The Berkeley College Republicans have created an appealing narrative: A small but vocal minority stands up to oppression from fellow students, the campus and hostile liberal strangers to defend open discourse and freedom of speech.
Except it is not true.
Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor for the far-right news website Breitbart, is a repulsive agitator, and inviting him to speak at UC Berkeley normalizes his brand of alt-right hate speech. While the First Amendment protects him, he intentionally baits marginalized voices so that he can bully them and exploit the angry backlash in front of his fans.
In inviting him, BCR demonstrates it is not a club dedicated to the preservation of free speech and open dialogue on campus. This is a club hiding behind the right of free speech as an excuse to legitimize — and even laugh at — hate speech and shirk responsibility for any resulting damage.
Pieter Sittler, the internal vice president of BCR, told The Daily Californian’s Editorial Board he was not familiar with Yiannopoulos’ comments at other campuses. Still, he believes Yiannopoulos can widen students’ viewpoints and offer an often-elusive conservative perspective to the campus community. Sittler said he was unfamiliar with an incident at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in which Yiannopoulos harassed a transgender student in front of an entire audience.
If BCR wants Yiannopoulos to speak, the club should, at the very least, be able to specify what it is about him it finds meaningful and offer thoughtful responses to the criticism against him. Otherwise, BCR will not burst the liberal bubble it so condemns on this campus. It will only promote hatred and bigotry, which do nothing to advance conservative ideals in an increasingly divisive political climate.
Perhaps most hypocritically, Sittler said BCR invited Yiannopoulos to the campus to create a dialogue. Yet when asked about the concerns people have raised with this particular speaker, he evaded them and said those people should “grow up.”
BCR is unaware of or unwilling to publicly back Yiannopoulos’ comments but will allow them to happen here, much like they did in Milwaukee. The club has taken no responsibility to learn about the speaker it invited, but Sittler calls Yiannopoulos “hilarious” and “entertaining” as he harasses his way to headlines.
With the forthcoming inauguration of Donald Trump, UC Berkeley students will look to BCR for an indication of what to expect for the next four years. So when the speaker BCR has chosen to ring in the new era inevitably targets students — his past speaking engagements indicate he will — BCR cannot feign ignorance.
As an intellectual haven in the midst of a contentious Trump presidency, UC Berkeley deserves a better representative of conservative thought than a divisive troll. Unfortunately, BCR has taken the bait.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.