Free speech is not the same as hate speech

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @ Wanger­sky.

It’s time to stop and think. Be­cause peo­ple are get­ting hurt, and if it con­tin­ues this way, more are go­ing to get hurt, and per­haps even killed. On both sides.

Fri­day, I got an email from a reader and Trump sup­porter in St. John’s, which read, “Sir: Can we ex­pect a col­umn from you about pre­serv­ing free speech in light of the left­ist brutes who shut down a speaker at the noted Univer­sity by us­ing hor­ri­ble vi­o­lence? Well why not? Cause you can’t blame it on Trump sup­port­ers no doubt.”

The writer makes a good point: armed pro­test­ers did US$100,000 dam­age at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley as they blocked a speech by Bre­it­bart News se­nior ed­i­tor Milo Yiannopou­los. Yiannopou­los is an ex­treme right-wing speaker whose ap­pear­ances reg­u­larly gen­er­ate protests.

The iden­tity of the pro­test­ers hasn’t been made clear, though that hasn’t stopped reper­cus­sions go­ing right straight to the top, with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump mus­ing on Twit­ter about stop­ping federal fund­ing to Berkley, writ­ing: “If U.C. Berke­ley does not al­low free speech and prac­tices vi­o­lence on in­no­cent peo­ple with a dif­fer­ent point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” (UC Berke­ley, of course, wasn’t “prac­tic­ing vi­o­lence” — it was some of the pro­test­ers at the event who were the vi­o­lent ones. But that’s be­side the point.)

Does such vi­o­lence af­fect rights to free ex­pres­sion?

Of course it does. It’s a dif­fi­cult bal­ance. Be­fore the Berke­ley talk, fac­ulty had writ­ten to the univer­sity’s chan­cel­lor, say­ing, in part, “Al­though we ob­ject stren­u­ously to Yiannopou­los’s views — he ad­vo­cates white supremacy, trans­pho­bia and misog­yny — it is rather his harm­ful con­duct to which we call at­ten­tion in ask­ing for the can­cel­la­tion of this event.” They con­tin­ued: “Yiannopou­los’ de­plorable views pass from pro­tected free speech to in­cite­ment, ha­rass­ment and defama­tion once they pub­licly tar­get in­di­vid­u­als in his au­di­ence or on cam­pus, cre­at­ing con­di­tions for con­crete harm and ac­tu­ally harm­ing stu­dents through defam­a­tory and ha­rass­ing ac­tions. Such ac­tions are pro­tected nei­ther by free speech nor by aca­demic free­dom. For this rea­son, the univer­sity should not pro­vide a plat­form for such ha­rass­ment.”

They also added: “We un­der­stand that if a de­ci­sion to can­cel were based on the po­lit­i­cal view­points he holds, we our­selves could be­come sub­ject to cen­sor­ship un­der other cir­cum­stances. We sup­port ro­bust de­bate, but we can­not abide by ha­rass­ment, slan­der, defama­tion and hate speech.”

A spokesman for the univer­sity replied, “our con­sti­tu­tion does not per­mit the univer­sity to en­gage in prior re­straint of a speaker out of fear he might en­gage in even hate­ful ver­bal at­tacks.”

Yes, vi­o­lence did im­pede free speech. But it’s not the only vi­o­lence con­nected to Yiannopou­los. At a Yiannopou­los speech at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton on Jan. 20, a protester was shot by a Yiannopou­los sup­porter.

It’s pretty easy to see where the al­leged shooter’s al­le­giances lie. This is from the Seat­tle Times: “‘Hey Milo,’ the 29-yearold for­mer UW stu­dent posted to Yiannopou­los’ Face­book page at 7:24 p.m. ‘im out­side in line to your UW event. I got sucker punched (he was a bit limp wristed) and some­one jacked my #MAGA hat,’ he said, re­fer­ring to the ubiq­ui­tous red and white ‘Make Amer­ica Great Again’ caps worn by sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Trump. ‘(Any way) for me to get a re­place­ment signed by you?’ the man asked.”

Here’s an­other in­ter­est­ing com­para­tor: while Trump muses about ret­ri­bu­tion against an en­tire univer­sity, the man shot in Seat­tle doesn’t even want the shooter to face crim­i­nal charges. He is­sues a state­ment through his lawyer: “My client wishes to ex­press his em­pa­thy for the per­son who shot him. He hopes to en­gage in con­struc­tive di­a­logue with that per­son, in or­der to de-es­ca­late and pro­vide a com­mu­nity-based re­sponse to this vi­o­lence.”

There are high roads, and there are low roads.

But far too many roads are lead­ing to vi­o­lence.

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