Libertarian Tom Palmer discusses free speech, Yiannopoulos, Trump at Moffitt Library

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Tom Palmer, executive vice president for international programs at the libertarian nonprofit Atlas Network, gave a presentation entitled “Milo, Trump, & the Assault on Free Speech” Tuesday afternoon at Moffitt Library.

At the event, hosted by campus group Students for Liberty, Palmer criticized President Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos and “any form of racism or bigotry,” but supported the controversial figures’ right to express themselves. He also spoke on libertarian beliefs and principles while emphasizing the importance of nondiscrimination under the Trump administration.

“The proper way to engage with ideas that you disagree with are with better ideas, not with violence, not with force,” Palmer said. “You need not to shut people up even if you believe they are wrong on every account — it is harm to yourself.”

On Feb. 1, Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley, but his appearance was canceled after violent protests erupted on campus.

Palmer said people need to listen to other opinions in order to understand corruption in certain beliefs and to strengthen their views. Some members of the campus community that opposed Yiannopoulos’ visit to campus, however, emphasized that they were concerned with the harm he could have inflicted on students rather than his right to free speech.

Before Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance, 12 faculty members had written to the campus administration requesting cancellation of the event.

“I signed the faculty letter concerning Yiannopoulos’ visit not because of any objections I might have as to his views and opinions … but because of his track record of identifying individual students, singling them out for harassment and potential harm, as part of his repertoire of stunts,” said campus English professor Ian Duncan in an email.

Zachary Levenson, a sociology graduate student on campus, said while controversial ideas should not be silenced, Yiannopoulos’ potential to harm students and workers on campus gave protesters the right to shut down the event.

Neil Lawrence, a UC Berkeley transgender activist and former Daily Californian columnist, said the shutdown of the event was about “community and self-defense” because of past incidences in which Yiannopoulos allegedly harassed students. Lawrence also alleged that Yiannopoulos had plans to reveal the status of undocumented students.

Other members of the LGBTQ+ community at UC Berkeley still supported Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus, though they disagreed with his ideas.

“His previous statements are awful things that need to be countered, but I don’t think they provide legal justification for him not to be given the right to speech,” said Andrew Bremer, executive director of Queer Grads at Berkeley. “We need to ensure that voices are given to marginalized communities that Milo and others like him are attacking.”

Some libertarians that attended Palmer’s talk, such as campus sophomore Matthew Javier and community member Bill Hajdu, opposed Milo’s visit, alleging that he was neither competent nor a positive contribution to the intellectual community on campus.

“If the university bans him on competence rather than his ideas, that’s fine,” Hajdu said.

Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.