Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, will be giving a talk at UC Berkeley tonight, and judging by the headlines he is quite a dangerous figure. USA Today writes “Berkeley braces for visit by right-wing speaker Ben Shapiro.” The LA Times reports “Unprecedented measures at Berkeley for conservative writer’s speech.” The Washington Post reports “Berkeley prepares for Ben Shapiro speech with pepper spray, concrete barriers and lots of police.”
These publications and more have reported that sections of UC Berkeley have taken on the appearance of a fortress stronghold, with buildings being shut down, barriers erected, and guards on patrol. Counseling services have been made available for students who’ve had their “sense of safety and belonging” threatened by Shapiro.
Someone completely out of the know might find themselves wondering what it is about Ben Shapiro that inspires such warlike measures of preparation from UC Berkeley. Such a person, reasonably safe in assuming from the aforementioned headlines that Shapiro is either a tropical cyclone or some sort of mythical Japanese sea-monster hell bent on the destruction of Tokyo (or whatever coastal city is convenient), might be disappointed to learn that he is just a thirty-three year old conservative going to UC Berkeley to discuss conservative ideas.
What then, you might ask, is the cause of all the commotion? Does Shapiro call for the violent overthrow of our society? Do his balaclava-clad supporters arrive to his events with the specific intent of savagely assaulting those they disagree with? Have they, as recently as five months ago, engaged in violent riots at UC Berkeley?
If that were the case – that a roaming group of masked thugs were assaulting innocent bystanders and burning down a city in a barbaric display of intolerance – would it not be within the bounds of reason to expect news providers to name such a group of criminals?
Here is the simple truth: the threat to UC Berkeley is not Ben Shapiro. The university has not transformed part of its campus into a fortified citadel for fear of the self-described five-foot nine-inch, hundred sixty-five pound Jewish guy.
Overblown – and sometimes extremely violent – opposition to conservative, classically liberal, and libertarian speakers on university campuses has become an undeniable trend in North America. From UC Berkeley, to Cal Stat and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to the farcical student takeover of Evergreen State College, and many in between, the hecklers veto has been used as a means to shut down dissenting voices.
Often times administrators in such instances will cite safety concerns as a reason to kowtow to their angry students rather than enforce their own standards of student conduct.
The common denominator between these universities is that they are all state funded, and flagrant disregard for constitutionally protected rights has caught the eyes of congressional representatives. Speaking to The Daily Wire on Tuesday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said “If they’re allowed to speak at all, conservatives and libertarians get shouted down or in some cases actual riots break out. If public colleges and universities continue to allow this to occur, Congress may have to get involved.”
In July Rep. Jordan chaired a joint subcommittee hearing examining challenges to freedom of speech on college campuses. Ben Shapiro gave testimony at that hearing calling on UC Berkeley to live up to its reputation as a bastion of free speech in the United States.
Over the next few hours and days, we’ll see how that goes.