In an incident that is rapidly becoming famous even among people who don't follow the campus culture wars, leftist activists stormed the stage at Columbia University this month and triggered a wild melee during a speech by Jim Gilchrist, the controversial founder of the Minuteman Project.
The incident was shocking enough, but it cannot be viewed in isolation. The mob at Morningside Heights is just another piece of gathering evidence that the '60s are returning to campus.
It's a dangerous turn to an era not of "peace and love," but a step closer to the violence and threats that dominated campuses throughout much of the Vietnam War.
Consider this: In the spring, anti-war protesters blocked access to a job fair at the University of California-Santa Cruz and caused Army and National Guard recruiters to be escorted off campus by university police. According to one recruiter, "the situation had degraded" to such an extent that the recruiters feared for the safety of students and law enforcement officers.
Prominent conservatives like David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan have been attacked with pies and salad dressing during on-campus speeches. At UC-San Francisco, a crowd of students blocked access to and scuffled with College Republicans whose crime was merely handing out flyers to students. At Washington State, protesters disrupted, shouted down and threatened actors in a satirical play.
After a period of relative calm in the 1990s, one must ask why we have seen a rise in violent acts of censorship and intimidation by the campus left.
The war in Iraq is to blame for some of the violence, but the violence and threats encompass broader topics and represent an expression of rage and impotence - not the '60s expression of rage and power.
The protesters hide behind tactics of the '60s to lash out helplessly at a culture that seems (to them) to be inexorably moving right. With every branch of government in conservative hands, with the rise of conservative media and with the increasing influence of religious conservatives, the radical left feels under siege. To make matters worse, the conservative movement is now taking aim at the left's last cultural bastion - the nation's colleges and universities - in an effort to reopen the marketplace of ideas on campus.
In the '60s, the excesses of campus radicals eventually led to a cultural backlash that ushered in the Reagan era. These same excesses committed in an era of blogs, YouTube downloads and talk radio lead to a much more immediate response. So, rather than reveling in last week's momentary triumph, Columbia's leftist radicals find themselves on the defensive, blaming others for the violence and begging the administration not to search the Internet for clues about the protesters' identities.
In the battle for the hearts and minds of the public, they have already lost.
French is the director of the Alliance Defense Fund's Center for Academic Freedom.
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