Social media erupted with joy as Anarchists shutdown, bratty Briton, Milo Yiannopoulos’s recent speech at UC-Berkeley. Using violent tactics, protesters looted local businesses, assaulted their opposition, and, to their credit, protected vulnerable minority students from being harassed by a rebranded neo-fascist. Although this strategy achieved an important short-term goal, it simultaneously armed the malicious mudslinger with sympathy from mainstream audiences. This incident provides important lessons that can guide subsequent resistance.
To begin, the United States embodies a culture that unequivocally rejects violence as a political tactic. In this context, non-state political violence is viewed as inherently immoral. Moreover, perpetrators of such acts automatically discredit themselves to mainstream audiences while ceding the moral high ground to their opposition. In the absence of a revolution, progressives must form ties with such groups to advance our policy agenda. Hence, we need to come up with a response that discredits our opponents without alienating the masses.
Contrary to popular wisdom in left circles, allowing Milo, a foreign national whose so-called “first amendment rights” in America are questionable given the fact that he is not a U.S. citizen, to speak on college campuses does not necessarily imply surrender to fascism. Access to the public square doesn’t mean influence. The capacity to speak to and persuade audiences depends upon the “megaphone” you possess to express your ideas. This is a noncontroversial point already recognized by progressives who oppose Citizens United and demand campaign finance reform. In the university context, liberals have enormous capacity to limit the impact of neo-fascist speakers.
For example, let’s consider the possibility of lobbying administrators to implement a policy that imposes hefty fines on any speaker that targets specific students for harassment. This would empower campuses to pressure Milo into compliance with campus civility norms, thereby protecting vulnerable students, providing the university cover from negative publicity, and placing the vacuous propagandist in direct conflict with key funders if he violates costly contractual agreements. In other words, this approach could address some of the most problematic elements of Milo’s public performances while enabling universities to circumvent actions that allow him to cast himself as a victim of liberal bias.
In conjunction, campus groups might consider the creation of “Fascist Awareness Week” that mysteriously coincides with Milo’s scheduled appearances. In this regard, progressive organizations can set up daily talks including academics/activists who study, critique, and inoculate students against Milo’s predictable, decontextualized rhetoric. Such efforts can be complemented by daily op-eds, social media blasts, bulletin boards, sidewalk chalking, and student radio shows flooded with anti-fascist messaging that situates Milo in proper historical context alongside white nationalist movements. Persistent messaging, such as this, literally drowns out the opposition, which only speaks 1.5 hours one night out of the week.
Furthermore, fundraisers might discourage College Republicans from inviting Milo to campus. Throughout “Fascism Awareness Week,” hold an aggressive fundraising campaign that’s used to finance progressive causes/organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Publish op-eds flaunting the amount of money you raised, the specific purposes to which the money will be allocated, and taunt campus conservatives for helping you advance the progressive movement. Although this might not stop them from inviting the neo-fascists to speak on campus, it lends progressive organizations greater influence that can be used to drown out subsequent speakers while, simultaneously, giving conservatives reason to caution against extending invitations to belligerent provocateurs.
Finally, campuses can never guarantee against black bloc. Anarchists will show up and sometimes violently prevent Milo from speaking. Predictably, the latter will turn to social media for sympathy through dishonest representations of a protest that, while tucked away in his safe space, he never directly witnessed. In response, it seems reasonable to immediately circulate a petition that denounces the violence and is repeatedly quoted in local media. Moreover, it would be helpful to post footage of the crowd that draws a sharp distinction between factions within the protest. This was done during the recent Berkeley demonstration and impacted public perceptions of observed violence. If more attendees organized to perform this tactic, then we could exercise greater control over the message and maintain appeal to larger audiences.
That said, I’m sure activists around the country have been practicing one or more of these approaches. Hence, I do not presume to be delivering novel wisdom to ignorant organizers. Instead, I wanted to highlight the resources campus communities possess to challenge neo-fascists attempting to legitimize dumb ideas that, against their limited knowledge, were rejected sixty years ago due to inadequate empirical support.