Something has to be done about activist progressivism—the half-bright, emotionally-driven, fact-challenged, hysterical, irrational, violent, fanatical, cracked, crank, conspiracy-addled wing of American liberalism that is apparently determined to destroy American public debate and American freedom of speech in service to an idiot ideology based largely around feelings. Most progressives are not like this—political differences aside, most progressives are fairly reasonable, at least insofar as they’re not apt to assault you if you disagree with them, or form a violent mob in order to shut you up. But you do not need all or most or even a large minority of progressives to effectively clamp down on free expression in American society; you only need two things: a sufficient number of liberal activists to disrupt a sufficient number of political norms, and an unwillingness on the part of progressives to challenge this behavior.
Students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement crashed an event at the College of William & Mary, rushed the stage, and prevented the invited guest—the American Civil Liberties Union’s Claire Gastañaga, a W & M alum—from speaking…
The disruption was livestreamed on BLM at W&M’s Facebook page. Students took to the stage just a few moments after Gastañaga began her remarks. At first, she attempted to spin the demonstration as a welcome example of the kind of thing she had come to campus to discuss, commenting “Good, I like this,” as they lined up and raised their signs. “I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well. Then I’m going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience.”
It was the last remark she was able to make before protesters drowned her out with cries of, “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too.” They also chanted, “the oppressed are not impressed,” “shame, shame, shame, shame,” (an ode to the Faith Militant’s treatment of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, though why anyone would want to be associated with the religious fanatics in that particular conflict is beyond me), “blood on your hands,” “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” and, uh, “liberalism is white supremacy.”
This went on for nearly 20 minutes. Eventually, according to the campus’s Flat Hat News, one of the college’s co-organizers of the event handed a microphone to the protest’s leader, who delivered a prepared statement. The disruption was apparently payback for the ACLU’s principled First Amendment defense of the Charlottesville alt-right’s civil liberties.
Organizers then canceled the event; some members of the audience approached the podium in an attempt to speak with Gastañaga, but the protesters would not permit it. They surrounded Gastañaga, raised their voices even louder, and drove everybody else away.
To its credit, the college released a statement condemning the protestors in harsh and unequivocal language, promising sanctions and consequences for the students who shut down a campus event using threats of violence and intimidation tactics. Haha, sorry, that was a small joke! The college actually released a limp-wristed, watered-down, piss-poor equivocatory statement lamenting the fact that “an event to discuss a very important matter – the meaning of the First Amendment — could not be held as planned.” Summoning every ounce of its historical and academic integrity, the university declared: “Silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community.” Gee, it’s “not acceptable,” huh? Then why did your “community” just, you know, bend over and “accept it?” Why did your school both “hand a microphone to the protest’s leader” and eventually “cancel the event?” That sounds pretty accepting to me!
It goes without saying that, if this were a progressive event shut down by conservative protesters—if a Trans Pan-Sexual Foot Fetish Genderfuck People of Color’s conference had been taken over and closed down by a mob of thug College Republicans—the negative response would be swift, viciously unambiguous and virtually universal. And that would be the correct response: free expression, even when used in service of stupid political or cultural ideas, is a cornerstone presumption of a free society. But that’s most maddening part of this: freedom of speech isn’t a liberal or a conservative ideal—it’s a universal one, something to which any nominally liberal political order, and any nominally fair-minded person, should aspire. It should be terrifying to us when violent, irrational mobs feel perfectly free to silence political debate—not just one side of the debate, mind you, but debate itself, the very premise of debate. But that’s what happened here: rather than call campus police and have every one of the hostile and threatening protesters arrested, the college surrendered the event to them, gave them a platform to speak, and then shut the whole thing down. If you were a Black Lives Matter partisan, wouldn’t you count this as an unabashed victory for your cause, and a clear sign that intimidation and tacit threats of violence are an effective and acceptable political tactic? Of course you would.
This is all first-principles stuff—free expression versus political censorship, free societies versus violent mob rule. Yet one is obliged to point out that the ideals to which the Black Lives Matter protesters applied this idiot activism –the notion that the ACLU is some sort of white supremacist organization—is itself deeply, unquestionably stupid, though it is the natural end result of more and more progressives calling everything they don’t like “white supremacy.”
That being said, the notion that “liberalism is white supremacy” is, while semantically debatable, nevertheless, from an American perspective, rooted in certain facts of American history. Democrats, after all, were the principle sponsors of Jim Crow legislation throughout the postbellum South, and one of the most celebrated Democrats of the 20th and 21st centuries, Robert Byrd, was himself an Exalted Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan. It was Democrats, too, who launched the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Byrd himself who blabbed for over fourteen hours in order to scuttle it. It is doubtful that the clueless young men and women who disrupted the ACLU at William & Mary are really aware of these facts. But, in their dead-eyed stupidity, they are closer to the truth than they realize.