Who’s Exercising a “Heckler’s Veto” Now?

BY HANK REICHMAN

It had to happen.  In the latest instance of a campus speaker being shouted down and, in effect, prevented from speaking by protesters, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over DACA, was confronted, not by “antifa” liberal “snowflakes,” but by pro-Trump hecklers, who, according to an account on the website of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), “continuously shouted slogans and insults at Becerra and [Ian] Calderon,” Majority Leader of the California Assembly.

The event took place on October 5 but, in contrast to the glare of publicity focused on similar assaults on the free speech rights of conservatives like Charles Murray, its disruption received no publicity until Whittier alum Adam Steinbaugh posted his piece on thefire.org on Friday.  The incident also received a brief mention in a post by Stanley Kurtz at the website of the National Review.  A quick Google search for “Whittier Becerra” reveals no other coverage.

The details are relatively unimportant, but here’s some of Steinbaugh’s account:

The event, held in Whittier College’s Shannon Center theater, was free and open to members of the community, and featured introductions from both Whittier’s president and student body president. Becerra and Calderon were to have an hour-long question-and-answer session using audience questions randomly selected from a basket. As soon as they began the discussion, however, hecklers decked in “Make America Great Again” hats began a continuous and persistent chorus of boos, slogans, and insults. . . .

Video uploaded by two of the hecklers, Arthur C. Schaper and Harim Uzziel, captures the entirety of the affair, complete with chanted slogans and insults, such as “lock him up,” “build that wall,” “obey the law,” “respect our president,” “Americans first,” and “You must respect our president!” It also captures audience members repeatedly asking the hecklers to stop, and campus security officials approaching the group. . . .

Calderon asked the audience to hold applause or booing, remarking: “It’s important that we have a productive conversation here.” Becerra said that he thought the First Amendment to be a “precious thing,” but said he doubted the audience could hear him speak. The event, scheduled for an hour, concluded after about 34 minutes.

Steinbaugh’s post includes videos uploaded by a Whittier alum and by the hecklers, for those who want to see what happened for themselves.

Schaper, a conservative columnist, is known for disrupting Democratic events.  Last spring he called Los Angeles Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters “the crazy black lady” as he heckled her repeatedly at a town hall meeting until police removed him, to cheers from the crowd.

According to the Los Angeles Times,

Schaper, a 36-year-old unemployed Torrance resident and blogger, usually shows up at public meetings in his red Make America Great Again cap, wearing a Trump flag as a cape. He records his escapades on cellphone video, narrating in real time as he trolls in real life.. . .

He and roughly a dozen supporters and anti-illegal immigration activists have become a particularly unwelcome presence at city council meetings in places with large Latino immigrant populations such as Cudahy, El Monte and Huntington Park.

In recent weeks, they have shouted down a Riverside speech by state Senate leader Kevin de León (screaming “Anchor baby!”) and a Redondo Beach town hall by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu.

While Schaper has no qualms about disrupting those with whom he disagrees, he calls out identical tactics when they’re employed against his own side.  In a blog post in May entitled, “Suck it Up, Buttercups! America is Our Safe Space, Even for Hate Speech (Which Doesn’t Exist),” he wrote:

If you don’t like what you hear, you are free not to listen. You are not entitled, however, to shut down someone else’s exercise of liberty, whether in speech, the press, individual conscience, etc. America is indeed a safe space, you liberal pussy-hat wearing snowflakes. … Leftist organizations smear un-leftist rhetoric as “hate speech” in order to shut down the opposition and remove all challenges. … The “hate speech” controversy definitely explains why Middlebury College snowflakes shut down Charles Murray earlier this month.

The word “hypocrisy” somehow fails here.

Plaudits to FIRE for exposing and taking a stand against this latest case of the “heckler’s veto.”  But what is most striking has been the appalling silence about this event and about Schaper’s escapades more broadly among those who regularly wring their hands about the threat to free expression allegedly posed by the student left.  Take, for instance, Campus Reform, the right-wing website that regularly calls out left-leaning faculty members — often facilitating online harassment and death threats — and makes hay about even the slightest opposition to conservative speakers.  They are happy to take Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Center to task for its alleged silence on the threat posed by “disruptive protests,” but as of this morning there is nothing on their site about the Whittier event.  More important, where are those in the mainstream — Fareed Zakaria, Stephen Carter, or Jill Lepore, for examples — who have warned repeatedly that left-leaning student protests pose the main threat to academic freedom?

And this should also be a warning to those who, like me, are repulsed and outraged by the hateful garbage spewed out by the likes of Yiannopoulos, Coulter, Richard Spencer, etc.  Protest, by all means — visibly and vocally.  But beware that tactics aimed at silencing truly offensive speakers can as readily be used to silence those we respect.  As Whittier College said in a statement:

Whittier College strongly values and promotes debate and civil conversation.  Through exchange of ideas and listening carefully to people offering a different point of view we learn.  Perhaps students who were at the event learned something about why Whittier urges students to listen and learn from others, and when confronted with differences to try to find common ground.


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3 thoughts on “Who’s Exercising a “Heckler’s Veto” Now?

  1. Well presented, and very important, especially since the media in general seem reluctant to cover events that contradict their current narrative. And isn’t THAT shameful.

  2. Pingback: On Missing the Point About Academic Freedom and Free Speech | ACADEME BLOG

  3. Pingback: Media Coverage 10/16/17 – Berkeley Faculty Association | Our University Project

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