The riots that took place at UC Berkeley last week were disturbing to watch. A thuggish combination of students, left-wing activists, and those calling themselves Antifa put on a chest-thumping display of violence and intimidation. With their faces covered and dressed in black, they acted out their faux-revolutionary wet dreams, playing the big man in a totally safe environment where they faced no opposition. With pack-mentality cowardice they started fires, smashed up businesses, and savagely beat those they disagree with–in this case, visiting speaker Milo Yiannopolous’ intended audience. Video footage shows them surrounding Milo fans and beating them with flagpoles, or spraying them in the face with Mace.
The brutality was unprovoked and potentially fatal. One piece of footage showed a baying mob pummeling a face down, unconscious man.
Adding to the revulsion caused by these images is the knowledge that their underlying motives were profoundly illiberal: they are opposed to free speech, and will use extreme violence to prevent non-left wing speakers from being heard. In this case, their target was the aforementioned writer and cultural commentator Milo Yiannopolous. They call him a fascist, or a white supremacist, but such slurs are absurd when he openly condemns such things. Remember that the extremists who were rioting on Wednesday night call everybody they disagree with a fascist, a Nazi, or a white supremacist, and then declare that anybody labelled as such deserves to be physically attacked.
Amid the flames, Milo’s Berkeley speech had to be shut down, and the myopic, puffed-up rioters claimed victory. But now that the dust has settled, it’s clear that the unarguable beneficiary of all this is Milo Yiannopolous himself, along with his politics, his ideas, and his influence.
He has, as always when anybody tries to silence him, gained an enormous amount of publicity, this time perhaps more than ever before. Advance sales of his as-yet unreleased book soared by 17’675%, and he was invited onto Fox News’ Tucker Carlson show where he gave a strong, lucid performance.
Speaking on camera, Milo came across as likable, intelligent, and entirely persuasive. Because while there’s no doubt that he’s sometimes been deliberately offensive, the principles he stands for are sound and resonant.
Here’s what he appears to believe in: Freedom of speech. Reigning in identity politics and out-of-control political correctness. Gender equality over intersectional feminism. Not allowing the left wing to strangle academia, the media, or public discourse. Upholding the American constitution. The free marketplace of ideas.
Contrast this with the violent thugs who shut down his speech. What do they stand for? The collective over the individual. Civil disruption. Restrictions on speech, expression and thought. Ideological conformity. Intimidation and political violence, from property damage to serious physical assault. Marxism.
Throw a light on these two opposing sides, and there’s really no contest. Add to the equation that Milo is audacious and funny, while his opponents are grim faced, angry zealots, and the contest is over.
You have to wonder what the Antifa numbskulls were thinking. When a video shows a normal looking, lone young woman surrounded by masked hyenas in black beating her with flag poles, what do they think the reaction is going to be? Are millions of Americans going to leap from their couches and pledge to join the mob in assaulting innocent people in the streets, in order to silence dissent and install a Communist dictatorship? I’m no marketing executive, but I can’t imagine queues forming round the block for that one.
Milo gets criticism from all sides. Leftist ideologues spasm at the mere mention of his name. Conservatives think he gives them a bad reputation. Airy, hyper-rational types don’t really like anyone. But the reality is that free speech has been under severe assault, on campus, in the media, and in wider society. You might not like Milo’s tactics. You might think that at times he’s been cruel, and crossed the line of decency. But he has certainly never endorsed violence. And at the risk of stating the obvious, in the trench warfare of the culture wars his methods are working. And that’s a good thing.
The Berkeley riots showed more people than ever the dark, authoritarian brutality of which the modern, activist left is capable. They showed us that our principle mechanism for thriving as a civil society–free speech–is under threat. And when Milo was given the platform to express himself on Fox News, a substantial audience saw that although he has been savaged and demonized by the progressive media, in reality he is standing up for essential values.
Is Milo careful to always strike a balance and play nicely? Obviously not. But unlike his opponents, he uses words, not violence.