Do Milo’s Intentions Matter?

By Glen Martin

Is it a simple free speech issue or something far darker and conspiratorial? In either case, Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos is surfing the wave of his notoriety like Laird Hamilton carving down a fifty-foot face at Jaws in Maui.

It all came to a head, of course, when the far-right pundit was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley on February 1st. But before Yiannopoulos could utter a single inflammatory syllable, the event was disrupted, by peaceful protestors at first, then by “black bloc” property-destroying saboteurs.

Yiannopoulos’ supporters—including Berkeley College Republicans, who invited him to speak—characterized the aborted event as a gross violation of the conservative provocateur’s First Amendment rights. It was deeply ironic, they claimed, that Yiannopoulos was denied free speech at Berkeley, the veritable cradle of the Free Speech Movement in America.

That trope prevailed in the extensive coverage of the Berkeley event, and not just on social media and in the conservative press. The mainstream media ran with it as well, at least initially.

But it is now clear that another element was in play. During his talk, Yiannopoulos apparently intended to release the names of undocumented Cal students. There was no attempt at subterfuge, in that the plan was detailed in articles that ran in the far-right press the day before the event. Indeed, the Office of Student Affairs sent a letter to Berkeley College Republicans expressing concern:

Dear BCR Signatories -

I am deeply aware of the many complex issues that are swirling around Milo’s visit to our campus and you no doubt have a lot on your plates right now. I must now also make sure you are aware that Milo, Brietbart and the David Horowitz Freedom Center have published an article today, 1/31/17, stating their intention to use the Berkeley College Republican’s event to launch their campaign targeting the undocumented student community on our campus. Here is the article:

There are concerns that he will be employing the strategies of using pictures and personal information of Cal students during his speech which, as you know, is simultaneously being live-streamed therefore making these images widely available and subsequently putting students at risk.

Also, please know other targeted groups on our campus have experienced Horowitz’ tactic of publicizing the names and pictures of individuals on posters throughout campus property and there is a likelihood that there will be Horowitz-backed posters pasted throughout our campus tomorrow publicizing the Milo event in conjunction with targeted individual’s names.

BCR has expressed their position condemning these tactics and, in fact, have been victimized themselves [via doxxing]. We are deeply concerned for all student’s [sic] safety and ability to pursue their education here at Cal beyond Milo’s speech. At the bottom of this email are campus resources for reporting incidents.

Please let me know your thoughts on what BCR can do to address the concerns that Milo’s event may be used to target individuals, either in the audience or by using their personal information in a way that causes them to become human targets to serve a political agenda.  Let me know if I can be a resource in managing this issue. I will be available throughout the day Wednesday, 2/1/17, at the LEAD Center, 432 Eshleman Hall.

Respectfully Yours,

[A Student Affairs Staff Member]

A source close to UC Berkeley’s administration said that BCR then asked Yiannopoulos’ associates to convince him to refrain from naming names.

“But they were told Milo was not in the habit of taking directives, and that he often did the very thing people asked him not to do,” the source said.

Emails from CALIFORNIA to Berkeley College Republicans requesting comment were not returned.

Even if Yiannopoulos had released the names, that wouldn’t have changed the university’s obligation to both uphold the basic tenets of free speech and respond decisively to imminent disruption, said Dan Mogulof, the university’s assistant vice chancellor of communications and public affairs.

“The University cannot prohibit or punish speech that is constitutionally protected, and prior restraint of speech—that is, censorship prior to a court’s determination that the speech is not allowed—faces a particularly heavy legal burden,” Mogulof stated.

Discussion of a person’s immigration status does not fall outside the scope of constitutionally protected speech, says Mogulof. “…So while the university would certainly condemn the targeting of unwilling individuals in such a manner, the possibility that a speaker might do so would not provide a legal basis for the university to engage in censorship.”

Still, Yiannopoulos’ scheme is drawing thunderous fulminations from various quarters, including Cal faculty. In a post following the cancelled talk, former U.S. Labor Secretary and Goldman School of Public Policy professor Robert Reich outlined implications to the uproar that went far deeper than Yiannopoulos’ proclivity for “racist and misogynistic vitriol.”

Reich noted that a Breitbart article that ran the day before the scheduled talk maintained Yiannopoulos intended to demand the pulling of federal funds from Cal and the prosecution of university officials for “endangering” students and quashing First Amendment rights. Reich then observed that the morning following the canceled event, Donald Trump “coincidentally” tweeted:

 If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Is it possible,” Reich posited, “that Yiannopoulos and Breitbart were in cahoots with the agitators, in order to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown on universities and their federal funding? 

As noted by the Washington Post, some media wonks share Reich’s suspicions. Cenk Uygur, a former MSNBC host and the founder of the progressive TV commentary show The Young Turks, wondered if the black bloc-ers were in the direct hire of Yiannopoulos and, depending on how you characterize them, his minions or his handlers.

“Could the right-wing come in masked… to cause trouble so they can then turn around and do exactly what they did today, ‘Oh you have to take away the funding from Berkeley’?” Uygur wondered.

The moderately right to the hard-core far-right press predictably have pounced on l’affaire Yiannopoulos.

The National Review chastised Cal faculty members for “justifying” the Berkeley “riots,” claiming “…their messages perfectly reveal the mindset of entitled left-wing privilege.”

And The Daily Caller, a site co-founded by bow-tied Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson, ominously claimed the protests were funded by the Alliance for Global Justice, a progressive charity supported by George Soros, the liberal Hungarian-American billionaire investor who has been promoted by the more exotic fringes of the right as the Dark Prince of creeping and malignant globalism.

Meanwhile, university administrators have had to wrestle with another issue raised by the aborted Yiannopoulos event:  The property destruction by the black bloc, which included fires and smashed storefronts.

“This willingness by a coordinated group of individuals to come on campus to engage in violence and infringe on free speech is unprecedented,” said Mogulof. “We have to think long and hard how we manage future [controversial appearances or events]. We’re not alone on that. Law enforcement organizations across the country have similar concerns. They’re in touch with us, and we’re working with them. We haven’t identified [any people associated with property destruction at the Yiannopoulos talk], but investigations are ongoing.”

“I don’t come down on the side of the university all the time, but I think they did the right thing in this case. They balanced values and costs.”

Jesse Choper, an emeritus professor at Berkeley Law and an authority on constitutional law, said the university was in a difficult position and threaded the needle on free speech and public safety as well as possible.

“I think they did what they could,” Choper said of administrators. “They let Yiannopoulos speak, because they had no real legal justification for stopping the event. They allowed the demonstrators to demonstrate, and dealt with the black bloc when they started destroying property. I don’t come down on the side of the university all the time, but I think they did the right thing in this case. They balanced values and costs.”

 The Supreme Court, Choper emphasizes, has been somewhat opaque in its numerous rulings on the regulation of free speech.

“A public institution could conceivably regulate free speech if it meets the ‘clear and present danger test,’” Choper says, “and there’s also what the law calls a compelling government interest.  A protest could be stopped, for example, if it shuts down a crucial thoroughfare like the Bay Bridge and puts motorists at risk. I don’t think (Yiannopoulos’ talk) met that standard, even if he planned to release the names of undocumented students…”

When all is said and done, no one came out of the Yiannopoulos brouhaha smelling like a rose—except, it seems, Yiannopoulos himself. Yiannopoulos apparently craves attention above all else, and the Cal non-event seems to have handed that to him in spades. For those worried about his potentially malign civic impact, the best strategy might be simply to let him spew; or better yet, engage him directly. That, certainly, seems to be the opinion of Berkeley sociologist Chris Soria, who was quoted at length on Sunday in Australia’s Daily Telegraph:

“…A  lot of people who’ve never heard of Milo are now becoming aware of him simply because of this protest…His book sales are further proof that the attention [he] is getting is favorable to him. In fact, his book sales are up 12,740% overnight... The solution is to beat Milo at his own game. He claims to be interested in free speech. Why not debate an actual expert in feminism, gender studies, or sociology (those which Milo constantly mocks) instead of just mocking them from a distance? If Milo truly believes in the free market of ideas, why not put his ideas to the test against the very best the left has to offer? And if he refuses, it’ll just prove him to be a coward with no real interest in the spread of ideas, but just another troll which should not be fed.”

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You say that Milo threatened to identify specific undocumented students, but you have provided zero evidence of that. The link you have there to a Breitbart story does not say that, or anything close to that. This is obviously just made up crap to excuse thuggery. And shame on Jesse Choper for defending the adequacy of the police response, which was to arrest zero people while many, perhaps dozens, of people were violently victimized, some of them knocked unconscious. A lot of this anonymous political violence is starting to look more and more like what happened in European political violence in the 1930s. Leftists should remember that when that was all over, the progressive thugs were crushed by a large-scale far-right clampdown.
Murgel Badurgel is correct in pointing out that the linked Breitbart article says nothing about “outing” undocumented immigrant students; is there evidence for that claim? And I, too, very much wonder why none of the black-clad, masked, clearly organized group of violent protesters were arrested. Identifying them would go a long way towards answering the reasonable question of whether they were leftist protesters or right-wing agents provocateurs working for Breitbart and making Milo’s point much more effectively than he could have done in a year of campus speeches.
As a note of correction, in my brief scanning of this “article” I failed to encounter any mention of the violence the rioters afflicted upon individuals in attendance or simply in proximity to their riot. The article does explicitly identify property damage, although not exhaustively. Is it the author’s contention that there was no violent attacks committed by the anti free speech, anti 1st ammendment, anti civil rights rioters the UC Berkeley event that night? I, for one, am not prepared to accept a standard of violence against the 1st Amendment. At least not willingly. As for the blatantly unsubstantiated and astonishingly dishonest assertion that the riot was a premeditated, clandestine, counter-operation executed to undermine the University and its associations, I would expect a higher standard from my alma mater generally, Prof. Reich notwithstanding, perhaps naively.
Not all provocateurs are working for money. Some are nihilists who simply are thrilled and fulfilled by mayhem and attention — and nonetheless are (consciously or otherwise) promoting a political outcome that may not be what they claim they intend. A faction of such “post-left insurrectionists” has long been prominent in many incidents in and around Berkeley, and their motives, ironically, are not all that different from Yiannopoulos’s. Meanwhile, Murgel Badurgel stands to be corrected. Yes, a lot of this anonymous political violence is starting to look more and more like what happened in European political violence in the 1930s — but thugs like the brownshirts were anything but progressive. Gotta run! There’s a party going on at the Ghost Ship Cabaret!…
Please vote to secede—that way we deplorables who rejected another liberal crook politician can keep you idiots contained in the upholstered toilets you call CA cities. A piece of advice—stay in CA-but if you come out from your liberal ghettos, don’t tell anyone you’re a Berkeley grad—dangerous considering the millions of Americans who hate you and your families and the laughable hypocritical bastions of free speech. And someone please tell the little dwarf no-one believes him as anything other as a buffoon seeking his last measure of glory before sinking into the depths of history’s moronic public servant and academician junk pile other than the fascist faculty and academic sheep who have no capacity to think after drinking the steady diet of liberal fascist propaganda served by professors who couldn’t get a job in the real world. PLEASE SECEDE—my tax dollars can be better used elsewhere.
Glen Martin is peddling fake news while ignoring what reporters on-scene were saying—campus police were not a physical presence until things got out of hand. That clearly was inappropriate planning for a campus with a history of left-wing extremism.
The “right” seems to prefer personal attacks to reason! Among other things, “your tax dollars” are not supporting CA. We pay more taxes than the Federal gov returns to us because we have to support all those red states that can’t figure out how to support their people.
On the agents provocateurs question: I don’t know of any evidence that the black-clad thugs were right-wingers working for Breitbart, nor do I know of any evidence that they were left-wingers protesting Milo’s speech. What we know for sure is that they were an organized group, they arrived armed and intending violence, they took (successful) measures to avoid being identified, and they seem to have dressed in a way calculated to look maximally terrifying on the TV news. Based on that information, we cannot validly draw any conclusions about the behavior of either “leftists” or “rightists”.
Not much evidence that you actually read the piece. There was clear intent to out names, publicized prior to the speaking engagement. The protestors did exactly what the speaker wanted. Reichstag?
As many readers correctly noted, this article strikes me more as university propaganda than actual facts. Violent protesters have been a problem here for decades and so has the suppression of non-progressive viewpoints and lying administrators allowing violent protesters to attack innocent people. Here is my firsthand account:
Quick fact: Cal’s Journalism School, of which I am a part, has about 120 students and faculty and is highly political. ZERO Republicans or conservative viewpoints. The program systematically excludes different viewpoints and demonizes those who hold them. Disgusting.
Disgraceful, that this absurd conspiracy theory is yet again entertained by those who should know better. Professor Reich’s reckless dishonesty is unbecoming of a tenured Berkeley educator. He is well aware that Berkeley protests held in the evening have been attracting “black-clad anarchist” agitators for years. It happened during Black Lives Matter, it happened during the tuition protests, it happened during Occupy Cal. And he was there for every single one of those events. I can understand the wider media not realizing this history, but for Reich to peddle this absolute nonsense that he well knows is false is absolutely despicable. Unless, of course, Donald Trump and Breitbart had the preternatural foresight to start planting their vile seeds five years ago.
Milo is merely a provocateur and fire-starter which enables him to show how cool and abrasive he can be while gaining that highly prized street cred with other like-minded white nationalists/racists/misogynists (and maybe a “well played” from Bannon). I can stomach much of what people of his ilk say, however, the line was crossed in Milo’s disgraceful/cruel/unhinged assault of Leslie Jones via that citadel of fair play, Breitbart. Much of what eminates from Milo and Breitbart is disgraceful and cruel, however, so one mightn’t be surprised. The notion that Milo’s free speech was curtailed is mitigated, in large part, by the knowledge that it was his intention to announce the names of undocumented students. Isn’t this in the same ballpark with yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre? The right to free speech has its limit. One at least: yelling “fire” in that crowded theatre and its correllary in the form of what the provocateur’s game plan was, namely, naming names. Bringing harm to others in such manner is a good enough reason to shut Milo down, in my opinion. He usually utters the boilerplate, offensive stuff of the racist right in his cutesy poo, show-off, I’m smarter than you style. Not a lot would have been fresh and informative, to be sure.
Much of what Milo says is a deliberate attempt to flout and ridicule the elite’s constricting code of permissible disc0urse. Bravo! The problem is the authoritarian element he’s empowering in the process. For all his posturing and pretension, he’s no Lenny Bruce.
This article seems to be completely bias. But this is what journalism has come to on both sides of the political spectrum.
Alan Dershowitz on College Student Protests: “Fog Of Fascism Is Descending,” “These Students Are Book-Burners” Winston Churchill: “The fascists of the future will call themselves anti-fascists” On CNN, Robert Reich Pushes Theory Right-Wingers Staged Riots at UC Berkeley Shock and surprise-The radical violent far left’s “Reichstag Fire” moment. Needless to say, Robert Reich is more 3rd Reich than Robert Reich.. But that’s a redundancy.. Radical Leftists-Democrats, hate truth, because the truth is against them. Thus the radical hard left have only one strategy tactic that can effectively win, that’s their standard Alinsky tactics of mockery, denigration, labeling, false accusations, smearing, personal denigration, etc, aka lies, ie; freeze, polarize, and personally demoralize their target, to shut down free speech that which they dislike, because it refutes their leftist socialist cultural marxist ideology and agenda.  Funny how the radical hard left Democrats act so much like Nazi Brownshirts of the 1920s and 30s for a reason. The coincidence is not out of context- they are both radical political hate organizations, seeking to over throw Republicanism, they both use racial division to tear apart and destroy the civil society- ie; divide and conquer, both are anti-Semitic, they both hate Free Speech / shut down free speech by any means necessary, and both use propaganda and violence to achieve their ends, then turn around and blame others (political opposition) for their own hate, destruction, and violence.
You raise a good point about the police and security personnel failing to arrest the violent thugs who attacked event attendees. Given that the organizers were reportedly required to pay $10,000 in insurance fees in order to hold the event on campus, this seems like a breach of contract issue. However the article notes that the concern about Milo identifying specific undocumented students was brought to the attention of the Berkeley College Republicans, who raised it with their contacts in his organization. Those contacts apparently did not disavow the rumor. So characterizing it as “made up crap” seems unwarranted. Also, on a historical note, the fascist and national socialist (Nazi) movements in Europe in the 1930s actually arose from the political left, not the right. The identification of these movements as far-right came later, through the well-known phenomenon of the winners (who included the violent left regime of Stalin and the democratic socialist administration of FDR) writing the history. For a clarifying look at the origins and nature of fascism, see .
My previous comment was in response to Murgel Badurgel – I assumed (obviously mistakenly) that my response would appear immediately below the comment which I was responding, and so I did not identify him/her by name as the person being addressed.
Several things are worth noting: The right to free speech is a limit on Congress, and by devolution agencies of state and local government, not on individuals, who are using their free speech rights to protest others using theirs. Though one might deplore their behavior, individuals cannot, by definition, abrogate other people’s rights, only governments, or government agencies acting on behalf of individuals can. On this note, it could be argued that entities given some special exclusionary privilege by the government may be subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment as well, such as broadcasters using the public airwaves, so it is likely the various far right talk radio stations are the most egregious violators of the First Amendment. The right of free speech, like all other rights is not absolute, and two other limits include “fighting words” and slander in addition to privacy issues discussed in the article. Cleary, it was demonstrated that “fighting words” is applicable here, and Yiannapoulous is, and pretty much has delightfuly admitted to knowingly speaking falsehoods with malicious intent to destroy the reputation or otherwise harm otherz, the very definition of slander. This also applies to anyone who is aggrieved that some part of student society looks down on them because of their political views. Again, individuals cannot violate anyone else’s rights. Everyone has the right to regard anyone else badly for any reason or no reason, but if it is not an act of government, it isn’t an issue of “rights”.
Do Glen Martin’s intentions matter? Does it escape the author that the subject of his piece is himself an immigrant, and in so naming him directly has committed the same act said violent objectors objected to to begin with?
UCB74 - Your post above was thought-provoking. The question of “fighting words” seems like the right one to ask. However I am deeply skeptical that law or justice as they can presently be applied should recognize the concept. Statutory law treats it with some legitimacy; the First Amendment does not. Right now I side with the First Amendment. I can imagine being persuaded by some argument to the contrary, but can presently think of none. (The First Amendment also trumps statutory law legally speaking, but I mention this only in passing because I think moral arguments trump legal arguments.) If one person utters words, in reaction to which another person or persons starts fighting, who should be held responsible for any injurious consequences that arise out of this chain of events, and to what extent? It is tempting to say, “always and only the person who fights.” However, I don’t subscribe to the maxim that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”. In many cases, words clearly CAN and DO hurt. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we’ve all felt the pain they can cause. If I were able to see into someone’s heart/soul/brain, I can hypothetically imagine being convinced that the “fighting words” concept has some ultimate validity. But this is as far as I feel it can be taken at our present level of understanding. Attempts to establish a moral or legal standard that can be fairly applied or that meet the litmus test of “equal treatment under the law” run into serious problems. Say two people are in a long-term romantic relationship. One of them is on an extended trip for school or business. Shortly after leaving, the person on the trip calls the partner back home and says “I don’t want to be together any more, I’m breaking up with you.” How much anguish that can often cause the person hearing it! What if that person gets on a plane, flies to where the partner is to confront them, and, in a moment of pain and fury, assaults him or her? Would you to some extent excuse that assault, or divide responsibility for it? Do you think the law should do so? Or changing the example, say the person experiencing the unwanted severing of their most important relationship responds by committing suicide. Should that person’s parents, or children, be empowered to sue the surviving partner of their suicidal relative, for speaking to the person heartlessly and driving him or her to take their life? My response to the above questions is “no”. Unless doing so is breaking a contract – including implicit contracts like not simply leaving a newborn baby one has decided to have out to die in the wilderness but either caring for it or ensuring that someone else does – in which case we must discharge our contractual obligations or provide compensation for breach of contract, I believe we have the right to end relationships. I even think we have the right to end them in an impolite or insensitive manner if we so choose, whether the relationship is with an individual or with a group, including any group calling itself a government. I would however make an exception for cases in which terminating a relationship might cause direct, physical harm, such as in the case of abortion after whatever point one decides that a fetus becomes a human life [my view on which is reflected in this quote from a piece by Sajid Surve : “A sizable contingent would assert that life begins at 25 weeks (after conception). The rationale for this starting point is based on our definition of death. The definition of death is not disputed, and is considered the time when electroencephalography (EEG) activity ceases. EEG measures brain activity and must demonstrate regular wave patterns to be considered valid. Therefore, by this rule the onset of life would be the time when fetal brain activity begins to exhibit regular wave patterns, which occurs fairly consistently around week 25. Previous to that time, the EEG only shows small bursts of activity without sustained firing of neurons.”] ( Besides abortion, there are some unusual circumstances like Siamese twins in which one twin could not “end the relationship” without killing the other. But aside from these exceptions, I think we have the right to end any relationship in our lives at will. We even have the right to end our biological relationship with the human race. If someone decides she wants to be something other than human, say a cyborg for instance, I say she has the right to do so. Of course this does not necessarily mean she yet has the *ability* to do so, only that if/when the ability exists, the right will too. Likewise if you are physically paralyzed, you may not have the ability to give someone the bird, point the bottom of your shoe at them, or make a gesture that they should suck your cock (whether you’re male, female, or some nonbinary alternative makes no difference, the gesture is universal), but I believe you still have the *right* to make these or any other insulting gestures you can think of. This doesn’t mean we *should* behave this way, of course. In most cases it is undesirable and rude. It may even be that we ultimately lack the moral right to behave this way toward others (i.e. it may not be *good*, in a spiritual sense). Such gestures have sometimes been construed as “fighting words”. Nevertheless, I think the right to make rude gestures is an important *civil* right that should be protected by law, where laws exist. Do you really want to see people being fined or thrown in jail for simple rudeness, often expressed in a moment of anger, frustration, etc., if the law is applied fairly and consistently as it ought to be, and falling on people of all political persuasions? I’ve digressed considerably, but I found the digression interesting, hopefully you have as well.  :-) To tie the loose ends together, it seems to me that if someone can be expected to suffer both great rudeness, and deep *emotional* pain, without committing any kind of physical assault on anyone in response, then surely one should likewise be expected to put up with someone like Milo Yiannopoulos who earns a living in part by being a jerk, without resorting to violence. I’ll digress a bit more, and admit that I do not dismiss everything he has to say, by any means. I think a lot of what Milo says is spot-on. And I think some of it is offensive and may deserve our condemnation. Hopefully his periodic insensitivity, or moral obtuseness, or whatever it is, is a passing phase of youth and not a lifelong condition. It would be a shame to see him end up like Donald Trump. Anyway, to bring this long comment to a close, drawing a bright-line distinction between words and physical harm seems like an eminently reasonable solution, at least for now. So in conclusion, I believe that at this point in human evolution, Milo Yiannopoulos had the right to come to campus and speak at the invitation of a student group, and that it was wrong to use violence to try to disrupt that speech.
I second that motion.
It is wrong to use violence to disrupt anything except other violence. However, nonviolent protest is not abrogating anyone’s rights because individuals have no standing as regards violating anyone’s rights. Only state actors have such standing. In the case of nonviolent protest especially, it is only competing free speech. Violent protest is a crime because of its destructive or threatening effect, not because of its content. Even a hate crime requires a specific act which could be prosecuted on its own to be criminal. This aside from any other issues of fighting words, slander, privacy rights, etc.
“A protest could be stopped, for example, if it shuts down a crucial thoroughfare like the Bay Bridge and puts motorists at risk.” When BLM thugs shut down the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge, they were left unmolested by the cops for hours, creating traffic havoc and endangering lives. None were even prosecuted. So much for public safety. .
So you are advocating an affirmative action program for conservatives?