I recently had a discussion with a Trump supporter (we’ll call him TS) regarding the conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and his cancelled appearance at Berkeley. TS claimed that Milo was oppressed by mobs who prevented him from speaking freely. Now, I’m not a big fan of Milo Yiannopoulos – I get the the impression that he says what he says squarely for attention and has little interest in advancing the discourse, but I don’t believe anybody should be prevented from speaking regardless of his or her political persuasion.
It gets a little complicated when it comes to Yiannopoulos, though, seeing as he’s said several reprehensible things that could be considered racist, antisemitic, misogynistic, etc., and some students may wish their tuition money was better spent on such speaking engagements. After all, the name of his speaking tour is “The Dangerous Faggot Tour.” I was much more disappointed when Condoleezza Rice backed out of the 2014 Rutgers commencement after students protested. The protests were strictly political, more of a protest against the Bush administration, as Ms. Rice doesn’t have a reputation for controversy, but either way, my alma mater should have shown a little more backbone in defending the decision to have her speak.
In both instances, Yiannopoulos and Rice weren’t banned from speaking, they were merely denied the ability to perform at a paid speaking engagement. Remember that the 1st Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” It refers specifically to Govt. actions. And while the 14th Amendment incorporated the 1st Amendment to apply against state and municipal actors, the universities didn’t ban these people from speaking, they merely came to a conclusion that it would have been safer to cancel the engagement. Again, not a conclusion I agree with, but these folks were free to move their speeches to other locales, and weren’t prevented from exercising their rights – only from getting paid for it. Had Rutgers or Berkeley intentionally withheld permits from them based on the content of their messages, then by virtue of being public universities, they would have actionable claims of infringement on free speech.
But, here’s where it gets interesting – videos of Yiannopolous recently surfaced where he makes statements seemingly in support of pedophilia. You can read about it here, here, here, and here. As reprehensible as his statements are, and as disgusting as the idea of pedophilia seems, this is precisely the speech that is protected by the 1st Amendment. The chickens, it seems, came home to roost.
Yiannopolous, under tremendous pressure, resigned from his role at Breitbart. The American Conservative Union rescinded its invitation for his engagement at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Simon & Schuster cancelled the publication of his book “Dangerous.”
The right’s silence on the matter is deafening. Where are the cries of oppression? Milo spoke for a huge number of people when he provoked democrats and liberals. There’s no oppression when you’re seemingly in the majority. Now, Milo speaks for one person: himself, and possibly the perverse group of people who think it’s OK to commit pedophilia. And while nobody at the Confirmation Bias Podcast endorses his point of view (you won’t see any of us lining up to hear him speak), we’d be hypocritical if we didn’t take him at his word that he’s the victim of “deceptive editing,” as well as his own “sloppy phrasing,” and give him the benefit of the doubt insofar as his true intentions on the subject. Did he act on his words? Does he believe them? There’s not enough evidence to impugn that as of yet, and nobody has come forward claiming to be his victim.
But he broached a taboo subject, one so inflammatory that nobody wants to be associated with it. That’s not how free speech works. You don’t get to call out one organization for protesting his opinion, then turn around and feign incredulity when he actually says something you find objectionable. The 1st Amendment doesn’t only protect popular speech – it protects all speech.
And who is going to take up the mantle of defending his right to speech? The same organization that supported his right to speak at Berkeley. Kind of a hard buttercup to suck up.