Skeptic » Reading Room » Radically Wrong in Berkeley

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


UC Berkeley, Sproul Hall Plaza, October 1 1964. Free Speech Movement advocates, including Mario Savio in this instance, speak from the roof of a police car.

Radically Wrong in Berkeley

ABOVE: UC Berkeley, Sproul Hall Plaza, October 1 1964. Free Speech Movement advocates, including Mario Savio in this instance, speak from the roof of a police car. They remove their shoes before climbing on the car, in order to do no damage. In the back seat of the car sits an FSM leader whom the police have arrested.

Berkeley California is famous for its history of political protest. In 1949, faculty and students at the University of California opposed an anti-Communist loyalty oath imposed by the Board of Regents. In 1964, Berkeley was home to the Free Speech Movement and subsequently to resistance against the war in Vietnam. These political efforts were all peaceful — very deliberately so. In the early 1960s, some Berkeley activists had traveled to Mississippi and other Southern states to give support to the Civil Rights Movement, and they returned as advocates of Martin Luther King’s politics of nonviolence.

During the Free Speech Movement (FSM), the protesting students made a point of allowing the speech of those who disagreed with them. They held that even speech deemed repellent should be countered not by disallowing that speech but by meeting it verbally with a different point of view. “Freedom of speech,” said FSM leader Mario Savio, “is something that represents the very dignity of what a human being is. … That’s what marks us off from the stones and the stars…. It is the thing that marks us as just below the angels.” This high-minded ideal has not weathered well in Berkeley in recent years. In 2017, this town, former champion of free speech, has become known instead as its enemy: those who gather here in Berkeley to express their support for right-wing causes cannot anticipate that their meetings and rallies will be allowed. Committed to shutting down such events are several small but very militant left groups: “black bloc” and “Antifa,” both of which originated in Western Europe in the 1980s, and “By Any Means Necessary,” a revolutionary organization that was founded in the United States in 1995.

UC Berkeley, Sproul Hall Plaza, February 1 2017.

UC Berkeley, Sproul Hall Plaza, February 1 2017. Protesters light a bonfire, assault police, break windows, and prevent right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking. A few demonstrators then march downtown, setting more fires and damaging property.

On February 1, 2017, Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing media star, was prevented from speaking in Berkeley by violent activists belonging to these groups and intent on, in their terms, “stopping Fascist speech.” On the day of Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin tweeted: “Using speech to silence marginalized communities and promote bigotry is unacceptable. Hate speech isn’t welcome in our community.” A few hours later he qualified that statement in another tweet, “Violence and destruction is not the answer,” but that scarcely corrected the first impression conveyed to the world: across the political spectrum, the mass media condemned the “bigotry” and “hypocrisy” of Berkeley’s far left. An article in the liberal-leaning Huffington Post pointed out that Berkeley had gifted a propaganda victory to the right:

The violence at the UC Berkeley campus Wednesday night which cancelled the speech of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos is such a debacle for the national opposition to Trump that it almost defies belief…. At exactly this moment, because of what happened at Berkeley, the Trump regime gets to present itself as the guardian of free speech in America.

Yiannopoulos’ aborted talk on the UC campus in February was followed by two more attempted right-wing rallies in downtown Berkeley on March 4 and April 15. On each occasion, activists were successful in using violence to prevent the gathering from happening. Then on August 27, Berkeley again drew national attention. In the morning, about 4,000 citizens rallied near the UC campus. The day was sunny and the demonstration entirely peaceful, organized in response to a planned “anti-Marxist” right-wing rally scheduled to take place that afternoon. Mocking the stereotype of Berkeley as a bastion of Marxism, some of the counter-protestors donned Groucho Marx costumes.

Photo by Emilie Raguso, used with permission

Mocking the stereotype of Berkeley as a bastion of Marxism, some of the counter-protestors donned Groucho Marx costumes. (Photo by Emilie Raguso, used with permission)

This counter-protest gave peaceful expression to Berkeley’s solidarity with immigrants and other threatened communities. But several hours later and several blocks away, a small number of leftists, most of them clothed in black, once again started fights with individuals whom they deemed “fascist” and therefore unwelcome in this city.

Defense of immigrants, African Americans, and Muslims is these activists’ avowed altruistic aim. But ironically, their strategy of violence and destruction of property has the opposite effect, casting the far right as staunch, outspoken freedom fighters, rather than increasing support for the very communities that they claim to “protect.”

During the Free Speech Movement, the protesting students made a point of allowing the speech of those who disagreed with them. They held that even speech deemed repellent should be countered not by disallowing that speech but by meeting it verbally with a different point of view.

As a consequence of its new reputation for suppression of public speech, Berkeley has become the most coveted town in America for rallying the right. Celebrities like Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, and—again—Milo Yiannopoulos want to give talks in Berkeley because they know that the violent response to their appearance will vividly illustrate the right’s view of the left as intolerant and vile. As Michael Shermer noted on Twitter, Milo wants protesters at his events, even titling his latest tour the “Troll Academy Tour”, reminding students that if they really wanted to hurt Yiannopoulos just ignore him completely. There’s nothing a public political speaker hates more than staring out at an empty room.

Not surprisingly, Berkeley’s intolerance has become a favorite subject on Fox News and other right-wing media. (Fox News host Tucker Carlson has a regular feature titled “Campus Craziness” that finds plenty to ridicule about Berkeley’s free speech fights.) But voices on the left have criticized this intolerance too: veterans of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement issued a statement in support of Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus, explaining that “Banning him just plays into his hands politically…. The best way to battle his bigoted discourse is to critique and refute it.”

Violent demonstrations in Berkeley, purporting to “fight fascism,” fuel it instead; they not only communicate a negative image of the left to the entire country but also confirm the convictions of the assaulted right-wing protestors: the violent opposition that they encounter, which is abetted by the inaction of the Berkeley police,1 reinforces their conception of the left as antagonistic to talk that it does not like. They leave our town strongly convinced that the left is an enemy of free speech.

This does not have to happen. Berkeley is not Charlottesville.2 Some of us who have attended right-wing gatherings in Berkeley and have talked with pro-Trump demonstrators have found that we sometimes agree with them on fundamental values, including support for the struggling working class in this country. Although wide differences remain, it clearly is possible for us to reach through to one another, not with a fist but with an open hand.3 Dialogue of this kind is nearly excluded, though, by violent confrontation. Each side creates a reductive profile of the other. The far left reasons that the President is a fascist and white supremacist, so those who support him must fall into that category too. Protestors on the right similarly essentialize those whom they confront at the barricades: they are all communists who hate America. Contrary to these simple mirror images, sociological surveys disclose diversity within the ranks of the pro-Trump protestors as well as among those who demonstrate against them.4

Diligence on the part of city officials would have prevented the recent political violence in Berkeley. Although the fighting on the city’s streets has been conducted by a few alt-right and extreme left activists, its enabler has been a third party: Berkeley’s civic authority and police. The Mayor, City Council, and City Manager have neither spoken out clearly in favor of free speech nor worked with the police to ensure that freedom. (In stark contrast, UC Berkeley’s new Chancellor, Carol Christ, has unequivocally announced the university’s commitment to freedom of speech.5)

City leaders attribute the attacks against pro-Trump rallies to outside agitators, and it’s true that some of the adversaries of free speech come to Berkeley from elsewhere, intent on silencing right-wing speakers. But the thinking that lies behind their actions is far from foreign to the left in the Bay Area and beyond. The self-described “anti-fascist” activists in Berkeley are not “mindless” or “crazy.” They conceive of themselves as aligned with left theory and practice as these have evolved over the past century and a half. They can cite precedents for their approach to politics in both the anarchist and Marxist traditions. The slogans proclaimed by Antifa, such as “Become Ungovernable” and “Smash Capitalism,” draw upon vintage strategy of the revolutionary left.

The longing for a better world can result in acts of foresight and courage, or in the dashing of any hope for such a world at all.

The longing for a better world can result in acts of foresight and courage—or in the dashing of any hope for such a world at all. (Image commonly used over the past ten years or so as a poster at anarchist demonstrations. In this case the Antifa logo appears in the corner.)

From an orthodox Marxist or anarchist perspective, a ruling class has to be overthrown, not persuaded. Since the time of Karl Marx, leftists have observed that capitalism maintains “law and order” by the application of coercion: the wealthy and the politicians whom they “buy” will deploy any means required to assert their rule, such as police intervention to break labor strikes and military action abroad to ensure access to raw materials and a cheap supply of labor. There has always been disagreement within the left about whether such predation can be peacefully resisted. A classical location of this debate was Germany at the turn of the 20th century, when Eduard Bernstein criticized the revolutionary scenario of a sudden rupture with capitalism and violent inauguration of a classless society. Some Social Democrats found that scenario increasingly unlikely and joined Bernstein to advocate instead on behalf of an “evolutionary socialism” that would transform capitalism gradually.

Although wide differences remain, it clearly is possible for us to reach through to one another, not with a fist but with an open hand.

This debate within the left has never been resolved. In the 1960s, the American New Left departed from the Communist and Socialist left in significant ways, but never reached consensus about the use of force to advance progressive causes. In her 1969 essay “On Violence,” Hannah Arendt concluded that “The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is a more violent world.” Others on the left disputed that view. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pacifism, for example, was rejected by Malcolm X.

There are historical reasons why leftists give up on nonviolent paths to social change. During the early 1960s, it was plausible to believe that racial segregation and war could be countered effectively by means of marches and rallies and peaceful acts of civil disobedience. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the war in Indochina dragged on, and American urban ghettos remained destitute, those willing to take extreme measures, such as the Weathermen and Symbionese Liberation Army (and groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy), resorted to violent assault against “the system.”

Such “rage against the machine,” taken up these days in Berkeley by Antifa and its allies, targets the entire apparatus of public decision-making, including elections and the mainstream political parties that engage in them. This contempt for mainstream party politics, which is not just a marginal phenomenon today but has wide support on the left, is counter-productive. When the Democratic Party is written off as hopelessly compromised and corrupt, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: abstention by those who are too “pure” to participate in the Party allows moneyed interests to play a dominant role in the Party and to set a conservative agenda that the left abhors.

Is there an effective alternative to a left politics of despair? The challenge facing the left today is to persuade the public that it really does have a program that will serve the common good—an inclusive program in keeping with the progressive vision written into the 2016 Democratic Party National Platform by activists in the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. Can a progressive coalition hold the line against the Trump agenda, take back the Congress in 2018, and win elections in state legislatures as well? Protect those communities that are threatened by the current Republican administration? Replace resurgent militarism with a peace program that provides jobs and rebuilds America? Impassioned organizing and advocacy, not violence in the streets, will advance the causes that communities like Berkeley hold dear. END

About the Author

Raymond Barglow has a doctorate in philosophy from UC Berkeley. He participated in Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 and has taught at UC Berkeley and Trinity College. He writes on science, ethics, and public policy issues, and belongs to the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club.

References
  1. Police officers have been present at the pro-Trump rallies in Berkeley, but instead of protecting the demonstrators, they have mostly stood by inactively as the brawling occurs. According to Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College who advises law enforcement agencies, police are capable of intervening effectively in situations of this kind: see Veklerov, Kimberly and Ioannou, Filipa. 2017. “Berkeley Police Get Flak for Hands-Off Approach to Protest Mayhem.” San Francisco Chronicle (April 17).
  2. Many of the leaders of the pro-Trump rallies in Berkeley have been extremists with racist, totalitarian ideas. But many of their followers, although they may voice some of these ideas too, are self-styled “freedom lovers” and “patriots” who regard the left, not themselves, as anti-free speech and fascist.
  3. Nonviolent intervention is capable of inaugurating dialogue between warring perspectives. See Chenoweth, Erica and Stephan, Maria J. 2012. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: Columbia University; Nagler, Michael, 2014.
  4. Diversity within the ranks of the alt-right is documented in Nagle, Angela. 2017. Kill All Normies. Alresford Hants, UK. 2017.
  5. “[T]he First Amendment protects even speech that most of us would find hateful, abhorrent and odious, and the courts have consistently upheld these protections…. We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.” Christ, Carol. 2017. “Chancellor Christ: Free speech Is Who We Are.” Berkeley News, Public Affairs (August 23).

59 Comments

  1. Robin Collins says:

    I disagree that people should not show up to counter-demonstrate, peacefully. I think showing opposition is good; but that doesn’t mean the alt-right nuts should not be “allowed” to speak. There are no minds to change at demonstrations. But the public needs to know there are more people opposed to extremism than supporting it.

    • Lisa Kleinwort says:

      Agreed. There are multiple forms of effective non-violent protest. Shermer’s “Ignore Them” tactic is sometimes appropriate and “Silent Protest” gives a physical presence expressing opposition.

  2. J. Gravelle says:

    “Berkeley’s intolerance has become a favorite subject on Fox News and other right-wing media.”

    …while sadly, the left-wing media doesn’t seem to consider it a subject at all…

    • mrobles says:

      You didn’t read the article did you? It even has references to left-wing media sites criticizing Berkeley’s irrational intolerance.

  3. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX says:

    The issues of armed vs. peaceful oposition to tyrany and of limiting the free speach of those seen as the enemies are two seperate issues. Oposition to enemy speach is not always violent and to cast it as only wrong because it uses violence is a strategic error.

    Violence is sometimes necessary, but should be strategic and carefully targeted, not simply violence for it’s own sake or to express emotions. This country is long overdue for an armed revolution, but the actions of the Black Bloc and Anti-Fa are counter-productive, not the sort of rational and carefully thought out armed resistence we need.

  4. Barry says:

    Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho!

  5. Darrel Moon says:

    Those who claim the “left wing media” doesn’t report on Berkeley’s intolerance must not be watching the left wing media. I have seen many reports about intolerance at Berkeley from the left leaning media. Perhaps if J. Gravelle watched something other than the news from the right, he/she would have seen the mysteriously missing Berkeley reports.

  6. Carl Baker says:

    Were the French resistance fighters wrong to use violence against the Nazis?

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Were the Nazis in occupied France just to give a speech?

      The false comparison between soldiers (and partisans) fighting actual wars and protestors using violence to silence opposing political views is disingenuous. It makes supporters of antifa look like they just want an excuse to exercise violence.

    • David Murphy says:

      The French resistance were fighting an entirely different situation . There country was invaded, defeated and in effect destroyed. The Germans practiced many barbarisms against the French people. It was a war.

      The situation between right and left now is entirely different, peaceful expression of views is perfectly safe and can be effective. Under the nazis free speech was suppressed and likely to land you the local Gestapo headquarters to have your testicles crushed and eventual transportation to the death camps.

      I think if you cannot see the difference then you have a serious problem of perspective.

    • KBunk says:

      I suppose your drawing upon the French Resistance in WW II means you’re placing some equivalence to their situation and the current state of affairs in our nation.
      France was an occupied nation, ours is a sovereign state with a government elected by its citizens.

  7. Paul L says:

    “The far left reasons that the President is a fascist and white supremacist…”

    Where is the “reasoned” argument? I dislike Trump – he is crude, oversensitive, etc. – but I have never seen a shred of reasoned argument, let alone evidence, of these claims.

  8. Tanya says:

    I am 100% in favour of quashing, with violence if necessary, the speech of people who advocate for the genocide of Jews, Romani, blacks, immigrants, disabled, queer and other marginalized minorities. Which is the viewpoint of Milo. Nothing he says should be given a platform. And if people think this is somehow advocating for the destruction of tolerance and free speech, I would like to refer you to the writing of Karl Popper who describes the paradox of tolerance and how unlimited tolerance, unlimited free speech, will end in no tolerance or freedom.

    If you desire to maintain tolerance and free speech, speech which directly contradicts tolerance and free speech must, by definition, be suppressed.

    On one side you have someone advocating for genocide and intolerance, and on the other, a group being rapidly vilified with “think pieces” like this, advocating against and working to limit their spread by denying platforms to said genocidal believers.

    As skeptics, we’ve talked often about the futility of debating points with an irrational side who is not coming to the discussion in good faith, but merely to access a platform to deliver their sermon, and reach a wider audience for recruitment. We need to expand this viewpoint to include racist genocidal pundits, and remove, with violence if necessary, all access they have to public platforms.

    Free speech and tolerance will thank you, and holocaust survivors will respect you, and the target groups of these genocidal pundits will breathe easier, and safer.

    And, since I’ve had this argument many times over, the first person to say “Violence is what they want!” will be laughed at by me, and reviewed with a quote from Hitler himself: “Only one danger could have jeopardised this development – if our adversaries had understood its principle, established a clear understanding of our ideas, and not offered any resistance. Or, alternatively, if they had from the first day annihilated with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.”

    Let’s smash, with the utmost brutality, this newest rise of fascists before they have the chance to consolidate power. Because never again, means never again.

    • Scott E. says:

      Please refer me to the DIRECT QUOTES of Milo advocating for the genocide of all the groups you refer to. Thanks!

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Since you advocate using the ‘utmost brutality’ in quashing the other side – a side that is so evil that it merits the strongest of opposition – does that mean you are down with using assassination, kidnapping, and weapons of mass death against the other side?

      If your description is accurate of the alt-right, and not hyperbole, then why not fire bomb their demonstrations (ala Dresden) and kill as many of those future holocaust perpetrators as possible? We didn’t vanquish Nazi Germany with sticks and stones – why are folks like you appealing to the violence of WWII to justify hitting them with sticks on the streets of Berkeley?

      Either they are evil enough that we must wage unrestricted war – with all of its terrors – or they are not that evil and we should win this fight without any violence. Whichever choice you make – stop with this half-measure nonsense of bonking right-wingers with sticks and rocks.

      Wage a war of actual death and destruction (and live with the consequences) or wage a war of words.

      • Tanya says:

        When the armed rally attendees in Charleston unfurled their Nazi flags, to a person they should have been wiped out as enemy combatants on American soil. Or given the chance to surrender and taken and held as prisoner until they could be properly dispositioned for marching under an enemy flag.

        Also, we can go to the successful British put downs of rising fascists before world war two, beating fascists down with sticks and stones works. It prevents then from organizing, it worked in New York city in the thirties, when Nazis were trying to organize here. But we’ve forgotten these lessons because we want to live in a society with unlimited tolerance for anyone and Any view and we want to believe simple discussion and good factual points will win over non-factual points. Observe the rising tide of anti-science rhetoric in regards to topics such as GMOs or vaccination and we know all the facts in the world and rational speech won’t work in the face of certain emotional sentiment.

        We have historical accounts, meeting fascists quickly, with unapologetic violence, and denying their access to public platforms works.

        Now if we can figure out how to deal with the subtle forms that don’t wave Nazi flags or overtly call for genocide which has flourished over the past few decades and has finally reached the boiling point we’re seeing now…

        • Bad Boy Scientist says:

          I think you are victim to some revisionist history there.

          BTW: Are these Angry White Men groups really ‘fascists’ or ‘Nazis’? Do they really aspire to the political ideology of fascism or National Socialism? (I heard it said “If they use a swastika they must be Nazis” – but since the Nazis co-opted the swastika from religions like Hinduism, we could just as well say “If they use a swastika they must be Hindu.”)

          I think labelling them as fascists and/or nazis is a way to dehumanize them and help people overcome their reluctance to inflicting violence upon humans.

          • Bob says:

            WOW Tanya, you should really leave your far left wing mind control bubble once in a while and actually see the rest of the world. There’s so astoundingly much wrong with what you’ve stated that it’s not worth a response. I should listen to Shermer and completely ignore you, so I won’t say any more. But seriously, WOWOWOW!

          • Tanya says:

            … Victim of Revisionist History… ?

            Alright, here’s a recent article from a man who’s uncle fought the American-German Bund in the U.S.:
            http://forward.com/life/family/380923/the-original-antifa-was-a-jewish-anti-nazi-militia/

            And here’s a book detailing Britain’s fight against fascism in the early 20th Century:
            https://books.google.com/books/about/Fascism_in_Britain.html?id=nqACzm2XB3gC

            The only “Revisionist History” is thinking there were no active Nazis or Huge Nazi rallies outside of Germany, and no one fought against those Nazis the same way Antifa is fighting them today.

            I can add a photo of Indigenous North American people signing a declaration to never use the swastika again, and item of decoration in much of their art and cloth. I can also refer you to several places where Indian Hindus stopped prominently displaying swastikas during and after WWII…

            They Dehumanize themselves when they espouse the values of Nazis…

        • Marc Schneider says:

          So, Tanya, would you advocate violence against people spouting “anti-science rhetoric? Anti-vaccers? It’s not clear just where you draw the line between “permissible” disagreement and impermissible disagreement. It sounds like there might be no line in your mind if you thought particular speech was dangerous enough. For example, what if an anti-vaccine person persuaded people to not vaccinate their children, causing other children to get sick. Would that justify violence against the anti-vaccers?

          The issue is not Nazis. If you want to beat up Nazis, I’m not going to cry. The issue is your view of free speech and where you think the line of tolerance for speech you don’t like is.

          • Tanya says:

            How many lives have anti-vaxxers cost so far? I know it’s on the rise. And personally, people spouting anti-vax viewpoints have quite a bit of blood on their hands, and deserve censure.

            The direct denial of Climate Science is adding to its body count every day too.

            The U.S. has been putting “limits” on free speech for quite some time.

            One of those limits is “Incitement to Violence”. Something our current sitting president was guilty of at several of his rallies.

            We already have many precedents for rightful limitation of free speech. I personally feel extending those precedents out to cover speech which advocates for the genocide of a people, or incites violence against a group because of their race/religion/sexuality/sex/immigration status/minority status would be a step in the right direction to protecting free speech and liberty.

            Because, seriously, the goal of the people espousing these views is to protect free speech just long enough to where they have enough power to deny it to those groups they feel do not fit in the homogeneity of their perfect white Christian straight society.

            Another thing to look at… How many Skeptic personalities have been sued by Anti-Vax personalities or Climate Deniers for expressing the facts of science? I know I can name three off the top of my head…

  9. Jason says:

    I ask myself, would Antifa be breaking windows and setting fires if fascists were not being taken seriously by people who want to “listen to the arguments of the other side” ?

    I think not. They’re young and easily distractable, and don’t have the attention span for a movement in the absence of a clear and present danger to confront.

    So Antifa is not dangerous, in the absence of fascism being taken seriously by people with power. And violence is a useful tool against fascism, arguably the most effective tool, since fascism contains such inherent violence itself.

    Antifa can (and has) beat the fascists in street-level violence, which is a far better outcome than the reverse. As long as they are beating up Nazis, I’m not going to wring my hands about their methods.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Anti-matter: a type of matter that, when it comes into contact with regular matter, explodes

      Anti-missiles: a kind of missile that, when it comes into contact with a regular missile, explodes.

      Anti-fascism: a variety of fascism that, when it comes into contact with regular fascism, explodes.

      Who is to say antifa isn’t the real ‘fascist’ movement we should fear?

      Please remember your etymology folks: The word ‘Nazi’ comes from ‘National Socialist’ and the original Nazis didn’t claim to be fascists … in fact, they claimed to be _defending_ the German people (and themselves) from threats using violence. Oh – they also had a lot of intellectual apologists justifying their violence.

      Just like antifa today.

  10. Jeff says:

    “I am 100% in favour of quashing, with violence if necessary, the speech of people who advocate for the genocide of Jews, Romani, blacks, immigrants, disabled, queer and other marginalized minorities. Which is the viewpoint of Milo.”

    Except it’s not Milo’s viewpoint. I encourage you to find evidence that he has ever argued for genocide (GENOCIDE? Seriously?). Your support of violence to squash speech you don’t agree with is another issue entirely….

    • Tanya says:

      Have you had the pleasure of sitting through one of his presentations?

      I have.

      It is not a mere difference of opinion. It is dog whistles to racists, expounding of white supremacy (except for when it comes to dick size if you read his writings), the urging of violence against “sick” individuals such as transgender people, his perpetuation of racist stereotypes which invalidate his speech.

      It is also listening to stories of holocaust survivors all going “This is how it started!”

  11. Richard Gordon says:

    Interesting how this fellow writes an article supporting free speech as a means of writing an anti-Trump article. “The challenge facing the left today is to persuade the public that it really does have a program that will serve the common good….” Maybe the old left should instead just give up. They have a century long track record of failure to produce utopia, and often success at creating the opposite.

  12. Mark T says:

    “Each side creates a reductive profile of the other,” just as this article creates a reductive profile of Berkeley.

    Those responsible for violence, such as the Antifa and their ilk, are in fact a minuscule fringe here, and attracted to Berkeley for the same reasons as Milo. There is of course a segment of enthusiastic but intellectually sloppy left, for example those who imply Milo has genocidal aims, but it’s not clear that this segment is actually larger in Berkeley than in any progressive college town.

    Berkeley is a city, and a symbol. As a city, one is at greater threat of being run over in a crosswalk by one of the innumerable Tesla drivers than being a victim of anti-right violence.

  13. Leslie says:

    I have lived in Berkeley since 1946 and seen it go from being a Republican town to a leftist bastion and watching it now become more like Marin County with more emphasis on ‘self, health and wealth.’
    That being said, it’s still at least a symbol of radical leftism and we did just elect a mayor from the goofy left. We, or our school district, a few years ago hired a notorious antifa who, along with some buddies, had disrupted the Oakland Teachers’ Union for years. Now we are in a debate about getting rid of her after she physically attacked some right-wing demonstrators in Sacramento.
    This is not about ‘Berkeley’ per-se, or even about the radical Bay Area (I doubt that many of the antifas can afford to live in Berkeley itself any more).
    It’s not even about this debate between antifas’ violence and the safe left’s Free Speech priorities.

    We can debate Free Speech ’til hell freezes over but as long as there is the discontentment and resultant frustration of seeing nothing being done to address the real discontentment people feel, the violent and vile left and right will continue to be energized sucking up the heat and concentrating it, just like a hurricane.
    I read periodic articles about what the Democratic Party should do about right-wing populism but they always talk in programmatic, political terms. The never speak to the heart of the matter; never acknowledge the pain and fears and their sources, including past Democratic party policies and failures. I guess this is to be expected of politicians; not the most heartfelt, empathetic of occupations.

  14. awc says:

    Sometimes the only way a government will change is through revolution.

    ANTIFA is not a revolution it is agitation.

    If ANTIFA were to start a revolution as with any modern nation they would be quelled quickly. The days when a militia of the people could rise up and overthrow the government are long gone.

    Hey, both sides can be wrong.

  15. Marcus says:

    >When the armed rally attendees in Charleston unfurled their Nazi flags, to a person they should have been wiped out as enemy combatants on American soil.

    There were no armed rally attendees in Charleston nor Nazi flags. There was only Dylann Roof.

    Before you go wiping out anything in a self-righteous fervor, please go to the right city.

    • Tanya says:

      You’re correct, I was recently watching hurricane news so mixed up Charlottesville and Charleston. Thank you for pointing out my error.

      My point still stands, just shift the city North a bit. ;)

  16. Stanley P Wroblewski says:

    Your Antifa protestors are just fulfilling their embracement of true Fascism. Let’s not be obscure about who the true fascists are in this country right now. Thinking students are going to shun Milo is wishful thinking. I thought The Skeptic was open minded, but now I see Shermer for what he truly is. Hard for me to accept anything he writes about after seeing his tweets related to this article.

    https://www.dineshdsouza.com/news/fascisms-karl-marx/

  17. Lucretia Lee says:

    In spite of repeated requests for direct quotations to verify Milo’s genocidal impulses, none have been provided, only allegations. Come back when you have something to put up!

    • Tanya says:

      I do have a day job.

      Also, Milo’s Twitter was scrubbed, where a large number of his documented statements were posted.

      Also, after his fall from grace for advocating sex with underage children, Breitbart scrubbed many of his articles off their site.

      I’ll have to look deeper when I’m not putting in 13 hour days.

  18. Richard Watkins says:

    A suggestion regarding Tonya’s remarks about killing fascists:

    If a person publicly preaches against the value of free speech, let them talk, and counter it with other opinions.

    However, if that person threatens violence against those speaking different opinions, or preaches with the intent of motivating others to do violence, then I think that person should forfeit their right to free public speech and be stopped using the judicial process.

    The judicial process is necessary because free speech rights can be taken away not only by people threatening violence, but also by people falsely claiming they’ve been threatened. The judicial process is the best method for determining who is telling the truth.

    There is a correlation between speech that threatens violence, and other people no longer expressing their opinions in public out of fear of that violence, even before violence has occurred. This kind of speech cannot be allowed. All other speech should be allowed.

    The right to enjoy free public speech in America should be given only to those who commit not to threaten the lives of other people exercising their free speech rights. If you fail to do that, then you should lose your free speech rights the same as you lose your freedom to walk around in public if you don’t commit to non-criminal behavior. Claiming you are expressing God’s will also does not give you the right to threaten other people’s free speech rights.

    So Tanya, this suggestion would give you the [judicial] ability to stop people who strive to take away your free speech rights thru violence. Would that work for you?

    To everyone else on both sides of this issue, there is no excuse for using violence or preaching revolution in a country where everyone has equal access to the media, the courts, the voting booth, and free speech. If you feel strongly about something, then use these resources more vigorously!

  19. Cynthia P. says:

    Thank you Mr. Barglow for your well–considered and argued piece. You are saying what I believe most Berkeley residents feel… that countering repugnant opinions with violence is wrong. Tanya’s attitude is frightening. If one accepts her flawed reasoning we will see more and more senseless violence in our streets and stronger and stronger police reactions. In fact, I wonder if the so-called “antifa” is actually manipulated by the FBI?

  20. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Dear Barglow and Shermer,

    The moderate Left cannot easily dissociate themselves from the communists because they are ideologically related to Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-un, all the evil villains of history. You’re in bad company. It’s guilt by association. Even Marx didn’t want to be associated with himself. He famously quipped “I’m not a Marxist.”

    The activists (a.k.a. communists) in the Democratic Party don’t help. “Can a progressive coalition hold the line against the Trump agenda?” From the result of the election, it seems the United States coalition held the line against the Clinton agenda. “Protect those communities that are threatened by the current Republican administration?” From what is happening in Berkeley, it seems the current Republican administration must protect those communities that are threatened by the Democratic violent protesters.

    Denouncing the communists in Berkeley is the Right move (pun intended)

  21. Tanya says:

    Ah, communism… I’m not a communist… seriously… “If you go around carrying pictures of chairman Mao, you won’t get anywhere with anyone anyhow…” right?

    Berkeley, we have Milo, gay poster boy for the Republican Far Right Alt-Right groups. Republicans and the Alt-Right are eating up his words and holding him up as an example; “Look at this gay boy! He knows our values! See we don’t _really_ hate gays!” Despite every law they’ve passed against gay and queer people every chance they get.

    So we have Milo running around the country, making these appearances at college campuses, speaking his hate, dog-whistling white supremacist viewpoints, and in the immediate aftermath of his visits, hate crimes spike. He’s running around inciting violence everywhere he goes based on race, religion, and gender identity, and then Antifa gets wind of his upcoming appearance at Berkeley. There were choices to make, every choice has a consequence. Solid evidence shows Milo’s appearances directly correlate to the rise in violent crime against minority groups, people around Berkeley are BEGGING the school admin to cancel his appearance and not give him a platform. Clutching their pearls and going “Oh dear me we can’t inhibit his free speech! It’s just his opinions! If you have better ideas you can counter them with guests of your own! The better ideas will always win out!”

    wow that is such a lie we like to tell ourselves as skeptics…

    So the day of the event, people are gathered to protest… Antifa, tired of inaction, decide to step it up a notch and meet Milo’s violent incitement with real violence directed straight at him. Bring the message home. Land it on his head a small measure of what he’s incited others to land on the heads of minorities.

    Some windows get broken, some bottles thrown, a few people are hurt, BUT THE SPEECH IS SHUT DOWN AND MILO DOESN’T GET TO ESPOUS HIS WONDERFUL VITRIOLIC MESSAGE OF HATE. This is called No-Platforming. If the school had looked at Milo’s previous rallies, and seen the results and content of his speeches, they would have easily handed down a “This speech isn’t constitutionally protected as it incites violence against others based on arbitrary factors, race, religion, sexual identity, immigration status, and therefor we are not quashing his freedom of speech by disallowing him a platform.” No violence would have resulted.

    “The riot is the voice of the unheard masses.” -MLK

    Antifa would not be growing in number and activity if the concerns of marginalized minorities were heard, and people like Milo advocating against others because of their minority status were not tacitly approved of by the current administration in power.

    And I think tacitly is too weak of a word. I firmly believe our current executive leadership in the U.S. is overtly giving the signal that the viewpoints of people like Milo are not only approved of, but condoned and encouraged.

    FFS, our president failed a morality test a 4 year old should pass. “Are people marching under a Nazi flag bad?” YES, no caveat, no ifs, no buts, people marching under a Nazi flag are bad. End of sentence. They are advocating for the outright destruction of any minority they see as deviant. You’re not White, Christian, and fully able-bodied? then there is no place for you in the American Nazi’s world. They’ll start with violent deportations… those are in full swing right now aren’t they? I have friends who are vets under the DACA program who fought for THIS country facing deportation RIGHT now to a land they have NEVER known because of the color of their skin and the status of their parents. And the oppositional voices go unheard.

    The more the voices of people go unheard, the more violence is going to rise up. We have a couple of chances in the next few years to get things stabilized and turned away from another dark path we are going down, but all around the world, violent far-right attitudes are rising again in the names of nationalism and racial purity, and we’re sitting here at a moment in history, where everyone who looks back at the rise of fascism across Europe in the 30s and 40s going “I WOULD HAVE RESISTED!” are finally getting their opportunity to find out if they really would have resisted.

    In the experience of history, most people speaking as many have spoken in this thread would have gone along down the dark path of fascism. They would have gone along with authority because they didn’t want to tip their comfort zone, or they don’t have the stomach for what needs to be done to prevent millions of people being slaughtered for nothing more than their race, religion, or whom they choose to love. Passive observers decrying the actions of those willing to stand up and fight against the rising darkness.

    • Dr. Strangelove says:

      Ah yes, Trump is the evil white supremacist and Democrats are the angels descended from heaven (or from Mother Nature as they are atheists and environmental activists/Nature worshipers) to save the world from Satan (a.k.a. Trump) That’s why America voted for Satan and rejected the angels. Am I missing something here? Maybe Americans are demons. Who needs election? Just shoot the ‘white supremacists’ in the streets and we will all attain Nirvana – the transcendental state of bliss, perfect harmony with Mother Nature, world peace, love for all living things, sex with trees and rocks. Yes! Yes!!

      Then your psychiatrist slaps you in the face and says time to take your anti-psychosis drug

  22. James says:

    The right wing will connect them to the university liberals, although they may have no connection; just misfits who think they have the answers ; the same way as do despot rulers.

  23. Tanya says:

    One more note…

    Antifa has been classified as a terrorist group by top law enforcement. They have held a few reactionary riots. They have no actual power structure, command group, or real organization. They’ve broken a few windows, thrown some bottles, and cracked a few skulls… but what they haven’t done is held a lynching, dragged or burned anyone out of their homes, taken an innocent person off the street and beaten them in a parking garage, or taken a person merely for the color of their skin and hung them from a tree.

    You know what group HAS committed all of those types of violence?

    How about the KKK? They have a well established organization, a power and command structure… everything a terrorist organization needs.

    And yet they aren’t anywhere near a categorization of terrorist organization by top law enforcement.

    I wonder why… :)

  24. Batman's cape says:

    The bill of rights ,fist amendment allows both partys to speak ,and gather peacefully , but dont Infringed upon another’s rights . If you disagree with someone talk to them ,try to changeing there mind .let them try changing your mind . You may find something in common when your fist is closed so is your mind

  25. Brycecycle says:

    Michael Shermer implies that without violent protesters, right-wing speakers have reason to fear they would be speaking to empty seats. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the conservative speakers (Coulter, Steyn, Shapiro, Yiannapolis, etc.) have had packed houses for years. The threats of violence caused them to hire private security, and in certain cases had to cancel their events out of safety concerns. Since Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, there has been an orchestrated opposition to allowing any viewpoint other than that approved by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. People on the right want those on the other side of the political aisle to freely express their views. It’s why their speakers have no need for special security on college campuses or anywhere else.

  26. Richard Still says:

    Yuck. Just . . . yuck.

    Skeptic magazine has really been heading toward some kind of “alt-right” blog lately.

    Listen to this to get the OTHER SIDE of the story:

    http://seriouspod.com/sio40-actually-berkeley-fierce-defender-free-speech/

  27. Leo says:

    Free speech is a core value for every side – otherwise it’s not free! Nevertheless it’s the responsibility of the cops (and to a certain degree of the organizers) to keep the opposing sides as far apart, so nobody gets hurt and to pick out overly aggressive individuals.

  28. Steve Doob says:

    Tanya is a good writer, as are many of the rest of you. Very persuasive arguments. I can’t tell who’s right. I think all of you are. I wonder what Tanya works 13 hours a day at and yet has time to be so knowledgeable and write so well. What kind of martial arts does she do to take care of herself, or is she just into inflaming others? I’d be interested to know.

    • Tanya says:

      I work in a factory, running statistical process control, automation, integration, documentation, and quality systems.

      One of our largest product lines: body armor for police personnel and vehicle armor for both military and civilian authorities.

  29. Jay says:

    As that famous liberal comedian from California, Bill Mahr says, “Free speech is really only free speech if there are no exceptions.” And with the exception of legitimate public safety concerns like yelling “Fire”, he is dead right. I don’t like to listen to Rush of Keith but I will defend either of their right to be on the air.

  30. Kent McManigal says:

    I am an anarchist, and I find it dishonest and insulting to be equated with Marxists (or socialists/communists of any sort).

    I am for self-ownership and responsibility and against anyone claiming any “right” to govern anyone. Yes, I realize socialists have long claimed to be “anarchists”, and people unclear in their thinking have taken the bait, but if you want anyone to “rule” society, but are only unhappy because it isn’t one of “your guys”, you are not, by definition, an anarchist.

    Those who want you to doubt that anarchy (self ownership and individual responsibility) is the best, most moral, and ethical way to live among others are asking you to accept that theft, aggression, superstition, and slavery are perhaps better.

  31. Raymond Barglow says:

    Reading through the responses to my article, I’ve noticed, first of all, the wide range of opinions! Such vigorous debate testifies to the value of the forum that Skeptic Magazine provides.

    Alarm about what is happening today in the United States, which is evident in many of the comments, is appropriate! Arguably, the basic principles of reason and fairness that are essential to any democracy are being undermined. And the danger is broad, ranging from immigrant communities fearful of deportation to scientific laboratories and public schools threatened with loss of funding. Even the right to vote is today not ensured throughout the nation!

    So yes, we should resist. But violent forms of resistance fuel the extreme right, they do not oppose it effectively. The far left’s blanket labeling of anyone who supports Trump as “fascist” doesn’t lead to effective resistance, I hope we can at least agree on that.

    We know only too well that “the enemy of our enemy” is not always our friend. I don’t believe we ought to embrace the principle that: “Anyone who combats fascism thereby helps the cause of anti-fascism.” Historical experience amply demonstrates the devastating, tragic consequences of following this principle. Time and again, we’ve seen that, as Hannah Arendt puts, it, “The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is a more violent world.” Let’s review one often discussed case (although many others could be cited): violent street battling in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany didn’t discourage or diminish fascist ranks, but helped build them. The far left’s substitution of street-fighting bravado for participation in parliamentary politics proved to be disastrous, enabling the right to win elections and take power by way of claiming that law and order had to be restored.

    In brief, left violence, in the name of “resistance to fascism,” most definitely didn’t work in Germany (or Austria or Italy) in the 1920s and 1930s. Instead it legitimized and inadvertently encouraged the counter-violence that destroyed the left and empowered Hitler. Illuminating in this regard is Richard Evan’s book, “The Coming of the Third Reich.”

    • Dr. Strangelove says:

      “immigrant communities fearful of deportation”

      They should be if they are illegal. Nothing to fear if they are legal. Is it debatable if we should implement the immigration law?

      “scientific laboratories and public schools threatened with loss of funding.”

      Do you have a list of laboratories and schools that lost funding? If there’s decrease in funding, is this the first time it happened in American history? Without such data, your accusations are just wishful thinking

      “Even the right to vote is today not ensured throughout the nation!”

      Who is being prevented to vote? Be more specific

      “So yes, we should resist.”

      Resist who? What is being resisted? Is there anybody trying to kill you, harm you, steal your properties? Without the specifics, it is just paranoia

  32. Raymond Barglow says:

    I’ll take up your points, Dr. Strangelove, in the order you made them. With regard to “immigrant communities fearful of deportation,” you say that those who are here legally have “nothing to f ear.” But many, through no choice of their own, are not here legally. Arguably, someone who has lived in the U.S. since childhood, whose parent is an undocumented immigrant, should be able to stay here. I see a legitimate humanitarian issue here, do you also?

    Please note as well that in some cases people come to the U.S. from countries – located in Latin America, for instance – where U.S. military and/or economic policy has contributed to living conditions that are severe, if not intolerable. In El Salvador, to take one example, the U.S. has supported military regimes over the past half century that served the wealthy and imposed crushing poverty upon the masses of people. Many Salvadorans who peacefully protested were imprisoned and even tortured. It’s not surprising that in this situation many people have sought to leave that country. Since the United States contributed to the terrible circumstances they faced in El Salvador, it’s plausible to acknowledge that we have some responsibility to accept them when they arrive at our border.

    Unfortunately, El Salvador is not an isolated example. In Mexico, there is considerable evidence that the U.S., through trade agreements like NAFTA, helped to impoverish farm workers and others, contributing to their motivation to head north. In Nicaragua, Honduras, Chile, Argentina, and many Latin American countries, totalitarian regimes supported by the U.S. have been very oppressive to those who are poor, who then naturally want to emigrate.

    Second, in my comment I spoke of “scientific laboratories and public schools threatened with loss of funding.” You question the existence of this threat. With De Vos as Secretary of Education, and a budget cutting administration that is unconvinced of the value of public education, the future for our schools is indeed problematic.

    As for scientific research, the current administration in Washington is distinctly unfriendly to science, not only in the denial of human-made climate change, for example, but also in terms of science funding overall. It is not only the EPA and the scientific research it sponsors that are under attack. Compared to the U.S. military budget, for example, the entire NIH budget is a pittance, really. And even that relatively small amount is criticized in Washington these days. Congress is locked in battle against the President on the issue of science funding, but anti-scientific sentiment could carry the day in Congress too, which would threaten support for science all the more.

    Consider the predicament of funding for biotech and biomedicine. In California where I live, the publicly funded California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) receives many research proposals each year that are based on sound science, but there just is not enough money available to support them. California passed a stem cell research initiative in 2004 that provides funding for CIRM, but that money will run out in 2020. Many promising research proposals will die for lack of either state or federal funding. Funding shortages in biomedical research and other scientific areas are well documented and may get worse. Thanks to the science-skeptical folks now controlling the purse strings in Washington and in state legislatures as well, the threat to science is very real. Commercial science partly compensates for this, but cannot adequately substitute for public funding of applied as well as basic research.

    Third, you take exception to my comment that “Even the right to vote is today not ensured throughout the nation.” This threat seems to me plainly evident, due to voter ID and other sorts of restrictions, The US Supreme Court may increasingly look with favor on such restrictions. Many states have imposed voting requirements that are onerous and unjustified by the danger of voter fraud. With Sessions as Attorney General and so many state legislatures in conservative hands, voting rights are increasingly in danger.

    I realize that I have responded to your points in a brief fashion, Dr. Strangelove. But I believe that if you look closely, you will find that there is considerable evidence for the threats I cited. And yes, these threats apply to you and to me! If you are a mortal being, you too could possibly benefit one day from life-saving biomedical research that, if science funding is cut, simply will not take place.

    Best wishes and be well, Dr. Strangelove.

  33. Steve Doob says:

    Republicans know only too well that education is their mortal enemy, not to mention science and allowing non-Republicans to vote. They know that Americans will swallow any claptrap. Although Trump’s not noted for telling the truth, he occasionally does, as when he said, “I love the uneducated.” If you believe in the nonsense of religion, as so many of us do, then you’ll believe anything. You’re perfect grist for any smart politician and Trump is as smart as they come.

  34. armando simon says:

    If you meet anyone who says, “I believe in free speech, BUT—” pick up a brick and smash the totalitarian’s teeth.

Patreon: a new way to support the things skeptic creates

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall, M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods. The lectures each range from 32 to 45 minutes.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

Copyright © 1992–2017. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.