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Free Minds & Free Markets

The Bipartisan Urge to Suppress Dissent

Conservatives at Berkeley and critics of the Trump administration both deserve freedom of speech.

The University of California at Berkeley's inhospitality to conservative speakers, the subject of a federal lawsuit filed on Monday, prompted a Twitter rebuke from President Trump a few months ago. Yet his administration seems determined to demonstrate that suppression of opposing views is a bipartisan impulse.

Berkeley College Republicans (BCR), which invited conservative commentator Ann Coulter to speak on campus this Thursday evening, and Young America's Foundation (YAF), which underwrote her visit, argue that Berkeley's vague, unwritten policy regarding "high-profile speakers" unconstitutionally discriminates against unpopular viewpoints. As a result of that policy, which was adopted after violent protests prompted the university to shut down a February 1 appearance by former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, Berkeley canceled Coulter's speech, then offered to reschedule it for next Tuesday afternoon, in the middle of the "dead week" between classes and exams.

BCR says it felt compelled to cancel an April 12 talk by another conservative journalist, David Horowitz, after the university insisted that it take place at an inconvenient location and end by 3 p.m., meaning most students would be in class while Horowitz was speaking. BCR and YAF say the restrictions imposed by Berkeley in the name of public safety have not been applied to left-leaning speakers and amount to an "unlawful heckler's veto" that marginalizes conservative voices.

After the Milo melee in February, Trump suggested on Twitter that Berkeley risks losing federal funds if it "does not allow free speech." If the president were sincerely committed to protecting First Amendment rights, he would issue similar warnings to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which recently demanded that Twitter reveal the identity of a DHS gadfly, and the Justice Department, which is considering criminal charges against people who share classified information leaked by others.

Last month a special agent in charge at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of DHS, issued a summons to Twitter seeking records that would unmask the person or persons behind @ALT_USCIS, an account that regularly criticizes the Trump administration's immigration policies. There did not seem to be any legal justification for the summons, which looked like a blatant attempt to intimidate critics.

DHS dropped the summons the day after Twitter filed a lawsuit arguing that it threatened the First Amendment right to engage in pseudonymous political speech. Last week, in response to inquiries by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), DHS Inspector General John Roth revealed that his office is investigating whether the CBP summons was "improper."

The day before Roth expressed concern about government inquiries that might have "a chilling effect on individuals' free speech rights," CNN and The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department is once again looking for a way to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for sharing classified documents with the public. The Obama administration abandoned that project after concluding that charging Assange with violating the Espionage Act would create a precedent that could be used against any news organization that publishes stories based on "defense information" from sources who obtained or divulged it illegally—a very common journalistic practice.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo says we shouldn't worry about that because Assange is not a real journalist, a debatable and constitutionally irrelevant point. The "freedom of the press" that is guaranteed by the First Amendment is not the freedom of people who work for officially recognized news outlets; it is the freedom to use technologies of mass communication.

That freedom extends to everyone in the United States, whether or not he is a professional journalist or an American citizen. If Assange broke the Espionage Act by distributing classified material within the U.S., that means he used "the press" there.

Trump, who declared "I love WikiLeaks!" when it was revealing embarrassing information about Hillary Clinton, has changed his tune now that he perceives a threat to his government's secrets. When he was asked about a potential criminal case against Assange last Friday, Trump said, "It's OK with me."

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Spinach Chin||

    To suggest that there's moral equivalence between conservatives and progressives on this issue is absurd.

    The purpose of the Twitter summons was to locate a suspected "rogue" USCIS employee, and while I don't agree with the government attempting to strongarm Twitter for this information, it's a long way from wholesale suppression of political views, which is what American universities do on a daily basis.

  • Zeb||

    Universities aren't the whole Democratic party either and are only suppressing political views in a very limited way (albeit rather disturbingly).

  • Mickey Rat||

    The Senate Democrats voted en masse a couple of years ago to amend the Constitution to limit 1st Amendment protections for political speech. The Democrats have largely embraced suppressing dissent.

  • Quixote||

    Everybody knows that some forms of speech don't deserve to be protected and should be aggressively suppressed, if necessary by arrest and prosecution under any available legal pretext.

    Those who whine and gripe about a little bit of perfectly appropriate censorship usually speak for some sort of interest group themselves.

    Surely no one here would dare to defend the "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in our nation's leading criminal "satire" case?

    Let the representatives of the "free speech" community go ahead and defend that outrageous legal opinion, and then perhaps their hypocrisy would be less apparent.

    Meanwhile, they acquiesce, as they should, in New York's criminalization of any text communicated in the "name" of another with the alleged intent to "deceive," regardless of whether any harm is intended or caused, tangible or otherwise. See the documentation at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • gaoxiaen||

    I clicked on the link once. TLDR. Give us the Cliff's Notes version and people might be interested.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    The democrat party are dominated by hardcore Marxists.

  • Ron||

    However Fienstein and several other democrats have threatened companies that support organizations such as Reason

  • Spinach Chin||

    Perhaps, but the convenient truth for Democrats is that they have a built-in social mechanism for carrying out these forms of suppression.

    Universities, the media, and the entertainment industry are not part of the Democratic party, strictly speaking, but they do their bidding quite readily, without having to get marching orders from the party proper. Democrat politicians rarely call them out on it, and in fact, often encourage it.

    Republicans don't have quite the built-in, batshit crazy network of supporters that the Democrats have, but when one of the fringe-types say something out of line, establishment pols almost always condemn it.

  • Zeb||

    Milo and Coulter (and many other conservative commentators and polemicists) are part of the media and entertainment industry and have been quite successful there.

    My point isn't that Democrats aren't terrible on free speech stuff these days. They are. The point is that certain universities are at the extremes and aren't the right thing to compare to what republicans in government may be doing now. The fact is that outside of insane college campuses, conservatives can speak all they want. And Republicans are the ones with the power to abuse right now, so while there may not be complete moral equivalence, both are definitely threats worth keeping an eye on.

    I can't remember who it was, but weren't several people arguing right here the other day that Republicans were stupid if they don't stoop to the same shitty, illegal tactics that the Democrats used when they had the power?

  • damikesc||

    They would be absolutely idiotic to not use the same tactics. Allowing one party free reign to do whatever they want while the other does not will do nothing to alleviate the problem. You need to make them SUFFER for the practices that they champion.

    Why whites on campuses don't protest, constantly, that "white privilege" bullshit is inherently racist is baffling. Make them choke on their bullshit. When the minorities say "Whites have the power", ask "what power do I have over you?"

    Stop rolling over. Stop hiding and hoping they get you last.

  • Jay Dubya||

    I really wish Team Red shills would keep the partisan bullshit out of H&R. The Republicans have the House and Senate. Could you let us libertarians have our own libertarian magazine back please?

  • GILMORE™||

    Universities aren't the whole Democratic party either

    No; they're a more accurate representation of the American Left. The Democrats are the ones w/ jobs they can occasionally get fired from. Not so for most university profs.

    The only difference other than that is mostly in 'what they can get away with'. The Left as represented by universities effectively has free reign. Democrats have greater obstacles w/ things like the courts, bill of rights, and taxpayers.

  • WakaWaka||

    The Democratic Party's presidential candidate campaigned on amending the First Amendment (Citizens United) and the former chair of the Democratic Party says (falsely) that 'hate speech' (whatever that is) is not protected by the First Amendment.

    Sometimes saying a 'pox on both their houses' just sounds ridiculous. This would be that time

  • Zeb||

    So, the government trying to silence someone on twitter is no big deal? I'd say it's worth a pox or two on their house. You don't need absolute equivalence to reasonably condemn both.

  • damikesc||

    Except the Left is trying to stifle speech in the government and they don't need to "stifle" speech on Twitter as Twitter is run by those same Leftists and is all-too-happy to shut down opposing views as is.

  • BiPolarMoment||

    I think I left my ability to be surprised in my other pants.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Nobody should have 2 pair of pants while children are starving.

    /true prog

  • Cyto||

    Well, there's the Republicans and Democrats, so that's bipartisan. But the Greens are right there with you on suppressing dissent.

    Of the four largest political parties, three are adamantly pro-state suppression of speech they don't like. (in a come-from-behind move for the ages, Team D has taken a huge lead of late). Only the Libertarians seem to have a consistent voice on this front. And even they are being infiltrated by unlibertarian burnouts from team R and team D.

    It is almost as if there is only one true defender of liberty.... one true, well, you see where I'm going with this...

  • timbo||

    The only true defender of liberty is every individual. Problem is that most American individuals are such idiot zombies now, they will realize all too late.

    For those of use paying attention, it is wise to arm yourselves on the optimistic hope that the government will not come for guns because most people have them. After all, that was the true intent of the 2nd amendment.

    The machine had grown too large with too many americans either directly or indirectly at the gov't tit for their incomes.

    An interesting story at reason would be how many jobs are supported through the military industrial complex. That is why government growth is not really fought.
    People say nothing when their wallets are concerned and working people don't have time to protest the Marxists sheep at the universities.

  • Cyto||

    BTW, can I say that I like the new delayed posting feature on HnR. It really makes for thoughtful discussions.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Yet still no edit button.

  • Ra's al Gore||

    Trump doing what Obama did makes Trump as bad as a rioting mob. Got it.

  • wareagle||

    Really? The Twitter thing apparently resolved itself after the company sued and DHS let the matter go. Please cite where this has occurred at Berkeley or any hotspot of liberal whining.

  • colorblindkid||

    The free speech issue is one where Reason has taken an annoyingly, "Well both of them do it" attitude. There are no liberal speakers anywhere being shut down with mobs and violence. Conservatives aren't shutting down venues and banning people.

    Government suppression of speech is largely an entirely different topic and of a different nature, and is indeed terrible on both sides. The culture of suppression seen in society today, though, is 99% the fault of the left.

  • Zeb||

    That's true, but the culture of suppression is largely limited to campuses. Government suppression of speech (by both sides) is more troubling in a lot of ways. The screeching protestors seem likely to make themselves irrelevant by annoying the hell out of everyone. The government tools that can be used to suppress speech will always be available.

  • wareagle||

    You sure it's limited to campuses? This cohort's predecessors brought along their fixation on diversity and multi-culti; stupidity like privilege and appropriation is simply raising the bar because few people want to call bullshit. The bathroom nonsense began with municipal govts - looking at you Charlotte - wanting to dictate how private companies manage restrooms.

    I don't accept the 'both sides' premise because it does not hold water. There is no institutional or ideological effort on the right doing this kind of Orwellian thing. Even the examples listed have equivalent incidents whose common bond is the feds, not the party in charge.

  • MikeP2||

    "There is no institutional or ideological effort on the right doing this kind of Orwellian thing"

    Correct. It is a completely false equivalency that the Reason writer do solely to maintain a middle ground. It is utter bullshit.

    Conservatives routinely express their dislike of certain speech, but there has been almost negligible amounts of action to suppress it. The opposite is true of the Left, who actively use lawfare, government agencies, intimidation, and violence to suppress speech they disagree with.

    It is utter bullshit to compare the two.

  • Zeb||

    You just compared the two.

  • Zeb||

    I mean the actions to absolutely suppress certain speakers and content. Outside of the world of the college campus, Ann Coulter can speak without a riot breaking out. She's made a career out of it.

    I'll agree that the left are the people waging a war on free speech right now. But they haven't won and I'm not convinced they will. But some people are talking about it as if the crap on college campuses is representative of the broader society. That's mostly what I'm reacting too. I think people are attaching too much significance to a relatively small group of shrill assholes.

  • BYODB||

    Well, the youth in college today will be the leaders of tomorrow so there is actually reason to be concerned with how some campuses only seem to churn out uneducated Marxists at an alarming rate.

    Generally speaking people become more conservative the more assets they own, but I have a strong suspicion a lot of those people who are studying liberal arts at places like Berkley won't have a whole lot of assets down the line...

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Their organs will have some value when they are harvrsted. To pay for the damage they cause.

  • Mithrandir||

    I agree with you, but I still want to watch that relatively small group of shrill assholes burn.

  • damikesc||

    Hell, conservatives weren't trying to shut down or cause problems for Reason. The Left, which many of the authors empathize with, were doing that.

    The free speech issue is one where Reason has taken an annoyingly, "Well both of them do it" attitude. There are no liberal speakers anywhere being shut down with mobs and violence. Conservatives aren't shutting down venues and banning people.

    They'd likely argue that it was individuals who did it, not the state, ignoring that one of the few legitimate uses for the state is to defend the civil rights of ALL, not just some that the state really, really likes. That RICO has not been used on antifa is downright insane at this point.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    DHS Inspector General John Roth revealed that his office is investigating whether the CBP summons was "improper."

    I do like that they're so clumsy. It adds up to the only transparency we get from these administrations.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I maintain that Barack Obama kept his promise to lead the most transparent administration in history. It's just that all of that transparency came about entirely in spite of the best efforts of Barack Obama.

  • MikeP2||

    "Bipartisan"

    bullshit

  • JuanQPublic||

    The "liberal vs conservative" argument in determining who is the bigger suppressor of speech doesn't fully apply today, because Republicans are largely no longer "conservative," at least in the sense of restraining government, and the "left" are largely no longer "liberal" in the sense of enlightenment values or the 60s free speech movement. In both cases, the tone of their rhetoric is illiberal and anti-individual. Of course, the degree of that depends on the issue, which eviscerates their vacancy of principle.

    Make no mistake, the illiberals are winning right now. Anyone principled enough to look past the reactionism are seen as "weak", and nobody is in the mood for pointy-headed intellectuals. Trying to understand something is by default seen as "supporting" that something. We're in the midst of an anti-enlightenment, anti-intellectual crusade.

  • WakaWaka||

    Something, something false equivalency. One used legal methods to access a twitter account and the other uses public dollars to silence dissent with violence.

  • Stoneman||

    AMEN to this. It should be illegal to riot with a mask on. Of course California has some REALLY STUPID ledtist politicians.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Bipartisan urge.........?

    Here's something I just found out.

    Ann Coulter is supposed to speak tomorrow and it's a shitstorm of controversy.

    But, were you aware that her speech was only half of a debate? that this was to be a two sides thing?

    The other side has already given it's speech. Without incident (or apparently, notice). No rioting. No angry trumpkins. Nothing.

    This isn't 'bipartisan'.

    The conservatives/republicans/right are not engaged in an effort to silence anyone.

    Stop pretending they are.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: The Bipartisan Urge to Suppress Dissent
    Conservatives at Berkeley and critics of the Trump administration both deserve freedom of speech.

    No!
    No!
    No!
    One does not question The State or Dear Leader Trump the Grump much engaging in freedom of speech against authoritarian or totalitarian ruling elites.
    Such activity is counter-revolutionary and only creates doubters among the unwashed masses.
    Oppression by our beloved Thought Police only creates a more calm and harmonious collective.
    One must think of our obvious betters and what they want and need if we are to have a true proletariat paradise.

  • TimothyLane||

    There is a distinction here that a "Constitution-as-suicide-pact" libertarian chooses not to see. Revealing classified information is a crime, for pragmatic reasons that the Founding Fathers would understand (granted, too much gets classified by the feds, but that's another story). Speaking heterodox opinions is quite legal, and it's therefore the responsibility of the authorities to make sure such speakers aren't driven out by violent mobs of fascists masquerading as "anti-fascists", as has now happened yet again in Thug City (i.e., Berkeley).

  • TimothyLane||

    There's a big difference between leaking classified information, which is a crime for pragmatic reasons our Founding Fathers would understand, and speaking heterodox views. The latter is clearly legal, and in fact the authorities are responsible for making sure it isn't shut down by rioting mobs. In Thug City (aka Berkeley), they don't even try to do their jobs.

  • Heywood||

    Remember when the ACLU used to fight to protect civil liberties, instead of using government force to trample them? Good times...

  • STSA||

    I remember when the ACLU used to fight for the First Amendment rights of Nazis. Now they are the Nazis.

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