ON THE EVENING of March 15, approximately 400 students, faculty and guests were lined up in front of the Valley Life Sciences Building on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, to hear David Horowitz speak. It had been two weeks since Horowitz unleashed a "firestorm of controversy" with the publication of his advertisement "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea – and Racist Too" in the Daily Californian.
Since then, Horowitz has seen plenty of things he probably never thought he’d see. He saw the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and Arizona Republic – publications hardly partial to Horowitz – all defend him against the forces of censorship at Berkeley. He saw campus newspapers at numerous prestigious universities – including Harvard, the University of Virginia and his alma mater, Columbia – reject the same ad.
And, on the evening of the 15th, as he looked out into the audience of 500 students (and others) in the Chan Shun auditorium at Berkeley, he saw thirty armed officers from the University Police Department at the ready to protect him from potential assailants among the University community.
It seems this is the price for speaking one’s mind on college campuses these days. Thirty armed officers, two private security guards, metal detectors at the entrance, secured corridors and exits, and an unusual "zero-tolerance" policy demanded of the Administration by Horowitz and the event organizers -- the Berkeley College Republicans and the California Patriot. All because a guy thinks there should be two sides to the reparations dialogue.
Some of the attendees had waited nearly two hours for campus police to open the doors. While in queue, they were treated to the bullhorn-aided chants of about 25 protestors from the Spartacist Youth League, advocating "black liberation through socialist revolution." (Memo to the Spartacist League: socialist revolutions are statistically 50 million times more likely to kill you than liberate you.) They called Horowitz a "racist ideologue" and urged the freeing of infamous cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal. It should not pass notice that the same group that was advocating the release of a convicted murderer was responsible for acts of campus fascism – book burning, intimidation, verbal abuse – when Accuracy in Academia head Dan Flynn spoke at Berkeley last semester.
Print and television media – FoxNews, CNN, the local CBS channel, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune and others were on hand to cover the event; in fact, Horowitz’s speech had a late start in part because he was giving interviews to nearly a dozen media outlets.
Grassroots conservative groups and concerned members of the community spurred on by Freerepublic.com and radio station KSFO showed their support for Horowitz by taking seats in the first several rows. In all, the crowd of 500 was more or less evenly divided between those who supported Horowitz and those who denounced him, while a significant number seemed just interested in seeing what the fuss was about. (Judging from the positive reaction he received at several points throughout his speech, Horowitz appeared to enjoy a plurality of support for his ideas. Unfortunately, like so many brand-loyal constituents who believe in conservative principles but would never vote Republican, most of these students remained critical of Horowitz despite their apparent agreement with him)
Horowitz entered following an introduction by one of the organizers, student Ben Carrasco. "The situation reminds me of an old Richard Pryor album," began Horowitz. "On the cover, a half-naked Pryor is surrounded by angry Klansmen about to lynch him. ‘Is it something I said?’ he asks. Actually, in this case, it was something I said."
The self-described "controversial" man went on to describe the genealogy of the anti-reparations ad, which began as an article several months ago in the on-line magazine Salon.com. The article was written, Horowitz noted, in response to a Chicago City Council vote of 47 to 1 in favor of reparations for slavery.
"Whenever I see numbers like 47 to 1, I see intimidation. I don’t think you could get 47 out of 48 politicians to agree on anything, without some kind of coercion." The point, he said, was that there was an atmosphere of intellectual terror and even physical intimidation on campuses when it came to ideas that the political left regarded as dangerous. Any professor and any student defending ideas such as were contained in the reparations ad would do so at their peril. The capitulation of the Daily Cal editors to the intimidation of the left showed just how difficult the situation was.
The censorship on campus he said was carried out under the guise of "sensitivity" to the feelings of minority students – the subtext being: Some ideas were too hard for them to handle. Horowitz called this attitude toward minorities "patronizing" and "racist" in itself. The assumption that minority students were too weak to withstand ideas they disagreed with was ridiculous and demeaning.
Horowitz then explained how the reparations claim fed the victim mentality that stood in the way of real empowerment for those who succumbed to it. "When slavery was ended, African-Americans had nothing. In 100 years, they have become the 10th richest nation on earth. Black Americans shape American culture. Those are things to celebrate. But the reparations argument is intended to prevent any celebration. It is meant to force African Americans to dwell on the past, and to focus on failure. The reparations crowd and the so-called civil rights leadership wants to wave the bloody shirt, to isolate their own community and to position it as a hostile and angry force. That’s the way the shakedown works."
His speech, just over an hour long, was as eclectic as it was dynamic, borrowing equally from popular culture (citing the film "Remember the Titans," in which a black coach berates his white offensive coordinator for making excuses for a black running back – "You’re crippling that boy") and the social sciences (the turnaround by the University of California faculty over Proposition 209, which two years ago ended affirmative action in admissions: in a public vote, the faculty denounced the measure, 152 to 2; in a secret vote, they voted for the measure).
With the exception of a snicker here and a jeer there, the crowd was well-behaved, thanks to the thirty cops, the media, and the ultimatum that they would be ejected if they caused a disturbance. For one hour, while Horowitz spoke, the most optimistic expectations of Horowitz, the Berkeley College Republicans, even the University Administration were
met. And then, the floor was opened up for questions.
"And please…make sure it’s a question," Horowitz said.
This would have been a good time for Assistant Chancellor John Cummins to make his presence known.
Just days before the speech, Cummins faxed a rather curt response to Horowitz’s plea for civility at the event. "I cannot guarantee that you will not be treated rudely because there is no law against rude behavior," he wrote. It was a reminder that (as Peter Collier once quipped) "the profile of a university administrator these days is a cross between Saul Alinsky and Neville Chamberlain."
The day before the speech representatives from the Berkeley College Republicans had met with Cummins to request that Cummins himself introduce Horowitz. Instead, Cummins sat in the back of the Chan Shun Auditorium, nestled among the leftists. He remained seated while the Question and Answer session, in the absence of a moderator, deteriorated into a shouting match.
After two questions and the obligatory "You are a racist, Mr. Horowitz" monologue, an unnamed student accused the speaker of "misinforming" and "play[ing] upon the ignorance of white, especially Republican, students." As evidence he noted that the First Amendment does not obligate newspapers to print any ad submitted to them. This was a rather jarring non sequitur, since Horowitz had never claimed anything to the contrary. Unfortunately, Horowitz’s attempts to rebut the student were met with shouts and accusations of "filibustering."
And just like that, the civil dialogue was gone. The student organizers looked at one another in confusion: after all, things had been going so smoothly. They reminded the speaker (who was not a student but a "former University employee") that remarks were to be in the form of a question. When he ignored this, they asked him to relinquish the microphone.
Finally, they turned his microphone off. All attempts to wrest control of the proceedings led to louder protest, until no one could be heard.
Worried that the situation was about to pass the point of no return and wanting to ensure that no one would get hurt, Horowitz set down his microphone and, accompanied by his security guards, exited through the side door. Disappointed students, no doubt hoping Horowitz, like so many rock stars, would re-emerge for an "encore," milled around until Ben Carrasco announced that the event was over and asked the audience to "take it outside."
And all the while, the university’s representative sat Chamberlain-like in his back row seat .