Conservative speakers ask UC Berkeley: ‘Are we killing free speech?’

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Maya Valluru/Staff

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Conservative panelists discussed a climate of victimhood, “adolescent self-pity” and the controversial beginnings of the Free Speech Movement at a panel titled “Are We Killing Free Speech?” held on campus Thursday.

The event hosted speakers Heather Mac Donald and Steve Simpson. Simpson is a constitutional lawyer and director of legal studies at the Ayn Rand Institute, or ARI, and Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Talk show host and “classically liberal” comedian Dave Rubin was the moderator for the event.

ARI hosted the event in collaboration with the Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR. ARI reached out to BCR because it considered UC Berkeley a “natural place” to have an event on free speech, according to ARI spokesperson Sara Leopold, who added that the institution has an “aura of liberalism and free thought.”

BCR External Vice President Naweed Tahmas said the goal of the panel was to expose students to new perspectives that are “underrepresented” on campus. BCR worked with UCPD to ensure the safety of all of the event’s attendants and to establish an evacuation plan. More than 100 people had RSVP’d for the event, according to Tahmas.

Tahmas said Antifa tweeted a threat to shut down the event, referencing a tweet from the now-suspended Twitter account @AntifaOfficial — an account that recently had its legitimacy called into question in a correction by The New York Times.

Rubin prompted audience members to applaud when he named their political leanings, revealing primarily conservative and libertarian audience members with only one attendant applauding for “progressive.” This same attendant, Rubin pointed out, had applauded for every listed category.

Simpson took early aim at the “birthplace of free speech” moniker for UC Berkeley, explaining that the pillars of the 1960s movement were occupation, campus blockades and use of force — notions he disagreed with as components of free speech.

“I think we’ve normalized the idea that it is okay to physically block people … to attack them as a form of free speech, which I think is a crazy idea,” Simpson said during the event. “As soon as we conflate force with speech, we lose speech.”

The speakers emphasized that ideas of victimhood and “victimology” among college students jeopardize free speech. Students begin being “indoctrinated into the complex mythology of white privilege” as early as fifth grade, Mac Donald said, and this continues throughout their schooling.

Rubin said people are fixated on identity politics and the “Oppression Olympics,” which he considered easier than making “something of yourself.”

“(Colleges) are the most tolerant institutions in human history that value precisely the traits that can still get you stoned to death elsewhere, and yet people insist on viewing the college campus as a place of maximum oppression,” Mac Donald said during the event.

Mac Donald went on to condemn the demonization of white men, bringing up the August 2017 firing of Google engineer James Damore. Damore had sent around a 10-page manifesto trying to scientifically rationalize the gender gap in the technology industry.

“That means that anybody in an academic science department working on evolutionary biology or psychology or economics … all those people can be fired for sexual harassment,” Mac Donald said. “So science is now a fireable offense. … That is a very, very worrisome situation.”

As with other events BCR has hosted, BCR held a question-and-answer portion in order to encourage dialogue, Tahmas said. During this portion, however, there were almost no questions that challenged the viewpoints of the speakers.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.