The World from Inside the Far-Right Bubble: What Happened at an Anti-Abortion Demonstration at UC-Santa Barbara

Bill Maher often describes the Far-Right’s distorted perspective on the world as being inside the “bubble.”

Here is an illustration from a university campus of how an event can be treated as a significant story inside that “bubble” and not receive any notice elsewhere.

The Far Right media would argue that this dichotomy is just further evidence of how the “mainstream, liberal media” choose to ignore completely some very significant stories. But beyond the fact that the “mainstream media” and the “liberal media” are clearly distinct, it seems very clear that an event framed as a major story by one segment of the media and completely ignored by the rest of the media has much more partisan political interest than general news interest.

Here is the gist of the story. A pro-life group was holding a demonstration on the University of California-Santa Barbara. The centerpiece of the demonstration was apparently a group of banners and posters depicting the “horrors” of late-term abortions. A professor of feminist studies, Mireille Miller-Young, joined a sizable group of students who were offended by the materials. At some point during the exchanges between the two groups, the professor apparently made off with one of the banners that she thought was especially offensive. The pro-life students then followed the professor back to the building in which she has an office, and some sort of ongoing tussle ensued over possession of the banner. A student who was scratched on the arm during this incident then accused the professor of having assaulted her. (Photos of the student’s arms show several pink scratches.) Apparently the incident is “under investigation,” though who knows what that actually means.

I have no idea what actually occurred, and having done a news search on the incident, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer really care what occurred because there are no news reports from reliable sources. I have also done a Google search on the professor, and she seems to have produced a fairly substantial body of scholarship in her area of expertise, which is the depiction of Black women in pornography. In fact, of the first hundred hits in a Google search of her name, 75% to 85% of the results are related to her scholarship. The other 15% are Far Right “news reports” on this incident, and the slant of that coverage very clearly indicates much more about the political biases of the commentators than about the actual incident or the value of professor’s scholarly work.

Here’s what Rush Limbaugh had to say about the incident:

“So what do we have here? We have hyphenated name? Check. Teaches multicultural nonsense? Check. Attracted to perverted and worthless areas of academic emphasis? Check. Instinct to lash out violently at those who disagree with her? Check. Resorts to violence when she doesn’t get her way? Check. Logical conclusion: She is a madcap leftist and she has tenure. She is teaching young skulls full of mush, inculcating them with this worthless drivel that their parents are paying through the nose for.

“Now, you might say, ‘Rush this has always gone on.’ Not to this degree, folks.

“The higher education curriculum has been in the process of being corrupted by militant feminazis for I don’t know how long, but it is continuing to normalize what 10 years ago were extremes. The extremes 10 years ago are the normal today. The extremes 15 ago are the normal. A professor teaching a course in black cultural studies, pornography, and sex work on her faculty Web page?

“You don’t think people being educated with this kind of drivel are gonna come out of school confused and thinking they’ve actually learned something? And this is just one professor at one school with one particular area of the curriculum, and it’s happening all over.”

That’s quite an apocalyptic rant on such a small incident. I had not realized that it illustrated the complete bankruptcy of American higher education and the corruption of the minds and souls of American youth.

Not to be outdone, World Net Daily provided the following account under the headline “Porn Professor Goes Berserk on Campus“:

“A professor of feminist studies who specializes in teaching pornography, queer theory and black film is accused of going berserk at a California pro-life demonstration last week, stealing and destroying an anti-abortion sign and assaulting a teen girl who tried to retrieve it.

“Police are now investigating the events involving Mirielle Miller-Young, who teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“According to the Santa Barbara Independent which first broke the story, Miller-Young came across the pro-life display sponsored by the Christian pro-life group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust on March 4.

“Thirteen members of the group had posted banners and literature which displayed graphic imagery of late-term abortions designed to spark conversations with passing students.

“Joan Short, a 21-year-old student at Thomas Aquinas College and a member of the pro-life group, told the paper Miller-Young exchanged heated words, complained about the anti-abortion message, and led the gathering crowd into a chant of “Tear down the sign! Tear down the sign!” before grabbing a banner and walking with it across campus.

As Joan called 9-1-1, her 16-year-old sister, Thrin Short, began recording the events on a smart phone, as the pair followed the professor and two of her students into a building to try to retrieve the banner.

“Police later found the sign destroyed.

“Miller-Young declined comment to local media, but has reportedly retained legal counsel.

“’It is a pending matter, so it is not appropriate to comment at this time,’ said attorney Catherine Swysen. ‘We will let the process take its course. I am confident that it will become clear that the events did not unfold as the anti-choice demonstrators say they did.’

“Joan Short on her blog noted: ‘Nothing like this has ever happened to me before and I hope it will never happen again, but it did not destroy the work that we did. We were able to handle individuals. What we did not expect to encounter was a professor inciting a mob. Although we were interrupted, we reached a lot of students.’”

The National Review ran the story under the headline “Feminist Studies Professor Accused of Attacking Teenage Female Pro-Life Demonstrator.”

LifeNews offered this headline: “Feminist Studies Professor Leads Angry Mob to Assault Pro-Lifers.”

And the Daily Caller went with: “‘Feminist Studies’ Prof Accused of Physically Assaulting 16-Year-Old Girl for Opposing Abortion.” (The quotation marks around “Feminist Studies,” substituting for the phrase “so-called,” is a subtly derisive touch probably lost on most of the site’s readers.)

Of course, several things are quite obvious to anyone reading these stories carefully.

First of all, the anti-abortion demonstrators were not even on their own campus.

Second, despite the antagonism that their banners and signs provoked—and were clearly intended to provoke, they are depicted as if they were the completely innocent victims of mob violence.

Third, there is no evidence that the professor actually ever laid even a finger on the young woman who has accused her of assault. The use of inflammatory language such as “goes berserk,” “attacks,” and “assaults” is very clearly completely inconsistent with a tussle over a banner that resulted in a couple of very light scratches on an arm. For all we know, the professor herself may have ended up with several light scratches on her arms.

And, finally, the fact that the young woman made a complaint is framed as if a police investigation has already resulted in charges being brought and the professor has been found guilty of assault. If that were the case, we wouldn’t even need a judicial system. We could leave it to Limbaugh and the rest to literally as well as rhetorically pass judgment and impose a sentence. I can’t help but wonder what kind of sentence would be appropriate for a couple of light scratches on an arm. Maybe a week on one of those cruises featuring the “stars of the Conservative movement.”

8 thoughts on “The World from Inside the Far-Right Bubble: What Happened at an Anti-Abortion Demonstration at UC-Santa Barbara

  1. The youtube video of the incident is now available. While it doesn’t show the professor actually grabbing the sign, it does show her escorting two other women with the sign through campus and onto an elevator. It also shows her physically touching the girl. While it wasn’t a very malicious attack, there was contact. And at the very least there was theft. As a professor and an adult, she should have known better.

    • I don’t know Prof. Miller-Young. But if I were her, I would be having some second thoughts about having taken the sign.

      But I also know that age doesn’t make us immune to provocation–that there is very often a very thin line between staunchly defending and unintentionally undermining causes about which one feels a passionate commitment.

      Every time that I am at a political rally, it occurs to me that if someone clicks a camera at almost any given moment, I may end up looking more like an old lunatic than like a person with a lifelong commitment to progressivism.

  2. The fact that these demonstrators were not on their own campus is completely irrelevant, as is the fact that they were being intentionally provocative. Stealing signs is always wrong. But I do agree that the right-wing’s rhetoric is over the top. Let’s imagine a similar case of a left-winger’s sign being taken. Wait, we don’t need to imagine it. Let’s use a similar case at Barnard-Columbia, where a sign from Students for Justice in Palestine was removed by the administration because it offended people by showing a drawing of historic Palestine (http://youngist.org/post/79469339434/barnard-college-censors-students-for-justice-in). Obviously, an official action of censorship by an administration is worse than the censorship by one misguided professor. Yet the Columbia sign controversy has received far less attention than what happened at UCSB.

    • I should have been clearer. I wasn’t pointing out that they were from a different institution or that they were being provocative in order to suggest that they had less right to be on the campus or to express their views; rather, I was trying to indicate that the characterization of them as the almost guilelessly young victims of mob violence is very obviously a one-sided exaggeration.

    • Some victims are much more clear-cut than others.

      If a group provokes its own victimization for political purposes, then the degree to which it is sympathetic for its being victimized depends a great deal on what it stands for and how it makes that stand.

      For instance, when civil rights advocates have protested nonviolently and have become the victims of institutionally endorsed violence simply because they have refused to disperse, it is hard to argue that they are not demonstrating considerable moral courage.

      In contrast, when the Klan has scheduled marches through largely African-American or Jewish neighborhoods to deliberately provoke a violent response and to attract media attention to its hate-filled rhetoric, it is hard to argue that they are not simply abusing the very free-speech protections that they would deny to many others.

      I have deliberately chosen two extreme examples to illustrate the two ends of the spectrum. I don’t think that these anti-abortion protesters are at either extreme.

      But I do think that the Far Right media hype about their victimization has so far exceeded their actual level of their victimization that it is difficult to not view the whole thing as a largely contrived controversy.

      So while blaming the victim of a violent crime is always inappropriate, there are real issues in this instance related to what crime was actually committed and what constitutes actual violence.

      When the police have turned fire hoses on civil rights protesters, the water pressure has inflicted injury–and sometimes very serious injury–on those protesters. The impact–physically and politically–would have been much less if the fire hoses had been garden hoses and the protesters had simply gotten wet.

      In short, there are issues of proportion, which again is a hallmark of most largely contrived controversies..

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