“So, did you watch the news last night?”
This classmate had never spoken to me before. He addressed me so abruptly that at first, I had no idea what he was referencing. “There was a huge riot last night at Cal,” he continued.
I told him that I didn’t have to watch the news. That night, with my friends, my family and more than 1,500 others, I stood outside of Pauley Ballroom to stop senior Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos from delivering a speech that could have endangered campus students and others over their identities.
“Yeah, I watched it all on TV last night. A bunch of lib-tards set fires and destroyed Downtown Berkeley over a gay, Catholic immigrant having opinions they didn’t agree with.”
He had an awfully smug note in his voice for someone who wasn’t there. When I walked away, he scoffed — I assume because he believed he had burst my liberal bubble. But he’d already decided that he knew the whole truth before he spoke.
His take didn’t surprise me. It’s not even original. For every news segment that explains why Yiannopoulos’ sexual harassment, white supremacist ideals and Nazi sympathies are inexcusable, there are three more devil’s-advocate thinkpieces that lend him deniability and legitimacy.
Most journalists wouldn’t dare call him what he is. But sucking up to the alt-right won’t protect them from censorship and retaliation, and rationalizing his oppressive viewpoints does the alt-right’s work for them.
There was no easy way to shut down the event and keep Yiannopoulos and his fans from inciting violence. The UC administration and Berkeley College Republicans made that clear by refusing to hear the concerns of their community — not just at Cal, but throughout the Bay Area.
Anyone who believes that engaging violent politics in friendly discussion will keep the peace, be my guest, but prepare to get attacked. Remember that Yiannopoulos supporter who shot someone in Seattle?
I put my safety and my freedom on the line because letting Yiannopoulos speak was more terrifying to me than potential injury or arrest.
I would have told my classmate these things if I thought he would listen. I would have told him why being a gay immigrant doesn’t excuse his abuse of women, people of color and other queers. (That’s the whole thing about being pro-queer and pro-immigrant: Those qualities don’t affect my opinion of him one bit.) And I would have told him that the protesters didn’t light the fire, that the generator ignited by itself after it was damaged.
I’ll say it again: The bloc didn’t start the fire. That’s not just a Billy Joel reference, it’s what actually happened. This claim has been repeated so often by sloppy reporters, who refuse to tell stories that don’t fit their comfortable hear-both-sides narrative, that now it’s accepted as fact.
These so-called militants are campus students, Berkeley residents and Bay Area locals; teachers, journalists, musicians, parents and athletes, united by love and concern for their peers. The black bloc is not an organization with an agenda. It’s a strategic approach to protest that, in the case of the entire “Dangerous Faggot” tour, was highly effective. The violence that forms the foundation of Yiannopoulos’ ideology is far worse than any tactic the black bloc uses. You don’t have to like property damage, but understand that without it, Yiannopoulos would have released private and sensitive information about innocent students and encouraged assault against them.
If the fireworks or the damage done to the Amazon store scared you, know that every single person in that crowd was scared too, even (if not especially) those dressed in black.
If you call the left hypocrites for being “intolerant” of Donald Trump’s token gay, you may not know what censorship or homophobia or terrorism or fascism is, but you’re correct. I won’t tolerate queer or undocumented students students being outed and harassed in my home, no matter who’s perpetrating it. Don’t play “Who’s The Real Fascist?” with me because fascists win that game every time.
If you condemn the actions that shut down Yiannopoulos’ literal hate speech, you condone his presence, his actions and his ideas; you care more about broken windows than broken bodies.
I can’t impeach Trump, and I can’t stop the alt-right from recruiting nationwide. I can only fight tooth and nail for the right to exist in my hometown. So it’s time for those waiting in the center to pick a side. Either wake up and stand against nationalistic fear-mongering, or allow it to spread and divide your neighborhood through inaction — just enjoy your ability to be complacent while it lasts.
Read more opinion coverage on the use of violence in protests here.