Once again, a group of protesters—many of them students—decided to prevent a contrary speaker from addressing campus. Once again, they largely succeeded, harassing a student-journalist in the process.
Once again, the college administration—at Claremont McKenna, this time—condemned their illiberalism but could do nothing, or would do nothing, to stop them.
And once again, a speaker whose views are anathema to college students but well-represented among the broader American public left campus essentially unchallenged, because the mob denied curious audience members the opportunity to hear her out.
The madness is not confined to Middlebury. This time, the target was Heather Mac Donald, a Manhattan Institute scholar and author of the 2016 book The War on Cops. Mac Donald spoke at the University of California-Los Angeles last week, where her vigorous criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement drew heated opposition. But at UCLA, students largely allowed the event to proceed. Opponents of Mac Donald's frequently interrupted her and occasionally derailed her talk, but they did ask questions and permit her to answer them. It was, by and large, a successful exchange of ideas.
Not so at Claremont McKenna on Thursday night. The assembled protesters surrounded the doors to the building where Mac Donald was slated to speak, thereby preventing other students from attending the event. Instead, organizers livestreamed Mac Donald's talk so that interested parties could watch it online.
But even that did not satisfy the protesters.
"During my speech, the protesters banged on the glass windows and shouted," wrote Mac Donald in an email. "It was extremely noisy inside the hall. I took two questions from students who were watching on livestream, but then the cops decided that things were getting too chaotic and I should stop speaking."
Police officers smuggled Mac Donald out of the building through a backdoor, which surprised the protesters and allowed her to escape.
Steven Glick, a student-journalist at nearby Pomona College and editor of the Claremont Independent told The College Fix that he thought at least some of the protesters were students.
"Several protesters were middle-aged, and some were students at other colleges," he said. "The protesters chanted things like, 'From Oakland to Greece, fuck the police' and 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.' I tried to talk to dozens of protesters about why they objected to Heather Mac Donald, but not a single one could point to an issue they had with her work."
The protest was evidently organized by a Facebook group called "Shutdown Anti-Black Fascists." A post about the protest suggested that students were involved—it urged white students to form a buffer between black students and the police. The group also implored protesters not to cooperate with reporters from the Claremont Independent, according to Campus Reform.
The protesters followed these instructions well. Video footage of the event, reminiscent of the Melissa Click episode at the University of Missouri, shows protesters repeatedly trying to block Glick's camera, shout over him, and evict him from the area.
One professor claimed, in an email to the Claremont administration, that he was physically assaulted by protesters as he tried to enter the building to hear Mac Donald speak.
Claremont Vice President Peter Uvin expressed "disappointment" that more people weren't able to hear Mac Donald's lecture. Claremont President Hiram Chodash—who has previously made the admirable decision to defend the principles of free expression—suggested to The Los Angeles Times that censoring MacDonald probably had the effect of amplifying her message.
At the very least, the incident casts Mac Donald in a more sympathetic light. Her message is that police in America are unsung heroes, unfairly maligned by ungrateful citizens. Does anyone doubt that this perspective is more appealing in the wake of the protests at CMC, where responsible police officers whisked Mac Donald to safety while taking no action—violent or otherwise—against a censorious mob? It's positively a commercial for the idea that the police are peace-loving good guys.
That's a shame, because there's much to dislike about Mac Donald's war-on-cops narrative. In his review for Reason, the Cato Institute's Tim Lynch tore the central thesis of her book apart, arguing persuasively that she engaged in "willful blindness" toward police misconduct in the Eric Garner case. "Conservatives have some worthwhile ideas to offer in this debate," wrote Lynch, "but Mac Donald's polemics add heat, not light."
Much like Charles Murray, Mac Donald is a representative of a political perspective that is both popular—many, many people are more partial to Blue Lives Matters than Black Lives Matter—and intellectually rigorous enough to justify serious debate. I happen to think her perspective is wrong; I'm on the side of the students who want criminal justice reform, demilitarization of the police, an end to the War on Drugs, etc. But shouting down Mac Donald isn't the same thing as stopping her ideas from spreading. Not even close. To counter her narrative, BLM advocates first need to understand what she believes. And they need to uphold the rules of the college, which permit people to put forward their ideas for the express purpose of allowing others to listen and debate them.
No one is suggesting that protesters are required to hear Mac Donald out. But they are required to stand down. They have to let students who want to hear Mac Donald attend the event. These students are the true victims of campus illiberalism. The young person who wanted to learn more about the hard-right perspective on Black Lives Matter—possibly, to strengthen his own contrary position—was prevented from doing so by an angry mob.
If CMC takes seriously its obligation to protect all points of view, administrators must face reality. There needs to be some kind of punishment for students who pounded on windows, barred entrances, and assaulted journalists and professors.
In the meantime, it's harder and harder to deny that the campus censors appear to be winning. That's a loss for freedom of expression and liberal principles, and it's also a loss for anyone who was hoping to make an intellectual and effective argument against The War on Cops.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.