It seems like the political world has become even more divisive in the last year or two, something that many scarcely thought could be possible. As the partisan divide grew, it seems like colleges became ground zero for the new battle over free speech.
This led some to ask the question “is it morally right to punch a Nazi?” After all, their ideas are abhorrent to many, and they do preach violence against people that they don’t like. Students seemed to be in agreement that it was alright to punch a ‘Nazi,’ though the definition of ‘Nazi’ seemed very open to interpretation.
Those who care about the right to free speech may remember UC Berkeley as the place where Milo Yiannopoulos had his speech canceled after ‘Antifa’ showed up and set fires, trashed buildings, and assaulted people.
They may also recall that Richard Spencer, noted ‘Alt-Right’ figurehead, was punched in the face on the streets of our nation’s capital, leading to a celebration by many leftists.
More than a year after that event, and after UC Berkeley had done similar things to people like Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter, Reason Magazine went to the campus of UC Berkeley, one of the most obviously leftists schools in the nation and the home of the original ‘Free Speech’ movement on college campuses, to see what students thought about freedom of speech.
The questions they asked were varied, but they were all designed to see if students believed in free speech, and if so, to what extent they believed in this speech.
The answers concerning free speech on the campus were interesting at the very least.
Of course, almost every single student said that the violence that occurred at the Yiannopoulos event was caused mostly by ‘Antifa’.
‘Antifa’ is a decentralized leftist organization that utilizes violence in the furtherance of its goals. They call themselves ‘anti-fascist’ and they target anyone they decide is a ‘fascist,’ a connotation that they seem to apply to anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton.
They showed up en masse to halt the speech of Milo Yiannopoulos because they didn’t like the content of his speech. They wrecked the school and the area nearby in Berkeley.
However, the big point is that they SHOWED UP. They were not, for the most part, on-campus. They weren’t students attending the school or living in the dorm.
According to students at UC Berkeley, they came from outside the Berkeley community (something that Antifa has a long history of doing).
Most of the students said that they didn’t approve of what Antifa had done, but that they would necessarily condemn someone for using violence against a ‘Nazi.’
One student went even further, rationalizing the assault against Rand Paul, a Republican Senator from Kentucky, and saying that he wouldn’t necessarily condemn someone for assaulting someone with Libertarian ideals.
In other words, most of the students give a lukewarm support of freedom of speech at best.
When asked if they supported people randomly punching ‘Nazis,’ only a few people asked if the definition of ‘Nazi’ being used, was an actual, legitimate believer in the tenets of National Socialism as espoused by Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich or just someone labeled a ‘Nazi’ for convenience.
These responses from the students are a bit better than most expected, really. Berkeley politicians and their friends certainly seem to like the idea of being able to punch ‘Nazis,’ here defined as anyone they decide to call a Nazi.
It’s even been alleged that Berkeley PD was told to stand down and let Antifa do whatever they wanted.
However, the big question here shouldn’t be ‘is it okay to punch a Nazi.’ It’s ‘why does anyone feel they have the right to hit people they disagree with.’
The First Amendment was NOT designed to protect ‘popular’ speech. Popular speech doesn’t need protection, after all. It’s popular and generally considered inoffensive.
The First Amendment was made to protect the least agreeable forms of speech and expression. The vulgar and crude. he obnoxious and obscene. The LEAST popular ideas.
Yes, that includes the Nazis. It also includes Black Separatists, and generally anyone whose speech doesn’t meet specific guidelines for speech that can be censored.
Of course, the people operating the schools generally take an even less constitutional view on free speech, even though schools like UC Berkeley are funded with public money.
Leftists in public schools have used various methods to keep ‘undesirable’ speech off their campus, targeting speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, and Ben Shapiro (who, despite being Jewish, is still a Nazi in the eyes of Antifa).
Most popular seems to be using the claim that such events require ‘more’ security to levy illegal and unconstitutional ‘fees’ on speakers, or to limit people being able to actually hear the speaker.
Very few people, if anyone, really support the idea that Nazis have anything valuable to say in most circumstances. But the idea that they, or anyone, should be denied their right to speak, or that they should be targeted for violence when they speak, is antithetical to the First Amendment and the United States Bill of Rights.
We, as a society, need to do a better job of pointing out that speech does not need to be met with violence. We also need to be better at refusing to buy into the concept that speech can be violence.
Of course, that requires that the left would have to agree with those ideas. Seemingly, they don’t and their politicians and celebrities certainly don’t seem to either.