“Your Speech is Violence”: How the Mob is Using a New Mantra to Justify Campus Violence

Below is my column in The Hill on the increasing justification of violence by the left on our campuses by declaring speech itself “violence.” It is part of the license of our age of rage for many who want to silence opposing viewpoints. There is, however, a way to end this anti-free speech movement sweeping through higher education.

Here is the column:

“Silence is violence.” When those words became a popular mantra years ago on college campuses, I wrote that the anti-free speech movement was moving toward compelled speech while declaring dissenting views to be harmful.

Today, it isn’t just silence that is considered violence on college campuses. It is also speech, as both faculty and students are actively shutting down opposing views on subjects ranging from abortion to climate change to transgender issues.

Recently, many people were shocked by a videotape of Hunter College professor Shellyne Rodríguez trashing a pro-life student display in New York. Most were focused on her profanity and vandalism, but there were familiar phrases that appeared in her diatribe to the clearly shocked students.

Before trashing the table, she told the students, “You’re not educating s–t […] This is f–king propaganda. What are you going to do, like, anti-trans next? This is bulls–t. This is violent. You’re triggering my students.”

The videotape revealed one other thing. At Hunter College, and at other colleges, it seems that trashing a pro-life student display and abusing pro-life students is not considered a firing offense. Hunter College refused to fire Rodríguez.

The PSC Graduate Center, the labor organization of graduate and professional schools at the City University of New York, supported that decision and said Rodríguez was “justified” in trashing the display, which the organization described as “dangerously false propaganda” and “disinformation.”

Rodríguez later put a machete to the neck of a reporter, threatened to chop him up and then chased a news crew down a street with the machete in hand. Somewhere between the machete to the neck and chasing the reporters down the street, Hunter College finally decided that Rodríguez had to go.

Rodríguez denounced the school for having “capitulated” to “racists, white nationalists, and misogynists.” She explained that her firing was just a continuation of “attacks on women, trans people, black people, Latinx people, migrants, and beyond.”

The redefinition of opposing views as “violence” is a favorite excuse for violent groups like antifa, which continue to physically assault speakers with pro-life and other disfavored views As explained by Rutgers Professor Mark Bray in his “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” the group believes that “‘free speech’ as such is merely a bourgeois fantasy unworthy of consideration.”

As one antifa member explained, free speech is a “nonargument…you have the right to speak but you also have the right to be shut up.”

When people criticized antifa for its violent philosophy, MSNBC’s Joy Reid responded to the critics that “you might be the fascist.”

Faculty members have followed this sense of license to silence others. Former CUNY law dean Mary Lu Bilek even insisted that disrupting a speech on free speech was free speech. (Hunter is part of the CUNY system.)

The same week as the Rodríguez attack at the State University of New York at Albany, sociology professor Renee Overdyke shut down a pro-life display and then allegedly resisted arrest.

Just last week, the Pride Office website at the University of Colorado (Boulder) declared that misgendering people can be considered an “act of violence.”

This week, University of Michigan economics professor Justin Wolfers declared that some of those boycotting the store Target over its line of Pride Month clothing were engaging in “literal terrorism.” (He insists that he was referring to those confronting Target employees.)

Faculty have also justified attacks on pro-life figures. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, feminist studies associate professor Mireille Miller-Young physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. 

She pleaded guilty to criminal assault, but the university refused to fire her. Instead, some faculty and students defended her, including claiming that pro-life displays constitute terrorism. The University of Oregon later honored Miller-Young as a model for women advocates.

Likewise, at Fresno State University, public health professor Dr. Gregory Thatcher recruited students to destroy pro-life messages.

Other faculty have called for or countenanced violence against Republicans and conservatives. Professors have shouted down speakers, destroyed propertyparticipated in riots and verbally attacked students.

University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis defended the murder of a conservative protester and said he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence. He was later elevated to the position of director of graduate studies of history.

As faculty commit or support violence, students are assured that others are the violent ones. Recently, at the University of Texas at Austin, Professor Kirsten Bradbury tested her students on psychology by asking them “which sociodemographic group is most likely to repeatedly violate the rights of others in a pattern of behavior that includes violence, deceit, irresponsibility, and a lack of remorse?” Of course, the answer was wealthy white men.

The lesson took with students. A recent poll shows that 41 percent of college students now believe violence is justified to fight hate speech. At Cornell, a conservative speaker was shouted down, met with the common mantra that “your words are violence.” At Case Western, the student newspaper editorialized against university recognition of a pro-life group because its pro-life views are “inherently violent” and “a danger to the student body.” At Wellesley, student editors declared that it was time to shut down conservative speakers and that “hostility may be warranted.” They added, “The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.”

Those views did not spontaneously appear in the minds of these students. At one time, tolerance for free speech was the very touchstone of higher education and a common article of faith for students. These students are the product of years of being told that free speech is dangerous and harmful if left unregulated. From elementary school to college, they were taught that they did not have to be “triggered” by the speech of others.

We are still (thankfully) drawing the line at machete attacks. But it is the underlying views of Rodríguez that are the true threat, and they are being replicated throughout the country. We are raising a generation of censors and speech-phobics.

If we want to stop or reverse this trend, Congress must act. I have proposed legislation that would deny federal funding to schools that do not protect core free speech principles. We are funding schools that are taking a machete to the defining right of our democracy.

It is akin to the recent resolution of the case of an antifa member who took an axe to Sen. John Hoeven’s (R-N.D.) office in Fargo. Thomas “Tas” Alexander Starks, 31, was given probation…and his axe back.

We may not be able to deter people from speaking through machetes and axes, but we can at least stop subsidizing the hardware.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law for George Washington University.

173 thoughts on ““Your Speech is Violence”: How the Mob is Using a New Mantra to Justify Campus Violence”

  1. Cutting off federal funding to offending schools is a good idea. But the bigger problem is that there are way too many Americans “trapped” (in one view) or “cossetted” (in another view) in our schooling system. Mass behavior should be expected when there is little selection based on merit on the number of people in colleges as either students or teachers. We have chosen mass education and gotten mass behavior. We need to recognize that our problem is that choice. As philosoper Eric Hoffer noted, a commercial civilization confuses quantity with quality. Our education system/racket arises from that confusion.

    1. We have chosen mass education and gotten mass behavior.

      So true Edward. Mattias Desmet has coined a term for it, Mass Formation. He describes it in his book The Psychology of Totalitarianism. This is an excellent interview where Mattias explains how mass formation happens.

      1. Olly – thanks for the link. Let me respond with a quote from the following entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica regarding use of the word “mass. ” It is entitled: “Mass society, also known as: mass culture”. written by Andre’ Munro:
        “The idea of mass society originated in the conservative reaction to the French Revolution (1787–99). For critics such as Hippolyte Taine, the real significance of the Revolution lay not in the constitutional changes it brought about but in the deep social upheaval it caused. For these thinkers, the Revolution undermined traditional institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church and thus weakened the social bonds that held French society together. The Revolution, they argued, had not established liberty but, on the contrary, had allowed collective despotism free rein by weakening intermediary associations and communities. According to critics ranging from Edmund Burke to Hannah Arendt, the Revolution was significant in part because it allowed ordinary people—the “swinish multitude,” in Burke’s view—to enter politics. What was most problematic, however, was the manner in which they entered politics: not through institutional channels but in the form of dissenting crowds or mobs. According to the French psychologist Gustave Le Bon, the empowerment of revolutionary crowds marked “the advent to power of the masses.” Crowd psychology, developed most famously by Le Bon, described the crowd as driven by pre-rational passions or impulses, acting as a single entity under the direction of a leader or blindly following its own whims. Crowd mentality was conceived as a contagious—and dangerous—form of popular enthusiasm. Crowd psychology influenced the later development of mass society theory. In fact, many social scientists used the concepts of crowd and mass interchangeably.”
        So, in this view, “mass behavior” tends to involve people who are unmoored from traditional institutions, and places, and lineages, and professions, and anything that ties to us to the past. This atomized human becomes easy prey to demagogues, and even more, to mass media, which is demagogic by its nature. If the atomized person has not thought carefully about important issues, he/she is endlessly manipulated by the fashions of mass media.

        1. Excellent Edward. Mattias describes how those atomized individuals, most recently in the Covid era, were susceptible to falling prey to mass formation psychosis. They are not unlike the “demoralized” described by Yuri Bezmenov. They are like clay in the hands of the unscrupulous.

    2. Excellent point, Edward. Perhaps a good first-step would be to defund and dismantle the federal Department of Indoctrination/Education.

  2. Writes Prof Turley: “If we want to stop or reverse this trend, Congress must act. I have proposed legislation that would deny federal funding to schools that do not protect core free speech principles. We are funding schools that are taking a machete to the defining right of our democracy.” Amen.

  3. Simply put, these “faculty” are intellectual cowards. They manipulate and empower ‘their’ students and followers with mindless slogans as opposed to counterargument, thus converting higher education into the very antithesis of learning and thinking. Their only feasible approach for such a method is avoid counterargument and force silence upon any perceived opposition by claiming opposing view points are “violent” and “fascist”,”racists”, etc . And, of course, THEY (the cowards) get to determine what is violent and THEY (the cowards) are allowed to use violence and intimidation in any action or response. Thus, the circle in the circular argument is completed. That approach worked well for Mao and look how that turned out.
    It is past time to remove the masks both figuratively and literally from these cowards and identify them. Surely, they and their institutions can provide sound arguments without hiding behind masks and bureaucracy. And the citizens can decide if they wish to fund such cowards.

  4. The Psychopaths and Sociopaths are a large part of the faculty and professors of these universities. You might compare them to Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin(at a young age). Marx is their god. The cowards are the administration and boards of the universities. The students are the totally ignorant proletariat and cannon fodder, pointed in a direction by their zampolits to wreck destruction and fill the cells when arrests are made. Antifa are the Bolshevik shock troop which are older and more committed and far more capable of doing the real dirty work. Administration and Faculty can be dealt with the Professor’s legislation. Get rid of the professors of the faculty by making it a requirement to charge and deal with violence on campus or lose the funding. CCTV on campuses would go a long way to discrediting some one when the Administration won’t pursue a charge of violence.
    Violence or arrest with charges should lead to loss of students’ education funding. I would say conviction but we know arrests and charges would be dropped. Make all scholarships yearly and based on good behavior.
    Antifa will likely be more difficult but not as hard as people think. If the FBI can demand all of Bank of America ATM visits on 1/6/2021 then why cannot it have done the same every time there is an Antifa breakout. Also many Antifa have been arrested over the years, so it would seem that would give you tremendous ability to track and find similar people and cells by association. I thought that was known as standard police work. Strange that they have found this so hard. Sic.

  5. Good for you JT. Defunding the Marxist training academies is a huge move and it will no doubt be mer with actual violence.

  6. As the good professor points out, these attacks by woke leftists are growing more and more violent.
    At some point they will declare that real, physical violence is justified to counter their perceived violence.
    The parallels of woke leftists to Mao’s culture revolution is frighting.

    1. “The parallels of woke leftists to Mao’s culture revolution is frighting.”

      Agree. As well as the parallels with the growing strength and violence of the SA in the 20s. But we truly are living in the 30s and, as you point out, in the 60s. No doubt you’ve read Nien Cheng’s “Life and Death in Shanghai.” When I was on my third read in 2012, I had to put it down. It was like reading the newspapers today, and that was 11 years ago. Obama swore to “fundamentally transform” America. He has, even though he has been out of office since January 2017.

  7. “. . . Rodríguez was ‘justified’ in trashing the display, which the organization described as ‘dangerously false propaganda’ and ‘disinformation.’”

    “Disinformation” (and its ilk) is the Left’s, secular version of blasphemy. It is the open demand to use physical force, violence, against dissenters.

    That never ends well.

    1. When the time comes – and it will come – Leftists will get their payback one hundred-fold and they’ll *never* see it coming. The first time that happens, just before Leftist loses consciousness, I hope someone whispers in his/her/xir ear, “Get this through your thick head, speaking is not violence, THIS *is*.” At the current rate they’re accelerating their intolerant tolerance, it’s just a matter of time.

      1. JAFO, history proves your statement true. Interestingly, these “useful idiots” will get a boot on their neck from those who oppose them, or from those who have been manipulating them. As you say, it’s all just a matter of time.

  8. The Professor and I seem to disagree on how best to stop such behavior….the in your face…assault you…tear your stuff up….kind of behavior.

    What say we deal with that first and do so in a very measured decisive easily understood manner….physically break their noses…pop them in their Snot Lockers until they back off and decide to use polite tones and manner.

    They are concerned about being triggered….let’s prove to them what genuinely triggered people do.

    Had the Machete Woman (may I call “her” a “woman” as “she” has not informed me of “her” gender and pronouns) been wearing plaster on her face and had cotton stuffing up her nostrils for a broken nose….perhaps she would have moderated her behavior and foregone the Machete and all that followed.

    Had a CCW Permit gun carrying citizen observed her chasing the guy down the street offering to turn him into diced Spam…..she may have had a true life changing experience.

    The problem with these Loons is they are able to get away with their anti-social and illegal misconduct.

    If they started getting to a disaster scene a half hour before EMS did whenever they pulled these stunts we would see a marked decrease in frequency and manner of them.

    Self defense is a concept the Professor understands but rarely suggests as a cure for these kinds of assaults.

    Resort to legal remedies and if you are assaulted….return the favor….with vigor.

    Just saying!

  9. You can’t reason with these young communist wannabees. They shout you down and receive praise and accolades from their colleges and universities for doing so. Interesting that little Wokester “Tas” Starks was only given probation and his axe back in Federal Court for a felony charge that could have landed him in prison for up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine. Perhaps Conservatives should start having a good Belgian water cannon standing by at their public events in case they need to “cool down” the crowd and keep things peaceful ? Just a thought. Thank you, Jonathan, for an excellent article.

    1. “. . . these young communist wannabees.”

      They are much worse than that.

      Communists have an overarching ideology, a long-term perspective, a (vicious) theory of rights, and a promise (at least on paper) to deliver material wealth.

      Those academic cretins have no ideas, have a “now” mentality, no theory of rights, and wish to eradicate material wealth. They are nihilists — with a naked lust for power and an urge to destroy simply for the sake of destruction.

  10. Hopefully your proposal includes denial of government-secured student loans for non-compliant colleges, and revocation of any tax exemptions.

  11. Sociopath, a person with a personality disorder manifesting in extreme anti-social attitudes and behavior behavior and a lack of conscience.

    Ax attacks, machete wielding professors actually running around threatening individuals on the street.

    Apparently, someone left the front door at the asylum unlocked and wide open.

  12. students are actively shutting down opposing views on subjects ranging from abortion to climate change to transgender issues.

    Because they loose every debate on the facts.

    The only way the left advances their narrative, is by silencing the facts.

    1. It worked for Hitler and Mussolini, for awhile. Took a world war to reset. Now we’re back in the 1930s.

      1. Not really….the global depression of the 1930s put people in dire poverty. Any similarity to today’s economy, where poor people have cell phones, pets, and adequate food is laughable. Communism had its chance for 70 years, under-delivered to expectations, and was voluntarily retired. It’s now a fig leaf for autocracies in a dozen countries.

        The world is prepared to deter any neo-communistic aggression, whether Asia, Africa, Europe or South America.

        Maybe you ned to read more widely — regulated capitalism is winning against neo-socialism almost everywhere, and you don’t know that?

    1. Good on your proposed legislation. We’ll see if it is accepted, then passed. I think you’ll need a series of legislations that is comprehensive, to stop the avalanche.

  13. It’s time that w all yell STOP. Could this be an even worse assault on our civil liberties than the McCarthy era? I’m thinking yes

  14. Glad to know of the proposed Federal legislation. What, specifically, does it require from schools receiving Federal funds as a means of insuring actual compliance? I hope it includes a requirement of termination of employment for faculty and administrators and enrollment for students who violate its specific requirements. Requiring the adoption of “the (University of) Chicago Principles” is not enough. Required sanctions for violating them, enforceable by law, need to be included.

  15. Not a mob, activists. Activists act, they think. That is the definition of stupid.

    1. The stupid cuny professor was not in mob, yet she acted, without thinking. Which is the definition of stupid. There are too many stupid people in academia.

  16. There is only One God, Two genders and only women can get pregnant.

    Everything else is a freak show.

    Oops, I just committed aggravated assault!!

    Wouldn’t you love to doxx and destroy me for thought crimes and words of “violence”?

    Pronouns: she/hers

    1. I can’t stop thinking about the story of the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes. When I was a child, we were taught these type of stories to teach us to think rationally for ourselves instead of going along with the “mob”. The emperor had been lied to by his royal courtiers into thinking he was adorned with the finest robes, so as he was parading in front of his loyal subjects to great applause, a little boy pointed and said “But he has no clothes!”.

      In today’s world, that is considered violent speech and he would be shouted down and possible expelled from school. Misgendering a cross-dresser today can cost your job even if the man in the dress and makeup has a beard.

      Children today are taught in school that everything is normal so there are no basic truths in nature such as only women, such as their mother that birthed them, can have babies. Dad just decided not to in their case I guess?

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