DAVID HOROWITZ’S INSTINCTS were right in attempting to take out an ad in the Daily Californian. If you’re a conservative, paying for your right to speak is just about the only way for your ideas to reach a large audience on a campus as inhospitable to free thought as the University of California-Berkeley. Conservative views, after all, are scarcely to be found amongst the faculty, officially invited guest lecturers, or on the op-ed page of the Daily Cal. When conservatives do speak out at Berkeley, they are shouted down and threatened.
I know this from experience.
Last semester, I was invited to speak at Berkeley by a group of conservative students. My speech was shouted down by an angry mob and a monograph I had written, Cop Killer: How Mumia Abu-Jamal Conned Millions Into Believing He Was Framed, was the subject of a Nazi-style book-burning.
Even before I arrived on campus on September 27th, angry leftists began their campaign of censorship. A banner in the student union advertising my lecture was confiscated. Chalkings on the event were scribbled over. Hundreds of posters announcing my lecture were torn down. A former student senator who was caught ripping down fliers, told the event organizers who caught him that he planned to "Sabotage [your] event" and "f--- shit up." All of this occurred in the home of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s.
I was invited to campus to speak on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal, whose book Live From Death Row has sold close to 100,000 copies largely through professors requiring students to read it, has become the darling of the academic left. Publicly professing your belief that he is guilty can get you into trouble, as evidenced by computer viruses that have been e-mailed to me by his supporters and two physical attacks upon me by devoted Mumiacs.
Before I uttered my first word at Berkeley, students began an orchestrated campaign of shouting. "White-motherf---er!" "Racist!" and "Nazi!" were among the shouts hurled my way. "You’re a f---ing murderer!" one man yelled, "Don’t tell me you’re not a murderer! You have blood on your hands!" Others accused me of being an FBI agent. One man screamed, "You’re David Duke, motherf---er!" Perhaps half of the 175 students that packed the room were there for the sole purpose of making sure that the other half did not hear a word of the lecture.
As I attempted to speak, a black student invaded the stage and wrote www.kkk.com on the chalkboard behind me. One student wore a T-shirt stating, "I killed Daniel Faulkner," while an older audience member shouted that Abu-Jamal should have been awarded a medal instead of jail time for killing a policeman. Another particularly unclean man dropped his pants and "mooned" me. He later attempted to rip the microphone’s cord from the wall.
As chaos ensued, I was asked to tell the audience that the police were on their way and that they would be clearing people out who continued to yell and scream. "They’ve been here the whole time," an audience member shouted. "We f---ing invited the police." Indeed, it became clear very quickly that the police were already there and that their presence was not to ensure my right to free speech, but to reinforce the obstructionists’ right to silence speech. The only time that I observed an officer speak to an audience member was when a man gently asked one of the disrupters to be quiet. It was his benign request, rather than the anarchic yelling and screaming, that sparked a UC-Berkeley officer to tell the man who had come to listen to sit down.
Despite the disruptions, I decided to turn up the audio on the microphone and continue speaking. My persistence in speaking, however, was largely symbolic. No one beyond the first few rows could decipher my words amidst the constant screaming. Although the mob had succeeded in ensuring that no one could hear my lecture, I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of forcing me to depart the podium.
At the conclusion of the event, the mob stole the remaining copies of my Cop Killer monograph and held a book-burning. As the students circled round the bonfire of books, some ironically held signs admonishing others to "Fight Racist Censorship." I was given a police escort to my car through a back door.
With not one Berkeley faculty member or administrator publicly condemning the book-burnings or the censorship of my talk, I wrote the University’s chancellor for clarification regarding Berkeley’s policy on free speech. Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who didn’t even bother to respond, had a deputy write back to say, essentially, that the censorship of my lecture was my own fault. The response was ironic considering Chancellor Berdahl’s very public claims embracing civil libertarianism. "No party to any debate—no matter the number of people on any side—has the right to exclude speech they disagree with," he announced to the campus as he opened the school’s Free Speech Café one year ago. "This applies to the administration, it applies to the students, the staff and the faculty."
His remarks lauded the school for carrying on the tradition of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s that began at Berkeley. "This is a legacy that carries with it an obligation," he continued, "For if the University is truly an institution rooted in democratic values – dedicated to the freedom of speech – we must guard against impediments to this freedom and always work to overcome the barriers that would limit speech. I speak of the barriers imposed by authority. I speak of the barriers imposed by an angry crowd’s behavior which make it impossible for a speaker to present his or her viewpoint. I speak of the barriers imposed by poverty and unequal access to resources – such as the media." His words were hollow.
The reaction of the student body was much less uniform. In the pages of the student newspaper, some defended my right to speak. Others implied that I should have been arrested. "If they’re going to arrest the people, they might as well arrest the speaker," remarked student senator Evora Griffith immediately after the speech. Griffith noted that by inviting a conservative to speak, the organizers "knew this was going to happen."
Another student senator drew a line between "free speech" and "violent speech." "To me, one is protected under the law. The other abridges it and the rights of communities of color on campus, and by that token, the African American students had every right to tear down the signs of their oppression." Despite the very violent speech directed against me, "violent speech," he claimed, was the type of speech that I engaged in and that needed to be stopped. Thankfully, a majority of the student senate didn’t buy his argument and formally condemned the censorship of my speech.
The book-burning of Cop Killer, the subsequent mob prevention of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking, and the destruction of stacks of copies of the Daily Californian containing David Horowitz’s ad are all signs of how intellectually bankrupt the campus left has become. In the intellectually cloistered world of Berkeley, students who have never encountered conservative ideas don’t have the means to intellectually combat those ideas. Unable to defend its positions by normal methods (i.e., debate, reason, etc.), the left resorts to censorship to stop the other side from being heard. And what is it that is so threatening to the campus left?
In my case, I offered that five witnesses implicated Abu-Jamal in murder, a half dozen others reported that he confessed or otherwise incriminated himself, his gun—containing spent shell casings that ballistically matched the fatal bullet—was found at the scene, he wore an empty shoulder holster, and was found nursing a chest wound from a return round from the murdered policeman’s gun. Compelling evidence, not just for a jury and more than a dozen judges who have reviewed the case, but (judging by the hysterical response of those at Berkeley) by the campus left as well. What else, but a fear of the truth, would cause them to react in such a way?
In David Horowitz’s case, he notes, among other things, that forcing whites who never owned slaves to make payments to blacks who never were slaves is unjust. This is a powerful argument. So powerful that the campus left censored it.
Mumia Abu-Jamal enthusiasts know that any real discussion of the case of their hero reveals him to be a fraud and a murderer. Likewise, defenders of reparations for blacks who were never enslaved paid for by whites who never owned slaves is a shakedown scheme that applies Marxist principles to race.
The ongoing censorship of any speech contrary to the prevailing ideological dogma at Berkeley is a disgrace. How else, but through censorship, can the campus left continue to defend these indefensible positions?