A flyer advertising a meeting of the International Socialist Organization at Hamilton Hall, Columbia University, on April 5, was headlined: “Right-Wingers Try to Buy ‘Free Speech!’ Anti-Racist Protester From Brown University Speaks Out!”
This urgent message concerned a controversial—some say incendiary—ad that David Horowitz tried to place in college papers around the country. its headline: “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea.” When one student newspaper, The Brown Daily Herald, ran the ad, some 4000 copies, the entire press run of the paper, were stolen in immediate response.
As Wake Forest University historian Michael Kent Curtis pointed out to me, these ruffian fake radicals—fearful of debate—were acting in the tradition of the pro-slavery mobs that attacked and destroyed abolitionist newspapers before the Civil War. (For documentation, see Curtis’s new book, Free Speech, from Duke University Press.)
During the advertised April 5 debate at Columbia, a student from Brown University declared, “The Village Voice printed the ad, and we need to organize against it and shut the paper down!”
This is hardly the first time there have been threats to shut us down, but the totalitarian mind-set of these traducers of the civil rights movement on campuses around the country is worth more attention than has been paid by the mainstream press.
In the March 26 Columbia University Spectator, Dan Laidman, a senior majoring in history, noted that in Berkeley, California—home of the free speech movement in 1964—the Daily Californian‘s office was stormed and many copies of the paper were stolen after it ran the Horowitz ad. (The student paper’s editor later abjectly apologized for printing the “inflammatory and inappropriate” provocation.)
Dan Laidman went on to get at the core of this epidemic of Stalinism, which has been going on since the late 1980s on college campuses.
“Many progressives,” he wrote, “have endorsed the destruction of newspaper print runs as a legitimate form of civil disobedience. . . . There can be no free speech when the forums for speech are destroyed. When people’s access to information is physically blocked, disobedience is no longer civil. . . .
“This is anathema to true liberalism,” Laidman continued, “and it undermines the progress being made toward a left-wing revitalization in this country. Radicalism means going to the root of the problem and exposing injustice that society obscures. This requires the free exercise of ideas and untrammeled debate.
“When protesters start destroying newspapers and deciding that no one in the community can be exposed to opposing views, these protesters cannot be described as radicals nor as liberals.”
C. Vann Woodward, the late Yale University historian and an expert on the history of racism in this country, was once asked: “Why should we assume that a marketplace of ideas necessarily leads to a more just and humane society?”
Said Woodward: “It was my impression that it was Hitler who outlawed free speech. To reject the idea of free speech is to decide what people must think, what they must say. That is authoritarian. . . . Anybody in the opposition was by definition for a long time in Russia . . . insane. They sent them to mental hospitals.”
In China now, advocates of democracy and free speech are locked into psychiatric hospitals and subjected to treatment that “resembles in all key respects that of the former Soviet Union.” This was reported by Robin Munro in Columbia University’s Journal of Asian Law.
Obviously, not even the righteous mobs at Brown and other colleges are proposing that free-speech subversives, like those at the Voice, be locked up until cured of their “racism.” But among the thousands of student thought police on American campuses are future judges, journalists, legislators, and other active citizens. Think about that.
And they are being encouraged by professors who remain silent out of fear of being called racist, or by other academics—like Lewis R. Gordon, director of Brown’s Afro-American studies program, who told the Chronicle of Higher Education (March 30) that the Horowitz ad “wasn’t speech. It was a racial assault.”
Gordon added that after the ad was published in The Brown Daily Herald, several students told him they couldn’t eat or sleep for days. But these fragile radicals summoned the strength to force the cancellation—for fear of violence—of David Horowitz’s scheduled debate at Brown.
Here’s some alarming data on the extent of this hooliganism in the name of civil rights: The Student Press Law Center—which provides free legal help to student newspapers being censored or attacked by either school officials or other students—reports that since 1993, there have been 205 incidents of “offensive” student newspapers being stolen and/or burned.
At Brandeis University, for example, 2000 to 3000 papers were stolen and destroyed because of an ad that claimed the Holocaust didn’t happen. College student editors have asked me whether they should run that ad, and I’ve encouraged them to, and to respond to the ad. At Duke University, the editor printed the ad and was accused by a campus rabbi of “taking blood money.”
A month later, I was talking to a dean at Duke about another story, but I also asked her about the fallout from the anti-Holocaust ad. “It was wonderful,” she said. “Most of the students here had only a dim idea of what the Holocaust actually was, but the ad provoked a debate in the student paper, in classes, in forums on campus, and the students learned the truth about the Holocaust.”
By the way, despite the indignant claims of the Brown student who wants to shut us down, the Voice was not offered the Horowitz ad. Even fake radicals should get their facts straight.
Norah Vincent on campus speech and the Horowitz ad.