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The U.C. Berkeley Protests, Hate Speech, and Milo

A Reflection

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February 2, 2017

        This past Thursday, the Baldwin halls were saturated in whispers regarding the previous night’s protests at U.C. Berkeley, where Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. Due to the violent and mass nature of the protests, Milo’s event was cancelled. Many students, only recently having learned about the existence of this outrageously provocative right-wing speaker, regarded the protests with carefully restrained emotion. According to the headlines, Milo is a bigoted, fascist, and alt-right insult to humanity; however, too sane to completely condone violently disruptive protests, students were hesitant to fully embrace Tuesday’s face off between two radical groups. 

I have been following Milo Yiannopoulos for about a year, after a Baldwin friend introduced me to one of his speeches on Youtube. This was before Milo was infamously kicked off of Twitter for unsavory comments towards Ghostbusters’ Leslie Jones and before his book deal for Dangerous with Simon & Schuster, which generated quite a stir on social media. One of Milo’s tenets, “all publicity is good publicity,” can account for Milo’s spike in popularity when his name infiltrates news headlines. The U.C. Berkeley protest was the boldest displays of this thus far. 

Milo, currently a Breitbart senior editor, is a gay Cambridge dropout who has made his name nationally known by touring American college campuses and championing free speech. While Milo has been slammed by countless news outlets as belonging to the alt-right, he has consistently rejected that association. Milo is inflammatory and ridiculous. Whether he’s volunteering to do Fridays in drag if chosen for White House Press Secretary or holding on-stage funerals for free speech, it is rather apparent that Milo is completely aware of his audacious image; in fact, he actively perpetuates it. Milo is not a politician. He is a provocateur. 

Defenders of Tuesday’s protests love to cite “hate speech” as the validating factor. Here’s the fundamental issue: the line between free speech and hate speech is also the line between a free society and an unfree society. Shutting down speech and ideas through brute violence and public disorder in the name of hate speech simply because one finds a speaker’s ideas inflammatory is disgraceful and un-American. Who are we to determine what constitutes hate speech? While Milo’s speech, to some, might seen outwardly hateful, once specific ideas are labeled as unacceptable, we no longer live in a free country.

The First Amendment was not included in the Constitution to provide the American people with a comfy-cozy blanket of security. Free speech is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable; Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony alike did not use their First Amendment right to advocate for suffrage while simultaneously ensuring that no one felt offended.

As stated earlier, a similar phenomenon to recent protests was experienced after Milo was expelled from Twitter this past July. Just see Google’s trend graph for the search term “Milo Yiannopoulos,” which displays a massive spike in late July when this occurred.

I am in no way endorsing Milo’s rhetoric; I find much of it repulsive. However, one does not have to agree with a person to believe that they should be able to hold optional (and, for that matter, highly attended) speeches on campuses. Each time that Milo’s attempts to express his views are suppressed, he is propelled to a higher tier of fame. In this way, the Milo protesters are working against themselves.

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The U.C. Berkeley Protests, Hate Speech, and Milo