When the Haters Come to Campus


Writing for the Seattle Times, Benjamin Woodard provides a timeline of events that occurred in the city on the day of Trump’s inauguration, events that culminated in the shooting of a man involved in a protest outside of a hall where Milo Yiannopolous was speaking.

Perhaps it is simply a problem with the reporting, but the explanation offered by the shooter does not make sense:

Police said a person of interest in the shooting turned himself in to UW police.

“But the man was released after telling investigators he fired in self-defense during a campus protest, according to two law-enforcement officials briefed on the case.

“One of the law-enforcement officials said the man who fired the gun claimed he had been assaulted before shooting the other man, whom he believed to be some type of white supremacist. Friends of the [victim], his attorney, and the socialist union he was allegedly part of, however, disputed that characterization.

“King County prosecutors said they would not make a decision Monday on potential charges.

“Harborview spokeswoman Susan Gregg said the victim improved to satisfactory condition and was moved Monday night out of the hospital’s intensive-care unit.

“The shooter, whom the Seattle Times is not naming because he has not been charged with a crime, sent a Facebook message about an hour before the shooting to Yiannopoulos, complaining that he was ‘sucker punched’ and that someone had stolen his Make America Great Again hat, police said. He wanted a new one, but Yiannopoulos did not respond.

“His Facebook page indicates he supports Trump, Yiannopoulos and the National Rifle Association.”

So, why would a Trump supporter feel threatened by someone whom he thought was “some type of white supremacist” and why would a white supremacist feel compelled to knock a “Make America Great Again” cap off the head of someone attending this event? Again, at a very basic level, it does not make sense, but the Far Right has been very willing to accept any narrative that frames the protesters as the miscreants, preserves own their ideological talking points, or at least keeps the facts ambiguous enough to be turned to any point that they want to make.


Likewise, the police actions following the incident may have been prudent, but they also serve to reinforce the narrative that present Yiannopolous’ supporters as the “real victims.” Consider this passage from another article for the Seattle Times, written by Steve Miletich and Susan Kelleher:

Word of the shooting made its way into Kane Hall, and Yiannopoulos briefly left the stage before returning.

“’If we don’t continue, they have won,’ he said. The crowd cheered.

“Once the speech ended, police told audience members to remove their Donald Trump hats and other gear before leaving. Officers escorted the crowd out through an underground parking garage as a crowd of about 250 people remained outside the building.”

Just to place all of this in a broader, needed context, here is a summary of another Yiannopoulos event, provided in the article by Miletich and Kelleher:

“In a speech last month at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, he mocked a transgender student, displaying her name and photo prominently on-screen. The school’s chancellor condemned the speech in a campus-wide email.”


Freedom of speech does need to be protected, even including aggressively offensive speech.

But it must be recognized and emphasized that this sort of speech is meant not just to provoke a response but, more precisely, to provoke a response that reinforces the nonsensically paradoxical narrative that if Yiannopolous and his followers are challenged on their hate, they are being victimized, and that ostensible victimization then justifies an escalation in the vehemence of their self-defense.

So, the issues here go beyond simply asserting competing sets of facts that serve competing values. The Extreme Right does not want to drown out its opposition. Quite the opposite: it requires the aggressive mischaracterization—the demonization—of the opposition because without such opposition, all it has to offer is its own talking points, and those talking points need to be shouted in full-throated defiance, or they will start to sound ridiculous and just mindlessly ugly to all but the most brain-dead diehards.

Thus, during the transition and into the week following Trump’s inauguration, the Far Right media has been floating fevered conspiracy tales about “Obama’s government in exile” and Hillary Clinton’s relentless shadowy schemes to undermine Trump’s legitimacy and to usurp his presidency by subterfuge. The Obama and Clinton of these tales bear no resemblance to their more mainstream or generally defined public personas, never mind the actual persons whom they are. Instead, in these tales, they are almost demonic figures because hate must be calibrated to what ostensibly provokes and justifies it.

So, this is the dilemma of the progressive opposition. The ideology of hate demands a response because to not respond is, in effect, to acquiesce to the warped values that drive it. On the other hand, because the purveyors of hate need to provoke a response, almost any response serves their purposes—can be twisted to reinforce their message among their followers. So, in responding to hate, progressive activists have to provide not only a very different message but also a very different tone. Specifically, they must avoid the histrionic rhetoric and the violent gestures of the haters. As Gandhi, King, and Mandela all recognized, adamant but peaceful opposition is not just the most morally consistent strategy in response to deeply ingrained hate, it is also the most politically effective strategy—and, ultimately, the only political effective strategy.


Woodard’s complete article is available at: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/northwest/how-the-shooting-at-the-uw-protest-of-milo-yiannopoulos-unfolded/.

Miletich and Keleher’s complete article is available at: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/police-release-man-arrested-in-uw-shooting/.



2 thoughts on “When the Haters Come to Campus

  1. Couldn’t racist speakers be held to a university standard that is presented to all speakers in advance, including rules such as not defaming individuals or marginalized minorities? We can’t do that in class, so why can a guest speaker do that in the auditorium? In the case where Milo put an image of a transgender student on the screen, an informed and empowered student projectionist would then have simply turned the projector and microphone off. And the university would have fined the speaker and sponsoring group afterwards, in a lawful manner that had been laid out in university policy, and possibly suspended the club’s rights to invite another speaker. It sounds lame and tame, but I think in most cases it would work. Faculty senates might also want to think ahead about what rules their universities would need in order that their facilities and campuses not be available for huge fascist/racist rallies. Even with such “civilized” rules, however, protestors play the key role. It’s tedious to have to keep coming out to protest, but it’s also a chance to get a more compelling and attractive message out there.

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