Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the students who have been protesting speakers at their campuses is the lack of any good reason for doing so.
Consider the nasty attack on Charles Murray at Middlebury College. He had been invited to discuss the themes in his book Coming Apart, which has nothing to do with race. The mob of angry students, however, accused him of racism based on a false reading of his 1995 book The Bell Curve. There was no reason for any protest, much less the violence that eventually ensued.
An equally outrageous protest occurred recently at Vassar College. Cornell law professor William Jacobson had been invited by the Vassar Conservative/Libertarian Union to speak about free speech and “hate speech.” What could be objectionable about a law professor discussing the distinction (if any?) between free speech and hate speech?
Of course, after hearing what he had to say, someone might object that his analysis was mistaken, but that wouldn’t justify efforts to prevent the talk from taking place. Nor would it justify publishing libelous statements against him. Both occurred.
Writing on his Legal Insurrection blog, Jacobson says, “I’m still trying to get my mind around the Vassar College reaction to my planned lecture on “hate speech” and free speech…. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff were whipped into a frenzy by factually false accusations against me and regarding my appearance.”
Evidently taking a page from the Antifa playbook, a campus group called “Healing 2 Action” claimed that Jacobson’s talk would pose a threat to safety on campus because it would draw in many “neo-Nazis and white supremacists” who would target minority, LGBT, and Jewish students.
And the threat wasn’t just from the imagined hordes of neo-Nazis – it was from Jacobson himself. The Vassar Student Association sent out an email declaring that the school needed to “protect the people that this speaker has targeted in the past.”
Jacobson has never targeted any group and that statement rises to the legal level of “actual malice,” which makes it libelous.
Other foolish antics by the frenzied protesters included tearing down the posters for the event and demanding that school administrators relax academic deadlines because of “the pain and emotional toll students are facing right now….”
In the end, Jacobson’s talk took place and amazingly enough, there were no neo-Nazis or white supremacists in evidence. The whole protest was based on fabrications. Jacobson writes, “It was similar to falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, but even worse, because it falsely blamed a real person (me) for the fictitious fire.”
Why would students, faculty, and administrators at an elite college behave this way? My hunch is that the hard-core leftists at Vassar were feeling that they weren’t doing their part in resisting “fascists” – which means anyone who isn’t one of them ideologically – and therefore had to make up an excuse for a protest.
Calling Jacobson a threat to safety and fantasizing about a battle against a mob of neo-Nazis no doubt made the Vassar kids feel important. They signaled their virtue to the rest of the “progressive” movement. They got to pretend that they were fighting the good fight.
And if they have any decency, they’ll be ashamed of their actions.