Berzerk at Berkeley
By Dan Flynn
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 7, 2001
DAVID HOROWITZ'S INSTINCTS were right in attempting to take out an ad in
the Daily Californian. If you're a conservative, paying for your right to
speak is just about the only way for your ideas to reach a large audience
on a campus as inhospitable to free thought as the University of
California-Berkeley. Conservative views, after all, are scarcely to be
found amongst the faculty, officially invited guest lecturers, or on the
op-ed page of the Daily Cal. When conservatives do speak out at Berkeley,
they are shouted down and threatened.
I know this from experience.
Last semester, I was invited to speak at Berkeley by a group of
conservative students. My speech was shouted down by an angry mob and a
monograph I had written, Cop Killer: How Mumia Abu-Jamal Conned Millions
Into Believing He Was Framed, was the subject of a Nazi-style book-burning.
Even before I arrived on campus on September 27th, angry leftists began
their campaign of censorship. A banner in the student union advertising my
lecture was confiscated. Chalkings on the event were scribbled over.
Hundreds of posters announcing my lecture were torn down. A former student
senator who was caught ripping down fliers, told the event organizers who
caught him that he planned to "Sabotage [your] event" and "f--- shit up."
All of this occurred in the home of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s.
I was invited to campus to speak on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former
Black Panther who was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of
Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal, whose book Live
From Death Row has sold close to 100,000 copies largely through professors
requiring students to read it, has become the darling of the academic
left. Publicly professing your belief that he is guilty can get you into
trouble, as evidenced by computer viruses that have been e-mailed to me by
his supporters and two physical attacks upon me by devoted Mumiacs.
Before I uttered my first word at Berkeley, students began an orchestrated
campaign of shouting. "White-motherf---er!" "Racist!" and "Nazi!" were
among the shouts hurled my way. "You're a f---ing murderer!" one man
yelled, "Don't tell me you're not a murderer! You have blood on your
hands!" Others accused me of being an FBI agent. One man screamed, "You're
David Duke, motherf---er!" Perhaps half of the 175 students that packed
the room were there for the sole purpose of making sure that the other
half did not hear a word of the lecture.
As I attempted to speak, a black student invaded the stage and wrote
www.kkk.com on the chalkboard behind me. One student wore a T-shirt
stating, "I killed Daniel Faulkner," while an older audience member
shouted that Abu-Jamal should have been awarded a medal instead of jail
time for killing a policeman. Another particularly unclean man dropped his
pants and "mooned" me. He later attempted to rip the microphone's cord
from the wall.
As chaos ensued, I was asked to tell the audience that the police were on
their way and that they would be clearing people out who continued to yell
and scream. "They've been here the whole time," an audience member
shouted. "We f---ing invited the police." Indeed, it became clear very
quickly that the police were already there and that their presence was not
to ensure my right to free speech, but to reinforce the obstructionists'
right to silence speech. The only time that I observed an officer speak to
an audience member was when a man gently asked one of the disrupters to be
quiet. It was his benign request, rather than the anarchic yelling and
screaming, that sparked a UC-Berkeley officer to tell the man who had come
to listen to sit down.
Despite the disruptions, I decided to turn up the audio on the microphone
and continue speaking. My persistence in speaking, however, was largely
symbolic. No one beyond the first few rows could decipher my words amidst
the constant screaming. Although the mob had succeeded in ensuring that no
one could hear my lecture, I didn't want to give them the satisfaction of
forcing me to depart the podium.
At the conclusion of the event, the mob stole the remaining copies of my
Cop Killer monograph and held a book-burning. As the students circled
round the bonfire of books, some ironically held signs admonishing others
to "Fight Racist Censorship." I was given a police escort to my car
through a back door.
With not one Berkeley faculty member or administrator publicly condemning
the book-burnings or the censorship of my talk, I wrote the University's
chancellor for clarification regarding Berkeley's policy on free speech.
Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who didn't even bother to respond, had a deputy
write back to say, essentially, that the censorship of my lecture was my
own fault. The response was ironic considering Chancellor Berdahl's very
public claims embracing civil libertarianism. "No party to any debate^no
matter the number of people on any side^has the right to exclude speech
they disagree with," he announced to the campus as he opened the school's
Free Speech Caf one year ago. "This applies to the administration, it
applies to the students, the staff and the faculty."
His remarks lauded the school for carrying on the tradition of the Free
Speech Movement of the 1960s that began at Berkeley. "This is a legacy
that carries with it an obligation," he continued, "For if the University
is truly an institution rooted in democratic values dedicated to the
freedom of speech we must guard against impediments to this freedom and
always work to overcome the barriers that would limit speech. I speak of
the barriers imposed by authority. I speak of the barriers imposed by an
angry crowd's behavior which make it impossible for a speaker to present
his or her viewpoint. I speak of the barriers imposed by poverty and
unequal access to resources such as the media." His words were hollow.
The reaction of the student body was much less uniform. In the pages of
the student newspaper, some defended my right to speak. Others implied
that I should have been arrested. "If they're going to arrest the people,
they might as well arrest the speaker," remarked student senator Evora
Griffith immediately after the speech. Griffith noted that by inviting a
conservative to speak, the organizers "knew this was going to happen."
Another student senator drew a line between "free speech" and "violent
speech." "To me, one is protected under the law. The other abridges it and
the rights of communities of color on campus, and by that token, the
African American students had every right to tear down the signs of their
oppression." Despite the very violent speech directed against me, "violent
speech," he claimed, was the type of speech that I engaged in and that
needed to be stopped. Thankfully, a majority of the student senate didn't
buy his argument and formally condemned the censorship of my speech.
The book-burning of Cop Killer, the subsequent mob prevention of former
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking, and the
destruction of stacks of copies of the Daily Californian containing David
Horowitz's ad are all signs of how intellectually bankrupt the campus left
has become. In the intellectually cloistered world of Berkeley, students
who have never encountered conservative ideas don't have the means to
intellectually combat those ideas. Unable to defend its positions by
normal methods (i.e., debate, reason, etc.), the left resorts to
censorship to stop the other side from being heard. And what is it that is
so threatening to the campus left?
In my case, I offered that five witnesses implicated Abu-Jamal in murder,
a half dozen others reported that he confessed or otherwise incriminated
himself, his gun^containing spent shell casings that ballistically matched
the fatal bullet^was found at the scene, he wore an empty shoulder
holster, and was found nursing a chest wound from a return round from the
murdered policeman's gun. Compelling evidence, not just for a jury and
more than a dozen judges who have reviewed the case, but (judging by the
hysterical response of those at Berkeley) by the campus left as well. What
else, but a fear of the truth, would cause them to react in such a way?
In David Horowitz's case, he notes, among other things, that forcing
whites who never owned slaves to make payments to blacks who never were
slaves is unjust. This is a powerful argument. So powerful that the campus
left censored it.
Mumia Abu-Jamal enthusiasts know that any real discussion of the case of
their hero reveals him to be a fraud and a murderer. Likewise, defenders
of reparations for blacks who were never enslaved paid for by whites who
never owned slaves is a shakedown scheme that applies Marxist principles
The ongoing censorship of any speech contrary to the prevailing
ideological dogma at Berkeley is a disgrace. How else, but through
censorship, can the campus left continue to defend these indefensible
---- Dan Flynn is executive director of Accuracy in Academia and the author of Cop Killer: How Mumia Abu-Jamal Conned Millions Into Believing He Was Framed.
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