Yiannopoulos’ Hate Is Not Free Speech




On Jan. 27, a scheduled speaking engagement by former Breitbart editor Yiannopoulos Yiannopoulos at Berkeley was cancelled in response to widespread opposition and protests by Berkeley students, as well as the application of “black bloc” rioting tactics by anti-fascist anarchists. These political actors, referred to collectively as “Antifa,” have been excoriated in the media from such outlets as Fox News and The Intercept. Right-wingers have criticized protesting, rioting and property-damage as an affront to freedom of speech. Meanwhile, liberals and many on the center-left have criticized such tactics because it portrays all opposition to Trump as violent and irrational.

However, to better understand Antifa, it is important to understand the threat posed by someone like Yiannopoulos. He does not intend to forward his own opinions through reasoned debate. He seeks to bully and mistreat those who are already socially disadvantaged due to hierarchical power structures, and keep them marginalized. According to The Independent, Yiannopoulos intended to use this speaking event as an opportunity to teach Berkeley students how to publicly expose undocumented immigrant students. He has acted out stunts like this before. Per New York Magazine, Yiannopoulos outed a transgender student at the University of Wisconsin in front of her class, claiming that she had “forced his [sic] way into the women’s locker rooms this year.” Yiannopoulos singled out a specific student, and mocked her for her gender identity, actively disseminating naked bigotry from the platform he had been given.

This is not protected speech. This is hate speech and direct violence against a member of a marginalized group. It is the exact kind of incitement that has, in the past and present, caused innocent people to be beaten and killed. There is a fine line between free speech and barbarism, and Yiannopoulos’ wanton assault on the security of oppressed peoples should not be granted a platform.

Even many who agree that having Yiannopoulos speak would be unacceptable have objected to black bloc tactics, claiming that the property damage associated with radical direct action only causes people to view the opposition to fascism with further disdain. This viewpoint upholds the ideological notion inherent in capitalism that the property of the ruling class holds greater importance than human life, specifically those lives destroyed by transphobia, racism, xenophobia and other oppressive forces. In order to confront the structures of institutional violence that subjugate people on a daily basis, it sometimes becomes necessary for that anger and outrage to take a more volatile form.

While many have utilized the example of Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violence to denounce political riots, it would be wise to look to the man’s actual views on the subject for guidance. In his 1968 speech “The Other America,” King declared that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The riot is the manifestation of the voice of a people who believe honestly that they have no say in the established political processes. The expression of unbridled rage that emerges from a riot makes an extremely powerful statement to those in power: that those in society who have been marginalized will be defended, and those that seek to further repress the persecuted will not be supported in doing so.

In a speech given by Hitler in 1933 at Nuremburg, he stated that the only way the development of fascism in Germany could have been halted would have been that those opposed to Nazism had “from the first day annihilated with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.” In line with this principle, we cannot allow for a political climate in which fascists are coddled and hate speech is accepted. We must be willing to take a stand, and collectively protect each other when our basic rights are under attack. We must recognize the extreme danger posed by a figure such as Yiannopoulos, and fight him with every weapon in our arsenal.