My View: Fighting Back Against Alt-Right

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With Milo Yiannopoulos coming to speak in January and an effort to block his talk, there is a good op-ed from a few days ago from Howard Gillman, the UC Irvine Chancellor and a Professor of Law.

Contrary to what some have argued here, there is a documented increase in hate crimes and hate incidents, with the FBI reporting a 6 percent increase in hate crimes in 2016 over the previous year, fueled by attacks on Muslims. Meanwhile, Professor Gillman notes that the Southern Poverty Law Center reported nearly 900 accounts of harassment in the 10 days after the presidential election.

Much of this activity is coming to college campuses: “The white supremacist Richard Spencer traveled to Texas A&M to make the case that, ‘At the end of the day, America belongs to white men.’ Nathan Damigo, a person referred to by this newspaper as ’emblematic of the young, web-savvy racists who are trying to intellectualize and mainstream bigotry,’ is setting his sights on higher education, eager for the attention brought on by hostile audiences or for the opportunity to claim victimization if denied a venue.

“There have been calls to ban these speakers from campus, and in some cases controversial figures have been blocked or disinvited. No doubt many campus leaders, faculty and students are hoping that the likes of Spencer and Damigo will skip them, never darkening their quads and campaniles,” he writes.

But, like the Vanguard, he thinks there is a better response: “Confront the problem head-on.”

Chancellor Gillman argues, “As raw and painful as the resulting interactions might be, they represent an opportunity to educate students and society more generally on how to recognize and mount an effective attack against hatred, bigotry, ignorance and bullying.”

He cites two reasons for universities to support free speech and condemn censorship.  First he argues it ensures “that positive, helpful, illuminating messages can circulate widely.”

Second, it will allow us “to expose hateful or dangerous ideas that, if never engaged or rebutted, would gain traction in the darker corners of our society.”

He makes the same argument we did a few weeks ago.  In his words, “Hate speech is like mold: Its enemies are bright light and fresh air.”

He argues, “Whenever we encounter hateful and demeaning ideas on campus, we mustn’t run away; we must — and will — double down on asserting our essential commitment to human dignity and respect.”

He continues, “Piecemeal responses aren’t enough, though. Too many people, on and off campus, were caught off guard by the reemergence of white nationalism. At the beginning of the year, few people had even heard the term ‘alt-right,’ let alone knew what it signified.”

In another critical point, he adds, “This represents a failure of education, as well as the much-discussed failure of journalism.”

We completely agree.

“Because the fundamental mission of colleges and universities is to advance understanding about important matters, we must marshal our scholarly resources to explore more systematically this dangerous national and global phenomenon,” Chancellor Gillman writes.

“At issue, ultimately, is not merely the very real experience of pain and outrage that accompanies contact with hateful speech. It’s the ability of free, diverse and democratic societies to maintain their essential practices and values,” he continues.  “This moment is about much more than the consequences of allowing an ignorant speaker or two to express themselves on a campus.”

The chancellor concludes: “Democracies are more fragile things than we might like to believe. The World Value Survey recently reported a dramatic uptick in the percentage of people who believe it is a good thing to have a strong leader without elections or parliament. Universities must rise to the occasion by learning more and teaching more about what is happening, where it is happening, why it is happening and how it might be most effectively addressed.”

A recent letter from Sherrill Futrell, a community member in Davis, put it this way: “Milo Yiannopoulos has as much right as anyone to speak, especially to a college audience, and the audience has the right to hear him.”

She cites two powerful quotes, arguing “let’s have more speech, not less.”

Steve Shapiro of the ACLU, on Oct. 10, 2010, said, “The First Amendment really was designed to protect debate at the fringes. You don’t need the courts to protect speech that everybody agrees with, because that speech will be tolerated. You need a First Amendment to protect speech that people regard as intolerable or outrageous or offensive — because that is when the majority will wield its power to censor or suppress, and we have a First Amendment to prevent the government from doing that.”

And Justice Louis Brandeis had already written in 1927, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

“Words are not a threat,” Futrell says.

We agree and we go one step further – the College Republicans need to explain why they invited Milo Yiannopoulos to campus, and differentiate his views from their own.  We don’t get anywhere with suppression.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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26 thoughts on “My View: Fighting Back Against Alt-Right”

  1. Tia Will

    This moment is about much more than the consequences of allowing an ignorant speaker or two to express themselves on a campus.”

    I believe that this quote, while accurate, is one that I and probably many others did not give adequate regard. I actually hoped that the Republicans would nominate Mr. Trump since I believed that based on his degree of ignorance, crudeness and obvious hate pandering that he would be easily defeated. I was very, very wrong to my extreme disappointment in the voters of our country, and even greater disappointment in those who chose not to actively vote against this very dangerous man.

    I see two dangers.

    1)Underestimation of how many will completely discount ignorance or inexperience as a qualifier for office if the candidate is able to make an emotional connection ( in this case fear and hate) with them.

    2) Underestimation of how many of these hate mongers are not ignorant at all but who are very intelligent and either riding the wave of hatred to prosperity and/ fame, or are true believers in their hate filled ideology and are willing to say and/or do anything in service of their white, male supremacist beliefs. I am not sure where Milo Yiannopoulos stands on this spectrum of emotional manipulation of his target audiences. What I do know is that he is smart, can be funny, and should not be suppressed but fully exposed along with the odious nature of his white male supremacist stance.

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I worry about the consequences of shutting people down. Not long ago it was Cecilia being shut down – in Davis – for advocating police oversight. When you allow subjective assessments to determine who can speak, you put everyone’s speech in jeopardy. Second, shutting him down is not going to stop the “ignorance” it is simply going to drive it to places where it can’t be confronted.

    2. Eric Gelber

      “I see two dangers. …” Yes, but the even greater danger is the suppression of ideas. “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” ~ Justice Potter Stewart

      1. Tia Will

        Eric

        Agreed.

        I’ll expand my list of concerns :

        Suppression/Hatred/ Lack of qualification, combined with supreme over confidence and belief in one’s own superiority.

        Are we getting closer ?

         

  2. Tia Will

    David

    I worry about the consequences of shutting people down”

    Agreed. And I also worry about the consequences of speaking up in our new political situation in which the new norm seems to be to take offense and lash out, often using the full force of one’s financial excesses in order to destroy one’s opponents. But I see no alternative to speaking out if our intent is not just to surrender to the philosophy of intolerance of our leadership elect.

  3. Roberta Millstein

    I think there are some important issues that are being overlooked here.

    First and foremost, this is not about free speech wholesale.  It is about free speech on a college campus.  I would defend a very strong notion of free speech when it comes to freedom of publication, freedom to use public spaces, and freedom from government punishment for speech.  But the issue here (as I noted in a comment on a previous post) is about speech at a university.  No one can just waltz in, reserve a room on campus, and start talking.  They have to be invited by a recognized campus group or individual.

    Having said that, I think there are things about a university campus that make it different.  Speaking on campus confers status in a way that speaking on a street corner does not.  Is that status deserved?  I would say “no.”  Is it a good thing that the campus raises Yiannopoulos’s profile?  Again, I would say “no.”  Another thing that makes campus different is that it is a community where learning is the primary goal.  In order for students to learn, they need to feel like are part of a community – that they are welcome and they belong.  Yiannopoulos has said things that suggest that some students ought not be part of the campus community.  I suspect that a faculty member, for example, would not be able to get away with saying those things.  Why do we allow Yiannopoulos to say them on campus?  Again, he is welcome to say them elsewhere.  But why should the campus allow speech that undermines its mission?

    Finally, I think people are assuming that the best way to deal with problematic views is to counter them forcefully and with prolonged discussion and argument.  I think that that is true sometimes (or I would not do what I do for a living, or be writing this post), but I think there are other times when you actually raise the level of your opponent by bothering to disagree with them.  You make it look like there is a controversy – something to debate – when really, the issue is not one that needs debating.  My point here comes up quite often in discussions over creationism.  Some scientists feel that they should debate creationists, but many others refuse, saying that they would only legitimize creationism by debating creationists.  The things that Yiannopoulos has said are so beneath contempt that they are not worthy of prolonged discussion and debate.  They should be briefly condemned and and then ignored.  Debating him only serves to spread his words rather than to overturn them.

    1. Howard P

      Guess you could say the same for Abbie Hoffman, Mario Salvio, Angela Davis, Huey Newton, etc.

      They all got speaking “rights” on UC campuses…

      Perhaps listeners can do a Cntrl-Alt-Del on what he ends up saying… after the fact…

        1. Howard P

          Angela Davis,and Huey Newton were both on the “alt-left”… and actively engaged in promoting racial violence… 1960’s, early 70s… Ms Davis eventually became a professor… Berkeley, as I recall… also a guest speaker years later at UCD.

          Does the term “Black Panthers” ring any not-so-Christmasy bells?

        2. Howard P

          Oh, Roberta… to be clear… I was a Jr in HS when that was taking place… I remember the events, in real time on the local broadcast news, reinforced later… by accounts of folk who “lived it”… not youtube, etc.  With “spin” on your youtube source, I imagine…

          1. Don Shor

            I definitely remember when that all happened. In 1970 it seemed as though the whole world was coming apart. Amazing that she was acquitted. Interesting Davis link: Roger Bockrath, one of the photographers of the events in the courthouse is a Davis resident.

    2. Tia Will

      Roberta

      I find myself conflicted over this particular voice at this particular time in our history. While I would ordinarily agree that Mr. Yiannopoulos’ view are not worth even considering let alone debating, there are a few of your specific issues I would like to address.

      1.”They have to be invited by a recognized campus group or individual.”

      Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my comprehension, he was. He was invited by the young Republican group and thus passes this single criteria.

      2.”In order for students to learn, they need to feel like are part of a community – that they are welcome and they belong.:

      This would seem to me to be a two edged sword. To deny a speaker chosen by a well defined and previously accepted group on campus would seem to be sending them the message that they are not welcome and that they do not belong. I fully accept that some of my less mainstream views, such as that in a society as wealthy as ours, everyone should have enough to live comfortably before anyone has luxuries, or that American lives are not worth more than Syrian, or Iraqi, or Afghani lives would be viewed by some as being as obnoxious and not worthy of consideration as those of Mr. Yiannopoulos, and yet I would find it wrong to be censored because of them.

      3. Finally, I firmly agree with my millennial daughter who made the observation that our country has always been “this way” speaking of the undercurrent of racism, sexism, agism and religious and sexual preference intolerance that has always existed, but is now so far out in the open as to have facilitated the results of the national election. I do not believe that it was those on the left that facilitated this previously unthinkable outcome and it will now be up to those of us who neither hold, nor are willing to tolerate these views in service to some other economic or national security issue to speak out, but not to suppress as this will surely lead to the desired calls of leftist elitism and oppression.

      I agree with Don that now is the time to denounce the ideas being expressed and the specific plans for implementation of minority suppression espoused throughout his campaign by the president elect. Whether similar tactics were used by other groups in the past is beside the point. The specific issues of our particular time are those being advanced by the alt-right whether the proponent is willing to admit affiliation or not.

       

       

      1. Howard P

        Careful how you denounce… it can “feed the beast”… the speaker is not a”bully”… he’s not brave/strong enough for that… more like a ‘cheerleader’.  Bullies have to be firmly, unequivocably confronted… they are generally weak, afraid (except the true psychopaths), and often ‘impotent’ .  Cheerleaders are a different phenomenon.

        1. Tia Will

          Howard 8:49 am

          I agree that tone of response is critical and his points must be addressed factually, rationally and calmly. As for the difference between a cheerleader and a bully, I am not so sure that he is not a “baby” bully seeking a broader platform. When our now president elect was still stirring the pot on birtherism, I saw him as an attention seeking buffoon. I was wrong. I will never again underestimate the power of seemingly ludicrous ideas which catch hold, gain momentum and can be turned into real power.

      2. Roberta Millstein

        Tia,

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

        Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my comprehension, he was. He was invited by the young Republican group and thus passes this single criteria.

        Yes.  My point is just to reiterate something I said on an earlier post – that we shouldn’t cast this in terms of Yiannopoulos’s free speech rights.  He has no right to reserve a room on campus and speak.  If anyone’s rights are at issue here, it’s the students’ rights.

        To deny a speaker chosen by a well defined and previously accepted group on campus would seem to be sending them the message that they are not welcome and that they do not belong.

        Interesting.  I had not thought of that.  But I guess I am comfortable saying that while I welcome each and every member of the student Republican group, I do not welcome any racist or sexists views that they might hold.  On the other hand, I’d be please to discuss their views on taxes, health care, immigration, etc., on which I would imagine we differ greatly.

        would be viewed by some as being as obnoxious and not worthy of consideration

        I think Yiannopoulos’s views go beyond “obnoxious.”

        I firmly agree with my millennial daughter who made the observation that our country has always been “this way” speaking of the undercurrent of racism, sexism, agism and religious and sexual preference intolerance that has always existed, but is now so far out in the open as to have facilitated the results of the national election.

        I agree that our country has always had this undercurrent.  But I believe that the rise of Trump has not only brought these views to the surface, but also fed them the way that oxygen feeds a fire.  My view is that giving Yiannopoulos a prominent and respected platform does the same.

        I agree with Don that now is the time to denounce the ideas being expressed and the specific plans for implementation of minority suppression espoused throughout his campaign by the president elect.

        Denounce, yes, but not debate, for the reasons that I gave earlier.

  4. Don Shor

    My concern with Mr. Yiannopoulos and his appearance at UCD and elsewhere is that he is ratcheting up the level of provocation, getting more pushback as he does (which is his goal); he travels with his own security, and at some point soon there is going to be violence. It will likely be hard to pinpoint exactly who started it, who provoked what, who is to blame. And he, along with conservatives who seem to support him, will smugly point to that as evidence of leftist intolerance.

    That is part of his goal, in my opinion, as he seeks to follow Ann Coulter’s career path of saying increasingly outrageous things to garner attention. I would prefer measured replies to his positions. At the moment it seems most people aren’t aware of his history. All of the careful pronouncements about his right to free speech seem a little detached from what he has done and said. Perhaps we could just dispense with his free speech rights in one sentence: yes, he has the right to say the things he says, and most venues remain open to him. Then we can move on to vigorously disputing his characterizations of women, of gays, of transgendered individuals, his approving descriptions of the alt-right racists, and more. And most especially: those who invite him should be called to explain their apparent endorsement of his views.

    This is a man who likes to shame people in public, doing harm to individuals for his own aggrandizement and pleasure. I would ask the College Republicans: would you like that done to you? Do you need to be reminded of the Golden Rule?

    1. Howard P

      The “ignore commenter” concept applies to the subject speaker… you are likely correct… he “feeds” on controversy… as I recall, “banned in Boston” was a sure fire way to increase interest (and sale of tickets) for a movie…

      I suggest he speak, and either be ignored, or his ‘spew’ rationally, calmly, refuted.  For those who oppose his views, the last thing you want to do is “feed” the beast … banning him, vitriolically striking out at him, “feeds” him, and those twisted enough to buy what he is “selling”.

  5. Marina Kalugin

    Jeez Folks..  ……  cannot you ever let the DV have a break?   I mean really…

    didn’t DG announce the DV was going to have a break.. .take a break already..

    PS>  enjoy the damn holidays or something..  or not.. but let DG and DS have a break.

    1. Howard P

      Ah…someone who likes to tell others what to do, or not do… “Damn holidays” and ‘Jeez’…both very appropriate for today.

      And no… David said HE was taking a break… he could have disabled the VG had he chosen to…

      Have not asked anything of David or Don..

  6. Marina Kalugin

    I thought he DID. . when it was down last night.. oh well.  but after I got work and everything else done today I just HAD to check..  oh well and was surprised to see DS wanting to work.   On Thanksgiving … most of the minions finally got a clue and shut up for a while….that was on the long holiday weekend for those who missed the start of the sentence…   oh well.  not my problem nor my DV  …

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