Family quarrel

Fuming about woke students shutting down right-wing speakers can be a nice little earner, Mari Uyehara points out.

Bari Weiss for instance.

Weiss’s column titled “We’re All Fascists Now” highlighted the protest of a Christina Hoff Sommers talk at Lewis & Clark Law School, the latest example in an overexposed series of well-meaning college students acting like morons. It was riddled with misrepresentations. To frame the debate as another instance of the liberals attacking fellow liberals, Weiss described Ms. Sommers as a “self-identified” feminist and a “registered” Democrat. To that end, she withheld from readers Sommers’s more relevant professional affiliation: resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservative think tank, which counts feminist Democrat heroes Dick Cheney and Dinesh D’Souza among its past fellows.

If I’ve seen Sommers described (pugnaciously) as a feminist I’ve seen it…several times. It’s her shtick. Sure, she’s a feminist in the most minimal sense, but her whole career now is devoted to disputing and making fun of anything that goes beyond the most minimal. She’s a “feminist” who spends much of her time inciting social media hatred of feminism and feminists.

Among the Free Speech Grifters, Sommers has perfected the art. She likes to call herself a feminist, specifically a “factual” one. But if there has been one feminist cause worth addressing in the past 30 years, you wouldn’t know it by reading her work. She has had plenty to say on how biological preferences may account for gender distribution in STEM fields, while she’s been silent on harassment of women in tech and finance.

Damore memo anyone?

Sommers likes to be no-platformed, because it’s fuel for the fire.

At Lewis & Clark Law School, Sommers found what seems to be her favorite kind of audience: a disruptive one. Prior to the speech, activists handed out flyers labeling her “a fascist,” among other hyperbolic charges familiar to anyone who has spent time on a college campus. When she attempted to give her talk, a handful of students, led by a blonde ringleader in a black “Stay Woke” jacket, disrupted it with chanting about comrades while holding up a cardboard sign that read “No Platform for Fascists.” It was a Ben Shapiro wet dream. As the ringleader yelled, “Black lives matter,” Sommers turned to the camera euphorically grinning from ear to ear. Here it was: the money shot.

The number of students who resort to these tactics is fairly small—Sommers regularly gives talks at universities without incident. But the number of publications and prominent journalists willing to cover them is quite high. The news of Sommers’s slightly curtailed lecture was hyped in at least 11 outlets, including Breitbart, the National Review, and two separate opinion pieces in The New York Times. Sommers herself tweeted about the event’s coverage at least 70 times and scored a Wall Street Journal piece out of the ordeal. It’s not difficult to intuit why she beamed at her videographer as the no-platformers chanted.

Andrew Sullivan has written about it many times; so has Jonathan Chait; Bret Stephens and David Brooks chimed in; Weiss has written at least three op-eds on it.

The enthusiasm to defend those [who are] triggering libs makes the Free Speech Grifters uniquely susceptible to right-wing propagandists. In her last op-ed, Weiss featured an obvious parody Antifa Twitter account, run by alt-right trolls, and YouTuber Dave Rubin fell for the same gag. In 2016, Sommers unwittingly did a full hour on a Swedish white-supremacy podcast. And the same year, in a since-deleted tweet, she announced she would be “defending free speech and reason” with Milo Yiannopoulos, who was recently outed by BuzzFeed for working with white nationalists to smuggle their ideas into the mainstream. He also appeared alongside Maher, railing about free speech, on Real Time. This isn’t all complete ignorance. Columbia University College Republicans invited Tommy Robinson of the far-right English Defense League, while the new Canadian free-speech club Laurier Society for Open Inquiry announced white nationalist Faith Goldy as its first speaker. In the National Review, Elliot Kaufman chided fellow campus conservatives for purposely giving the alt-right a platformin an effort to bait the left into doing something “silly and destructive,” so that they could play “martyrs for free speech on campus” and draw media coverage. “The left-wing riots were not the price or downside of inviting Yiannopoulos,” he wrote. “They were the attraction.”

This is what I’m saying. Inviting a Faith Goldy to a university is a kind of entrapment, and it’s dubious because she’s not a scholar or a public intellectual or a legit columnist or anything other than a self-made flamer. Yes, free inquiry is a good; no, a Faith Goldy is not a good example of free inquiry.

As Adam Serwer in The Atlantic and Jamelle Bouie in Slate have pointed out exhaustively, there are many more deeply disturbing threats to free speech, namely those enforced by the state. (Technically, First Amendment protections apply to guarding against the state imposing on the free speech of people, not the battleground of ideas at universities.) Examples include laws that ban positive portrayals of homosexuality in public schools, and police unions urging their members to retaliate against private citizens who have lodged complaints of misconduct. At Trump’s inauguration last year, an anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march called J20 resulted in mass arrests, including of journalists, medics, and legal observers. Originally, 239 people were charged with felony inciting to riot, facing up to 60 years in prison. Houses were raided. The ACLU got involved. And not a peep in an entire year from any of the so-called free-speech warriors. Ditto this past week, when a Wisconsin school administrator was fired for allowing black students to hold a discussion about white privilege in a district that is 90 percent Caucasian. How peculiar.

I think maybe the focus on the woke kids no-platforming comes from the sense that they are in some sense colleagues, while Trumps and cops are not. Maybe not; maybe I’m giving the Sommers types too much credit; but it feels to me like an internecine dispute, while reporting on police crackdowns does not.

According to FIRE, an individual-rights organization with ties to the Koch brothers, from 2000 to 2017, there were anywhere from six to 35 self-reported disinvitation attempts annually and 40 percent of them came from the right, while Heterodox Academy, an organization devoted to increasing viewpoint diversity, finds that the majority of successful disinvites came from the right, not the left. Still, libertarian website Quillette summarized these outbursts as “the psychology of progressive hostility.” Pundits like to characterize online outrage and an aversion to idea diversity as a phenomenon unique to the left, largely ignoring the death threats directed at the teen Parkland survivors for speaking out against a powerful gun lobby or the conservative dictates of Sinclair Broadcasting and Fox News. Given the myopic focus on liberals, it would seem that Free Speech Grifters are not actually interested in the free exchange of ideas, per se; they are interested in liberal caricature for clicks, social-media followings, and monetization.

Certainly Peterson has done well out of the monetization thing.

In America, there’s always been a contemptuous crowd thirsty to pick off the extremists in and caricature movements for social change. We see it in the old cartoons painting suffragettes as red-faced old spinsters or black people as shiftless watermelon eaters, and in taunts of anti-war activists as dirty hippies and commie pinkos. SJWs are the new SDS; Stay Woke jackets and BLM T-shirts the new long hair. As young people agitate for much-needed change, be it on racial bias, rampant sexual harassment, or gun control, there will always be behind-the-curve commentators getting paid to do nothing but lecture “Respect First.” The left would do well by not showing up to play character actors in fake free-speech theater. But the Free Speech Grifters never seem to be concerned with exactly whom they are entertaining with their performative indignation and why. It’s kayfabe for those who are perfectly comfortable with enforcing the status quo.

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