Wolf-Johnson, a Cal senior, agreed, noting that professors had preemptively canceled many of his classes, he said.

“Actual intellectual discourse is halted,” he said.

And who is responsible for the mere threat of conservative, extremist, even racist speech disrupting a campus and prompting violence? It is those who would try to silence the speakers, and a university and its faculty that indoctrinates students to oppose diversity of ideas by teaching that there is only one acceptable view of the world….theirs.

Berkeley needed a real “Free Speech Week” to re-establish, if it could, that its campus wasn’t hostile to non-conforming views. Of course, it is hostile, which was what Milo was trying to show, as if any further evidence was needed. Instead, he demonstrated that the speakers reviled by the left really are untrustworthy JACs. This is not the way to enlighten people. It is how biases are reinforced.

Good job, everybody.

*I know, I know..


Sources: The Atlantic, Mercury News

Pointer: Imjustsaying, who owes me a real name. And let me add this: suggestions for posts accompanied with comments like “how can this story NOT merit ethics commentary?” and “Bet this is another significant episode you won’t/can’t find ethical implications for”  will get you banned. I’m not anyone’s ethics monkey; I write what I choose to write about according to what interests, engages and amuses me. You are encouraged to come along for the ride, but I’m driving.

12 thoughts on “The Lesson Of Berkeley’s “Free Speech Week” Fiasco: Jerks Make Terrible Champions And Martyrs

  1. I’m glad you did write about it. This was a very differed prospective than I’ve already read. Part of me thinks Berkeley deserves it. However I think it sets a very dangerous precedent that will only hurt conservatives on college campuses on the future.

  2. Just an example of the right learning from the left: how to be JACs (not that this group needed lessons)

    This time the left was trolled like they have done others in the past. Set up by their opponent in a situation so there is no way to respond without losing. Not how you win friends and influence people, of course, but it is a way to make your opponent pay a price for their stances. Wearing your opponent out emotionally, physically and financially, while relying on their basic decency to allow you to get away with it. Been done to conservatives for years. Some of those former conservatives are forgoing principles and turning the tables.

    Need I point out that this was predictable? I have been saying so all year: what the left has done will be done to them, as the modified Golden Rule roles down this bitter path. No one wins, but I don’t think a win is the point: I think just making sure the left loses is the goal. It takes skill to fight against an opponent who only has to go with the flow, who can change stances and move goalposts at a whim. It sharpens the wits of those who resist, making them think, clarifying principles and arguments. When one such sells their soul those skills come along. Such make good gorilla fighters, physically and politically, when total war is declared and they are free to use formerly despised tactics.

    Once the oppressed are in power, they will oppress others. Human Nature does not change. The newly oppressed will resent it every bit as much, especially when they are innocent of offense against their accusers. The downtrodden have gotten hold on some power and so use the tools they so despised. Are they even self aware enough to realize their folly? Recent events tend to make me think not.

    However, having become what liberals once protested makes them vulnerable to the tactics they used while disenfranchised. They now have the budgets, the capital, the infrastructure, and therefore something to lose. They must now defend ground taken, lest they lose the very perks they sought. Being in this sort of dominance progressives are in our culture makes you either ruthless or lazy. Either will eventually bring you down if the other side will use the tactics of the leftist, shifting the attack, melting away if a win is unlikely, changing the threat such that it wears the Establishment down. The sweetness and light yesterday’s hippies thought would prevail if only they were the Establishment has turned to ashes in their mouths once they arrived.

    The protesters of the ’60s have become what they despise: The Man. Driven by money and power, selling out to whatever fad groupthink endorses, never having solid ground in the shifting sand of popular culture. Never being safe from the sharp knives of their allies should they falter, or should it become expedient that they be sacrificed. They have a tiger by the tail, and it scares them. The monster they created is hungry, and will never be satiated. It is no longer enough to fight: now progressives must fight in the correct fashion, lest they offend the wrong protected group or idea. And on top of that, those nasty ‘Nazis’ are daring to strike back, using progressive tactics!

    No wonder the left has lost their collective cool.

  3. Bye, and thanks. Of course, I had forgotten that you sent your name in, and may well have missed it, as I get about 500 e-mails a day. I apologize for that misstatement. I’m not going to relitigate your obnoxious presence here, but this last comment is res ipsa loquitur. Because I did not have time or interest in links you sent in as suggestions (or apparently, commands) you conclude that there is bias involved. I would throw someone with your attitude out of any ethics seminar I have ever taught, and I am grateful that you did my job for me.

    I just reviewed your handful of comments here. As I sensed from #1, your orientation was adversarial and hostile from the beginning, and your assumption has been that my commentary is not in good faith. Your participation was a single insult to me professionally and personally. I am not obligated to accept that with a smile, don’t, and won’t.

  4. Moreover, when they are abused, they make terrible martyrs, as we saw in Charlottesville. Ethics Alarms had to defend the right of white nationalists to hold a Nazi-style torchlight parade without having to face urine-bombs thrown by antifa jerks, assholes and creeps, but I knew that most people’s brains shut off regarding such fine points of civil rights and ethics.

    The thing is, almost all controversial speech comes from JACs.

    It’s a little like defending the Exclusionary Rule, which allows criminals to go free even though police have found smoking gun evidence because the authorities violated the Fourth Amendment acquiring it.

    Opponents of the exclusionary rule point out that no other country has this rule, that America is an abberation for having this rule,.

  5. One of the people arranging the Free Speech event posted his email exchanges with campus authorities to argue that they did not process his requests in good faith. (The emails were posted at Milo Yanapoulis’ website.) Looking at the information available about these plans, I get the impression that some organizers were fully in earnest, other participants were skeptical (“it would be nice, if you can pull it off”), and a few were not serious about putting it together (and just wanted to watch heads explode on campus). Like so many other issues, it’s not fair to tar all the participants with the same brush.

    • Agreed. I’m primarily tarring Milo. But I’ve also planned events, and been part of them. You don’t lend your name to a fraud, a possible fraud, or a plausible fraud. Coulter, for example, never publicly cast doubt on her participation, but now says that she was never fully committed. Ethics Foul.

      • Point of fact: I listen to Joe Pags on the radio on the way home, and he had Ann Coulter as a guest before this happened. Joe asked her about it, and she was directly stated that she had her doubts that it would happen. She said she was tired of going to San Fran and not actually speaking.

        I got the distinct impression she was not committed. To be fair, the implication I got was that Berkeley would not allow it to happen, but her commitment was definitely in question.

  6. Phil,
    You’re purpose for posting your comment above was an unethical character revealing attack on Jack and Ethics Alarms. If you had a problem with Jack you should have taken that up directly with Jack instead of launching what could be considered a libelous public smearing of Jack. You’re a coward for not addressing your “concerns” privately like a real adult. You sir are the asshole.

    P.S. Seek professional help for your Histrionic Malevolence Syndrome.

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