Why are We Here? Berkeley’s “Free Speech Movement” Was a Fraud

Graphic © Tiffani Williams.

As another academic year begins, all eyes should be on Berkeley — one of the great modern amphitheaters of the nation-wide war between academic freedom and “academic justice.”

Surely more controversial figures will seek to speak there — will they be cordially welcomed as they should be? The events of the previous year are the answer.

Though Ben Shapiro was re-invited after his September 14 event was suddenly cancelled in July, mass protests were scheduled to greet his lecture (echoing those of students at CSU-LA last year). The opposition to his appearance on the part of the Berkeley administration was so great that tickets for the event were not released for public purchase until September 7 — extreme security measures required automatically.

The ironic actions of Berkeley’s so-called “Antifa” terrorists (those planning to obstruct Shapiro) are worth little discussion. Physical attacks perpetrated against political opposition was a favorite early Nazi tactic (indeed, a young Hitler’s début as a violent criminal occurred in this way in 1921). Any notion that “anti-fascist” organizations such as “Black Bloc” and Berkeley radical Yvette Felarca’s BAMN (“By Any Means Necessary”) support the protection of civil liberties is a self-deluded lie.

Berkeley students protest “a fascist America” in anticipation of Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance — February 1, 2017. (Ben Margot / AP)

At the same time, some who have written in defense of controversial Berkeley speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos (whose welcome on February 1 was among the most violent to date), do so by using a highly flawed argument.

Writing in The Daily Beast the following day, Robby Soave appealed to the legacy of the Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” of the 1960s in defending Yiannopoulos’ right to speak: “In 1964, Berkeley students birthed the free speech movement in order to liberate the campus from prohibitions on political speech,” he said. “In 2017, Berkeley burned as misguided protesters censored the speech of someone whose political views they disliked.”

Soave’s intentions are admirable, but are themselves misguided. The popular image of the Free Speech Movement is embodied in the appealing name — nothing is more American than free speech, and a movement to preserve and protect it should stir the heart of every American patriot. But behind the clean, suit-and-tie veneer, the real “Free Speech Movement” was in fact was very different from how it is remembered today.

Mario Savio (front, second from right) and other leaders of the movement march holding a cloth sign bearing their deceptive slogan through Berkeley’s Sather Gate — November 20, 1964. (Chris Kjobech / Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, the Oakland Tribune Collection)

“…[T]here were no restrictions on free speech at UC Berkeley in 1964 when the movement was launched,” writes author and civil rights activist David Horowitz in his 2002 book Uncivil Wars: The Controversy Over Reparations for Slavery:

This did not prevent radicals from using the appealing slogan to mobilize enough bodies to occupy the university administration building, an act that resulted in the arrest of eight hundred student trespassers. It was the first “takeover” of a campus building in the history of American high education and set the stage for similar political actions on college campuses thereafter (p. 26).

Horowitz, one of the founders of the “New Left” and later an editor of the magazine Ramparts, obtained his master’s degree in English literature at Berkeley in 1961, where he organized an anti-Vietnam war protest the following year. As a campus radical himself, he was well-placed to observe university policy towards political speech (though in England at the time the protests began in the autumn of 1964):

…[B]efore the FSM activists occupied Berkeley’s Sproul Hall, the university had required political organizations [from Democrat and Republican to communist and socialist] to conduct their recruiting operations outside the Sather Gate entrance that marked the campus boundary.…

This policy was designed to protect the university as a place of learning and intellectual inquiry from the kind of partisan disruptions that have since become commonplace, and that require campus security police to protect politically unpopular speakers. …The policy the FSM challenged — and overthrew — was designed to separate university activities from the rough battlegrounds of the political arena (p. 27).

Though formed with some genuine connections to the Civil Rights Movement, of which sympathetic voices are exceedingly proud, the Free Speech Movement was deeply influenced by the most radical elements of the student population.

Its leader, Mario Savio, in his famous speech inside Sproul Hall on December 2 of that year compared the true injustice of racial segregation in practice at the University of Mississippi to student life as it was at Berkeley: “Last summer I went to Mississippi to join the struggle there for civil rights. This fall I am engaged in another phase of the same struggle, this time in Berkeley,” he said, never supporting his claims with serious evidence.

Its second-in-command was self-described “feminist rebel” Bettina Aptheker, a prominent and vocal member of the DuBois Club and the “United Front,” both campus front groups for the American Communist Party. Another leader was Jack Weinberg, a fresh member of the International Socialist Club, a “Third Camp” Trotskiyist organization. Many of the students who joined the movement were recruited from the radical group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which eventually imploded and degenerated into the terrorist cult known as the Weather Underground when its most radical factions descended into civil war.

In short, the Free Speech Movement was a movement to free Berkeley, and finally all American universities, from the mature decency which had kept such destructive, totalitarian movements from burrowing their way into the fabric of higher education — and silencing their enemies. “Free speech for me — but not for thee,” as the late Nat Hentoff famously titled his iconic 1992 book.

The individual case of David Horowitz himself is, in fact, a perfect case study in FSM-brand freedom.

From the back cover of Uncivil Wars: David Horowitz speaking on the subject of reparations for slavery at Boston University (his every move under the watchful eye of a bodyguard) — April 2, 2001. (Daily Free Press / Encounter Books)

Once his involvement with the Black Panthers led to the murder of an innocent colleague in 1974, Horowitz began a lonely journey which brought him to recant his former radicalism and embrace conservatism. The book from which the quoted remembrance comes recounts the blind fury from both students and administrators which greeted an advertisement he had published in campus newspapers across the country during the 2001 spring semester. The ad consisted of ten reasons why slavery-related reparations for black Americans were both logistically absurd and condescendingly racist.

A total of around 70 college papers were approached — of those, approximately 40 outright refused to print the ad. At the universities which (eventually) did accept Horowitz’ request, this controversial yet entirely factually-based thesis caused an uproar of self-righteous outrage.

At Berkeley on February 28, the editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Californian, was brutally harassed by both students and the administration before he publicly apologized (on multiple occasions) for having printed the ad. (At Brown, too, nearly the entire March 13 edition of The Brown Daily Herald containing the ad was stolen by a gang of infuriated students — the theft supported by 60 radical professors; at Duke on March 23, hostile students occupied the offices of the The Duke Chronicle until they were forcibly removed by campus police.)

This may have been shocking in 2001, but the situation has only worsened; and it was as appalling then as it is monstrous today because of the victory of a deceptively liberal movement of professional radicals who transformed an entire nation’s universities into seminaries for militant foot soldiers in the apocalyptic war against American liberty and genuine freedom of expression.

Today, as a result, the purpose of the modern American university is not to educate free people, let alone to cultivate freedom of speech and ideas — rather, the “hope of humanity” lies in re-designing America in the image of the un-free socialist, even Islamist, societies which the radicals of this new, dispiriting century admire and defend.

The fires which racked Berkeley this February and the strong-armed intimidation leading to Ann Coulter canceling her event in April are the official legacy of the so-called Free Speech Movement.

Unknown protestor, a silhouetted sign in one raised hand and a paper coffee cup in the other, stands in triumph before the blazing hellfire his or her fellows have lit to honor Yiannopoulos’ freedom of speech — February 1, 2017. (Doug Duran / Bay Area News Group)

Where once the university was a place where alētheia, emet, truth, and veritas were pursued, today it is the “intersectional” incarnation of the Marxist earthly paradise which justifies the now fully-politicized campus’s existence.

When the purpose of education morphed from learning to the fundamental transformation of the world, then all those seeking to create a Godless Heaven on earth became no less than armed angels, with those impudent enough to reject the party line fortunate to be labeled human.

In other word, says Horowitz, such radicals see themselves as the atheistic “party of the saints,” and all those who oppose them as “the party of the devil”; and since it is Heaven they wish to create, there is little mystery where devils belong.

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