Friday, July 21, 2017

The rightwing free speech outrage playbook

The right-wingers have now got a clear playbook for their so-called “free speech” agenda on university campuses. It entails three simple steps:
  1. Invite high profile right-winger for a particular day and time, without consulting with the campus administration in advance about venue availability or security conditions
  2. If the university doesn’t immediately provide a space on that particular date and time, gin up an outrage campaign, claiming that the administration is “blocking” or “disinviting” the speaker and/or coddling/partnering with “radical leftist” elements
  3. Eat popcorn as anonymous commentators call for more Kent States and/or defunding of the university
Whether or not the speech goes forward is largely irrelevant to them, because this scenario is already a win in that it stirs the rightwing resentment machine and thereby (a) generates media attention for themselves; (b) undermines public faith in the integrity of an institution which serves as a model for the kind of critical, inclusive, expertise-respecting society that they hate.

It’s also crucial to underscore that these actions are done in patent bad faith with respect to the right to free speech. Here’s how we know: If the primary objective were to come to the University to get an airing for their ideas, they would first collaborate with the administration on finding a venue and date where the event could unfold smoothly, and only then announce the event once that had been secured. But that’s not their primary objective; what they actually want is for things NOT to go smoothly, but rather to disrupt the operations of the university. If Nicholas de Genova in 2003 infamously called for "a million Mogadishus," these folks are in essence hankering for "a million Milos."

Note also that they have now defined the 1st Amendment as mandating that they have a right to a venue of the size of their choosing, at the time of their choosing, for free, with the university having to pay security costs. Anything short of that, and they claim that the "liberals are suppressing free speech, but we're not going to take it” — which is win! Worst case (that is, if the university accommodates them completely and immediately), they can claim that the university only did so "grudgingly" or that it "backed down" after they "fought back." 

Here's a textbook example of the playbook in action: