Last week, at Whitter College in California, guest speakers were heckled by angry members of the audience, forcing organizers to end the event early.
This time, the hecklers were neither liberal nor students. They were conservative activists, and adults (in age, if not temperament).
The speakers were California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Assembly Leader Ian Calderon. They had pledged to answer questions from the general public, but several irate MAGA-hat-wearing audience members were intent on hijacking the event from the get-go. Arthur Schaper, a pro-Trump activist, interrupted the speakers constantly with cries of "Respect our president!" and "Build the wall!" and also accusations like "Corruption!" and "Pothead!" At one point he told the woman seated in front of him—who wanted to actually hear Calderon and Becerra—that she was a lying twat.
The whole thing was captured on video. The video footage was taken by the hecklers. They were evidently proud of their actions.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Adam Steinbaugh first brought this incident to my attention. According to Steinbaugh:
The First Amendment specifically protects the right to demand a redress of grievances, and government should not have the power to punish any and every instance of incivility or protest — including during meetings and discussions on a college campus. But the right to criticize and protest public officials does not encompass a right to intentionally prevent a speaker from addressing an audience in a closed space.
This is exactly what the protesters were doing: Because Becerra is a critic of Trump and a part of the lawsuit against DACA, he deserved to be shouted down, in their view.
This shameful act of censorship is a good reminder that even though angry far-left students are at fault in the majority of recent college free speech debacles, they are by no means the only or paramount threat to the First Amendment—on campus or anywhere else. Such a distinction belongs first and foremost to President Trump, whose repeated calls for muzzling of the press and abridgments of the speech rights of people he dislikes are, in the opinion of The Atlantic's eminently reasonable civil libertarian Conor Friedersdorf, grounds for impeachment. Trump's censorious supporters in California seem cut from the same cloth.
Indeed, recent events are proving that the current censorious impulse on the left is widely shared by the administrative right, even on campus. Take Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, a far-left activist who routinely uses his Twitter platform to castigate free speech as a tool of oppression. Recently, Drexel placed Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave after the professor blamed the Las Vegas shooting on "the white supremacist patriarchy, stupid." Life comes at you fast, particularly if you are a critic of extending free speech rights to offensive speakers who nevertheless needs these protections to defend your own deeply offensive views.
Drexel weakly asserted that it was looking out for Ciccariello-Maher's personal safety—conservatives were none too happy with his tweets—demonstrating once again how dangerous it is to prioritize nebulous safety concerns over free expression. The professor absolutely deserves to make controversial statements on Twitter, even though he himself would not agree if the shoe was on the other foot. Beware campus leftists who want to end the discussion before it begins, and beware conservatives—and their friend in the White House—who would censor their foes with the exact same enthusiasm.
Photo Credit: Arthur Schaper / Youtube