Below is my column in Fox.com on the recent controversies at Stanford University and University of California at Davis where students sought to prevent others from hearing conservative speakers. These are only the latest manifestations of a growing anti-free speech movement across our campuses.
Here is the column:
When Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez left her class this week, she faced a chilling scene. Hundreds of black-clad students wearing masks over their faces stood menacing around her chanting “counter-speech is free speech.”
The students were outraged that Martinez apologized to U.S. Circuit Court Judge Kyle Duncan after he was prevented from speaking to students and faculty last week. These law students believe that conservative viewpoints are “harmful” and thus should not be allowed to be heard on campus. In a twisted concept pushed by many faculty members, they believe that silencing others is an act of free speech.
The same views were evident on Tuesday night at the University of California at Davis, though with a more violent element. Another large group of black-clad protesters wearing masks attacked a venue that was to host a speech from conservative speaker Charlie Kirk.
Police and students attending the event were assaulted, leaving at least one officer injured. The protesters smashed windows, hurled eggs, and used pepper spray to attack the University Credit Union Center and those who wanted to hear Kirk.
It is the face of a rising generation of censors and speech phobics that has been carefully cultivated by many in academia. Our institutions of higher education have become academic echo chambers where opposing views are no longer tolerated and preventing free speech is claimed to be acts of free speech.
A chilling poll was released by 2021 College Free Speech Rankings after questioning a huge body of 37,000 students at 159 top-ranked U.S. colleges and universities. It found that sixty-six percent of college students think shouting down a speaker to stop them from speaking is a legitimate form of free speech. Another 23 percent believe violence can be used to cancel a speech. That is roughly one out of four supporting violence.
They are getting these values from faculty members. Many schools have largely purged their ranks of conservative and libertarian faculty. This trend is supported by anti-free speech websites like Above the Law where Editor Joe Patrice defended “predominantly liberal faculties” and argued that hiring a conservative professor is akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism to teach. He also mocked surveys showing that conservative students are fearful of speaking freely in class, dismissing these students as “just… conservatives being sad that everyone else makes fun of them.”
What is notable is that Martinez did not even pledge to hold students accountable for stopping the speech by Judge Duncan. Yet, that is still more than other law deans. When Professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech” at CUNY law school, CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself after using a controversial term in a meeting and resigned).
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.
These students have been raised from elementary schools to law school in a speech phobic environment where free speech is treated as harmful. That was evident in the disgraceful Stanford event.
Stanford DEI Dean Tirien Steinbach shocked many by condemning Judge Duncan at the event. It was not surprising to many of us who have watched free speech protections plummet on campuses for decades. When Judge Duncan asked for an administrator to step in to allow him to speak, Steinbach stepped forward and, after voicing support for free speech, joined the mob in denouncing Duncan for trying to speak despite those who opposed his views. She asked “‘even in this time. And again I still ask: Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Judge Duncan responded “What does that mean? I don’t understand…”
Judge Duncan’s confusion is understandable …. unless he has been on a college campus in the last decade. He was still harboring the outdated notion that higher education is based on a diversity of opinions and viewpoints, not orthodoxy.
The argument that stopping free speech is free speech is nothing more than a twisted rationalization. Protesting outside of an event is an act of free speech. Entering an event to shout down or “deplatform” speakers is the denial of free speech. It is also the death knell for higher education in the United States.
The presence of Antifa at the Kirk event was another predictable element.
I testified in the Senate on Antifa and the growing anti-free speech movement in the United States. I specifically disagreed with the statement of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler that Antifa (and its involvement in violent protests) is a “myth.”
It is at its base a movement at war with free speech, defining the right itself as a tool of oppression. It is laid out in Rutgers Professor Mark Bray’s “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” in which he emphasizes the struggle of the movement against free speech: “At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase that says, ‘I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”
Bray quotes one Antifa member as summing up their approach to free speech as a “nonargument . . . you have the right to speak but you also have the right to be shut up.”
However, the most chilling statement may have come from arrested Antifa member Jason Charter after an attack on historic statues in Washington, D.C. After his arrest, Charter declared “The Movement is winning.” As the hundreds of black-clad Stanford Law and violent Davis protesters can attest, he is right.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University and a practicing criminal defense attorney. He is a Fox News contributor.