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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | U.S. | Education & Student Activism | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Government & Elections | Immigrant Rights | Racial Justice
What Milo and the Alt-Right get wrong about the Free Speech Movement
A speaking event by Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley was cancelled last night after a protest erupted outside the Student Union. Yiannopoulos was scheduled to appear at the Pauley Ballroom, inside the building. Milo and his supporters have claimed that the protest and the cancellation was counter to the values of Free Speech. The Alt-Right have tried to identify their movement as an extension, or modern incarnation, of the Free Speech movement. Milo's supporters have invoked Mario Savio's name to support their interpretation of the Free Speech Movement.
The Alt-Right is misguided in asserting that they are the modern day defenders of Free Speech on campuses. They misinterpret the intent of the Free Speech Movement for their own agenda. The Alt-Right depicts Milo Yiannopoulos as Mario Savio's equal, without examining what Savio said.
Mario Savio did not believe that Free Speech was absolute. Savio spoke of the responsibility that came with Free Speech. He hoped that the new found freedom on campus would be used responsibly. Mario Savio's statements in 1964 were similar to the 1962 Spider-Man quote: "With great power comes great responsibility". It can be argued that Milo's brand of divisive rhetoric is not responsible speech. A distinction can be made that separates out hate speech from Free Speech. Standing in front of a emotionally heated crowd, stirring up sexism, transphobia, fear of immigrants, fear of Muslims, and et cetera is socially irresponsible. At a time when hate crimes have been on the rise, according to civil rights organizations and the FBI's own statistics, Milo's untempered statements fuel more hatred.
"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop!" - Mario Savio
The most famous quotation of the Free Speech Movement is the "bodies upon the gears" portion of Mario Savio's speech given on Sproul Plaza. Savio called for people to stop odiously unjust systems. Yiannopoulos works for Breitbart, a media organization described by its own members as a platform for the Alt-Right. The former executive chair of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, is currently the White House Chief Strategist. No other media organization has closer ties to the office of the President than Breitbart. Breitbart media is a gear in the machine. The protesters at UC Berkeley put their bodies upon a gear, and shut down the apparatus from operating inside the student union.
The protest at UC Berkeley happened days after protests at SFO (and other airports in the US) against Donald Trump's ban on Muslims entering the United States from 7 blacklisted nations. Muslims, including greencard holders and citizen residents, were detained at airports, while searched and interrogated. Steve Bannon, who has ties to white nationalist groups, oversaw the drafting of the anti-Muslim travel ban. Breitbart media began supporting a travel ban in 2015, and continuing into 2016, when Steve Bannon was still executive chair. At CAIR press conference in New York to discuss a legal challenge against the travel ban, Breitbart employee Neil Munro caused a disruption and accused CAIR of not supporting the rights of "actual Americans". As part of Breitbart, Milo also deals in unmitigated Islamophobia.
Donald Trump is threatening to cut off funding to sanctuary cities which includes cities like Berkeley. Breitbart media is a sounding board for distrust against sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants. Breitbart staff editorializes against sanctuary cities. Milo interviewed Joe Arpaio to help his 2016 re-election campaign for sheriff of Arizona's Mericopa County. Arpaio had fallen under scrutiny by the Justice Department, the ACLU and faith-based human-rights organizations. At the University of New Mexico stop in his college tour, Yiannopoulos said that the southern border "must be controlled if America is to flourish", while speaking in favor of Trump's proposed border wall. At the University of New Mexico, Yiannopoulos rallied for those in attendance to report undocumented students and workers to ICE.
On the night of Trump's inauguration (January 20), a fan of Milo Yiannopoulos shot a protester at the University of Washington in Seattle. The shooter was waiting in line to attend the Seattle stop of Milo's college tour. After becoming aware of what occurred, Milo lauded the shooting, telling the crowd "if we don't continue, they have won." Nobody from Breitbart news has condemned the shooting, nor has anyone from Breitbart condemned Milo's suggestion for more gun violence.
The Alt-Right do not share the same ideals as the Free Speech Movement. The Alt-Right did not rise from the lineage of protests in Berkeley since the 1960s. Milo is not the new Mario Savio. He and his colleagues at Breitbart are parts of the machine, a machine so odious that you've got to make it stop.