So here is where things stand at this writing.
Ann Coulter says she will be at University of California, Berkeley on Thursday as originally contracted to give a speech. The university says it will not provide a venue.
In canceling a speaking engagement by the right-wing flame thrower, the famously liberal school has embarrassed, betrayed and besmirched its proud legacy as the birthplace of the free-speech movement of the 1960s. It has also more than earned the lawsuit filed against it Monday by the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation, the two groups sponsoring Coulter’s appearance.
The school says free speech is not the issue here, security is. You may recall the chaos that attended a February speaking engagement by Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor and professional ass who is arguably best known for directing a racist troll army that briefly drove “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones off Twitter last year.
His speech had to be canceled after the university was, in the words of spokesman Dan Mogulof, “invaded by more than 100 individuals clad in ninja-like uniforms who were armed and engaged in paramilitary tactics.” They threw objects, set fires and left about $100,000 in damage in their wake. The area has seen other recent violent political clashes as well.
So UCB, citing what it says is a credible threat of similar upheavals, initially demanded Coulter end her speech by mid-afternoon. She agreed, but the school then canceled outright. An offer of a different date was rejected. Coulter says she is otherwise engaged and also complains that the new date falls during a week when classes are canceled and students are busy studying for finals.
Even taken at face value, UCB’s reasoning does not persuade. It strains credulity to believe campus police and the Berkeley Police Department, with its 170 sworn officers, could not secure the school sufficiently to allow Coulter to speak and protesters to protest while keeping 100 would-be rioters in line. Oakland’s 753 officers and San Francisco’s 2,293 are just down the road and across the bay, respectively, and could, one presumes, provide any needed reinforcement. Heck, if it’s that bad, call out the National Guard.
Even that would be better than this act of spineless capitulation, a public university ceding veto power over free speech to a bunch of terrorists. In so doing, it emboldens these left-wing punks — or some future army of right-wing thugs — to believe they can shut down any opinion they dislike just by threatening to misbehave. It is hard to imagine a worse message – or a more disheartening messenger.
There are few legitimate reasons for abridging free speech. If the speaker speaks slander, exhorts violence, or creates an abusive work environment, you might have a case. But the First Amendment carves out no exception for “hate speech.” Shame on Howard Dean for a recent silly tweet that claimed otherwise.
And shame on anyone else on the left who is willing to look the other way because this particular abridgment involves the vile — and reviled —Coulter. Freedom of speech is not the sole property of liberals, nor of conservatives. It is the heritage of Americans.
Fifty-three years ago, an earlier generation of Berkeley students protested and suffered arrest to vindicate that heritage after they were barred from handing out fliers about the Civil Rights Movement. Berkeley didn’t understand free speech in 1964 and, apparently, not enough has changed five decades later.
Sorry, UCB, but this one is not even close. Ann Coulter is coming to town Thursday.
Let her speak.
Reach Leonard Pitts Jr. at email@example.com.