Violence at Berkeley is less about free speech than it is white nationalism

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Gavin McInnes, founder of the political street gang Proud Boys, reads what would have been Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley.

On April 27, far-right polemicist Ann Coulter was scheduled to give a speech at the University of California at Berkeley. After a lot of back-and-forth, during which Coulter was disinvited, re-invited and rescheduled, the group that sponsored her ultimately backed out. Security concerns, including a near-guarantee of violence, prompted both Coulter and the Young America’s Foundation to decide that her appearance would jeopardize people’s well-being. In a statement, Coulter said, “It’s a sad day for free speech.”

UC Berkeley has recently been, as it was in the 1960s, the site of major protests. In February the Trump-supporting alt-right clashed with antifascists, or antifas, over an appearance by former Breitbart editor and professional far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos. On April 15, a day of nationwide protests against President Trump, Trump supporters from fringe white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups met antifas for a violent street brawl. With Coulter, the concern was another such outbreak of violence.

The popular narrative, pushed by Coulter and the alt-right, is that leftists want to shut down free speech. Coulter, Yiannopoulos, and alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer fixate on college campuses as places where the open exchange of ideas has slowed or stopped completely. For daring to teach things that fall outside conservative orthodoxy – like sociology, alternative economic models, climate science, evolutionary biology, and actual American history – academia has been the bane of Republican existence for some time.

It’s precisely because they are educated that college students protest the likes of Coulter, Yiannopoulos and Spencer. In varying degrees, all three could be characterized as white supremacists. And that’s what the violence is about. The debate on white supremacy was not tabled, to be revisited at regular intervals. It’s a deadly ideology that’s been thoroughly discredited by both science and basic humanity. The rest of America is not obligated to help white supremacy crawl out from under its rock.

Coulter and the alt-right haven’t had their right to free speech infringed. These people speak all the time. CNN is airing a special with Richard Spencer and Coulter regularly appears on FOX News. Yiannopoulos has more than 2.1 million followers on Facebook and was the mascot of Breitbart. A Simon & Schuster book deal fell through and his position at Breitbart was terminated over his impassioned defense of pedophilia, not because leftists protested his campy reinvention of fascism.

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A protester punches alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer on the day of Trump’s inauguration.

What’s at issue with these speakers is their right to a platform. That’s separate from freedom of speech. Coulter may not have gotten to speak at UC Berkeley, but neither did hundreds of millions of other Americans. The First Amendment guarantees the right to say what you want, so long as it isn’t a threat or an incitement of panic. It doesn’t guarantee the right to be heard.

Some argue that the alt-right’s speech is threatening. Spencer, the most explicitly racist of the three, calls for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and is essentially a neo-Nazi. The common goal of Spencer, Coulter and Yiannopoulos is to justify systematic oppression. First they argue that white men are oppressed, then they demand black and brown people return something – like America, say – to white people. They provide an intellectual framework that dehumanizes and, in more deranged minds, inspires violence against immigrants and people of color.

It’s for this reason that antifa are prepared to use violence to deny them a platform. But the violence doesn’t all come from the left, nor does it originate there. For some on the alt-right, protests like those at Berkeley are exciting precisely because they represent an opportunity to instigate street-level clashes with leftists.

One such group, Proud Boys, recently teamed with another, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, to launch a “military division” for the alt-right. Formed by ultra-right nationalist Gavin McInnes, membership in the Proud Boys requires tattoos, a beat-down by other group members, and abstention from masturbation. FOAK founder Kyle Chapman declared, “We don’t fear the fight. We are the fight.” This fascist political street gang actively seeks out brawls with leftists. Violence and speech suppression is in its DNA.

There is an important free speech issue going on, but it’s not in Berkeley. Recently the Trump Administration announced it’s seeking the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, despite Assange becoming an alt-right hero in 2016 for leaking information about Hillary Clinton. If free speech was the issue motivating Coulter, Yiannopoulos and McInnes, they’d be giving impassioned defenses of Assange, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers. This demonstrates clearly that the issue isn’t free speech – it’s white nationalism.

Peaceful demonstration is the best tactic to protest invited speakers, but peace can be difficult to maintain when fascist groups like the Proud Boys use violence as a recruitment tool for pent-up white men. And so long as the media blames the left for it, the violence will continue to serve the alt-right’s cause. But just because detestable speech is protected by the First Amendment doesn’t mean white nationalists are owed a platform.

The Trump/Bannon Plan: Create more terrorists

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In a recent Associated Press interview, President Trump said he was 10-0 in predicting terror attacks.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump campaigned to become a war criminal. He protested the Geneva Conventions, vowed to “bomb the shit” out of the Middle East, and insisted the US had to kill the family members of terrorists. Though he’s reneged on plenty of promises so far, he has stuck to these frighteningly well. But this is far from a legitimate strategy to fight terrorism. In fact, Trump’s presidency is sure to create more of it. Continue reading

Media reinforces Donald Trump’s most dangerous behavior

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Iraqi citizens gaze at the devastation in Mosul, where Trump-authorized airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians.

For the first several weeks of his presidency, it looked as though mainstream media might hold Donald Trump at least partially accountable for his actions. Stories regularly aired that were critical of Trump’s brutal budget and discussed his pathological lying. All of it prompted Trump to label the media the “opposition party.” Then, late last week, Trump fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase. His fireworks show earned Trump bipartisan media and political praise.

Even before Trump launched the attack, Hillary Clinton called for it. Both the Democratic Senate and House Minority Leaders, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, praised the attack, as did prominent Republican critics of Trump like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Liberal CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria declared Trump “became president of the United States” with the attack while NBC host Brian Williams described the bombing as “beautiful.” FAIR found that of 47 editorials published in major papers, only one was critical. Continue reading

Donald Trump is making bad foreign policy worse

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In the first international crisis of his presidency, Trump is failing as spectacularly as anyone might have guessed.

As many as 70 Syrian men, women and children were killed this week by what is believed to be sarin gas, and another 100 were seriously injured. The atrocity played out on news networks and social media feeds around the world. President Trump seized the opportunity to demonstrate just what kind of a leader he is and will continue to be – by blaming former President Obama. Continue reading

Internet privacy bill illustrates who Republicans really work for

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Paul Ryan shares a laugh with some fellow Republicans.

The Republican Party provides formal, governmental representation to corporate and big-money interests. While the Democratic Party is plagued by its corruption, and faces resistance from its left-wing base because of it, the Republican Party has corruption in its DNA. From top to bottom, the GOP is firmly, openly, and proudly committed to the interests of American oligarchy, starting with oligarch-in-chief Donald Trump.

At the bottom of the list you might find Louisiana Representative Clay Higgins. During his 2016 campaign, the brand-new congressman received a mere $300 from the telecommunications industry. This week, Higgins and 264 congressional Republicans scrapped regulations that prevented internet service providers from selling their customers’ web history. That $300 investment in Higgins – and much larger ones for his fellow Republicans – will pay off in the billions for corporations like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. Continue reading

Indulging a fantasy: What comes after Trump’s impeachment?

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The First Lady and the President looking rather dour on the day of Trump’s inauguration.

To say that the first two months of the Trump presidency have been embattled would be an understatement. Several of Trump’s biggest-ticket items, including the border wall with Mexico, the replacement of Obamacare with “something terrific,” and a ban on Muslims entering the country, have been fraught with political peril and popular opposition. If that wasn’t bad enough, the extent of Trump’s connection to Russia is being examined by practically every journalist and investigative body in the federal government.

His presidency may not last long. Predictions about Trump run the full gamut, from early impeachment to a lifelong reign as America’s first Führer. It remains to be seen which will actually happen, but the way things stand now, early impeachment looks to be the odds-on favorite. But Trump’s impeachment will not solve America’s problems. Continue reading

Why we can expect political violence in the Trump era

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Neo-fascist and alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer was punched in the face at Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Last week, ultra-right radio host Michael Savage was involved in a physical confrontation in a San Francisco-area restaurant. No one was charged, but Savage insists he was assaulted because of his political beliefs. He might well have been. A prominent Donald Trump supporter who interviewed the candidate several times during the campaign, Savage is infamously outspoken about three issues: borders, language and culture. Like so much of the far-right, Savage is a crypto-white nationalist.

The incident recalls President Trump’s inauguration when Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right,” was punched in the face by a protester. Later that month, riots shut down a speaking engagement by disgraced Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley. Mainstream commentators argue these incidents stifle free speech. But what’s so often left unsaid is that Savage, Spencer, Yiannopoulos and others are figureheads of American fascism, the most violent movement in the country today. Continue reading

Mountains and molehills: what to take seriously in the Trump/Russia saga

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a prominent Trump campaign surrogate when he met with a top Russian diplomat.

Americans are divided over just what to make of President Donald Trump’s connection to the Russian government. Most of them favor a special prosecutor to look into the matter, and the political establishment is certain it’s a massive story. But until more facts are revealed, it’s impossible to know just how deep the arrangement goes. Knowing which angles of the story are mountains and which are molehills is difficult. Continue reading

Trump and the coming era of mass incarceration

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a huge advocate of the abuse-riddled private prison industry.

Thanks in large part to the War on Drugs, the United States houses the world’s largest prisoner population. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars. With less than a quarter of its population, we even have more prisoners than China. This is one of the great scandals of present-day America, and it doesn’t receive the serious attention it deserves from politicians and mainstream media. And the GOP, led by the Trump Administration, plans to make it much worse. Continue reading

Trump sticks to a script; media gushes with praise

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President Trump points for emphasis while Vice-President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud.

On Tuesday night, President Trump went before Congress to deliver an address to the American people. It capped off a day during which Trump courted controversy by blaming the military for a botched raid in Yemen and suggesting that Jews were committing their own acts of anti-Semitism to make him look bad. But in a classic demonstration of the 24-hour news cycle’s short attention span, all was forgiven when Trump stuck to script and delivered a serviceable speech. Continue reading