The Berkeley Free Speech Movement vs. Antifa

The mayhem occurring in Berkeley and other places where fascist "Antifa" thugs have been given latitude to intimidate, beat, and hospitalize anyone with whom they disagree invites comparisons to the debate over Islam versus terrorism in the name of Islam.  Have the Antifa thugs hijacked a great movement, the Free Speech Movement (FSM), which was born in Berkeley in the fall of 1964?  Or was that movement always suspect, dishonest, leading inevitably to the perversion we see on our streets today of First Amendment principles?

To answer that question, it would be good to hear more from the surviving veterans of the 1960s FSM than we do.  What do they think?

Google – that bastion of free thinking and tolerance, where search results are skewed to a progressive worldview and expressing a politically incorrect opinion can get you summarily fired from a non-political job – yields only a thin gruel of stories that reveal some of the FSM veterans' recently expressed views.  For example, last January, when the current disturbances in Berkeley were just starting to heat up with the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, a dozen or so such veterans co-signed an opinion piece in the Daily Californian, the U.C. Berkeley student newspaper.  True to leftist form, the piece was sharply critical of Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley Republicans.  Nevertheless, they argued that Yiannopoulos should be allowed to speak without being molested and that any violent protest against him would only give him undeserved martyrdom and his platform undue publicity.  To their credit, they expressed that while they disagree with what Yiannopoulos (or Ann Coulter or Ben Shapiro or [insert name of "right-wing provocateur" here]) has to say, they think he should be permitted to say it.  Not quite a Hall-Voltairian "to the death" defense, but it will do.

The signatories of that Daily Californian piece include Lynne Hollander Savio (widow of FSM leader Mario Savio), Bettina Aptheker, Robert Cohen, Susan Druding, Lee Felsenstein, Barbara Garson, Jackie Goldberg (former member of the California State Assembly and Los Angeles City Council), Steve Lustig, Anita Medal, Jack Radey, Gar Smith, and Barbara Stack.

Harder to find are people like Frank Bardacke, whose Wikipedia page is remarkably thin (another high-tech conspiracy or scandal?), considering his leadership role in the anti-Vietnam War protests in Berkeley and Oakland in 1965 (he did later write a book highly sympathetic to United Farmworkers union leader Cesar Chávez, who, by the way, was a staunch opponent of illegal immigration).  Jack Weinberg, whose arrest for circulating unauthorized political material on campus on October 1, 1964 sparked the mass protest that launched the movement, has made no public statement that Google seems able or willing to prioritize.

All of this is to say the defense of First Amendment principles by the self-proclaimed guardians of free speech in our era is rather weak.  If these FSM veterans and their erstwhile cheerleaders took themselves seriously, they should be all over CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and even Fox News every time Antifa shows up anywhere to denounce the latter as the antithetical to everything that they (the FSM veterans) fought so honorably for.  But somewhere between aging frailty and modern progressive indifference, they are virtually invisible.

The torch, then, has been passed – or dropped, if you prefer.  Picking it up are Young America’s Foundation, the Berkeley College Republicans, and every other group of the right or left that invites speakers with whom the radical progressive left disagrees with or feels justified burning towns and cracking heads over.  Conservatives are the legitimate defenders of the principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment.

Before the Free Speech Movement degenerated into the anti-Vietnam war protests for which Berkeley is famous, with hippies, pot, radical revolutionaries, and paramilitary tactics, the demonstrators appeared clean-cut, even conservative.  The men wore short hair, jackets, and ties, the women plaid skirts and white blouses.  Leftists and socialists allied with Students for Goldwater on the principle that what mattered most was the free exchange of competing ideas (someone please tell me how many Goldwater Republicans have been invited to give the annual Mario Savio memorial lecture).

Not everyone swooned over the FSM leadership's moral superiority, even in their heyday.  Ayn Rand was less sanguine about the movement's legitimacy.  In 1965, she wrote, "For its motley leftist leadership, the student rebellion is a trial balloon, a kind of cultural temperature-taking. It is a test of how much they can get away with and what sort of opposition and they will encounter. For the rest of us, it is a miniature preview – in the microcosm of the academic world – of what is to happen to the country at large, if the present cultural trend remains unchallenged."

Fifty-three years later, we have a long way to go.  In fact, we have more ground to recover than when the "mess at Berkeley" (thank you, Ronald Reagan) began.

Howard Hyde is author of the book Escape from Berkeley: An EX liberal progressive socialist embraces America (and doesn't apologize) He is a fellow of the American Freedom Alliance and editor of the website www.CitizenEcon.com.

The mayhem occurring in Berkeley and other places where fascist "Antifa" thugs have been given latitude to intimidate, beat, and hospitalize anyone with whom they disagree invites comparisons to the debate over Islam versus terrorism in the name of Islam.  Have the Antifa thugs hijacked a great movement, the Free Speech Movement (FSM), which was born in Berkeley in the fall of 1964?  Or was that movement always suspect, dishonest, leading inevitably to the perversion we see on our streets today of First Amendment principles?

To answer that question, it would be good to hear more from the surviving veterans of the 1960s FSM than we do.  What do they think?

Google – that bastion of free thinking and tolerance, where search results are skewed to a progressive worldview and expressing a politically incorrect opinion can get you summarily fired from a non-political job – yields only a thin gruel of stories that reveal some of the FSM veterans' recently expressed views.  For example, last January, when the current disturbances in Berkeley were just starting to heat up with the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, a dozen or so such veterans co-signed an opinion piece in the Daily Californian, the U.C. Berkeley student newspaper.  True to leftist form, the piece was sharply critical of Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley Republicans.  Nevertheless, they argued that Yiannopoulos should be allowed to speak without being molested and that any violent protest against him would only give him undeserved martyrdom and his platform undue publicity.  To their credit, they expressed that while they disagree with what Yiannopoulos (or Ann Coulter or Ben Shapiro or [insert name of "right-wing provocateur" here]) has to say, they think he should be permitted to say it.  Not quite a Hall-Voltairian "to the death" defense, but it will do.

The signatories of that Daily Californian piece include Lynne Hollander Savio (widow of FSM leader Mario Savio), Bettina Aptheker, Robert Cohen, Susan Druding, Lee Felsenstein, Barbara Garson, Jackie Goldberg (former member of the California State Assembly and Los Angeles City Council), Steve Lustig, Anita Medal, Jack Radey, Gar Smith, and Barbara Stack.

Harder to find are people like Frank Bardacke, whose Wikipedia page is remarkably thin (another high-tech conspiracy or scandal?), considering his leadership role in the anti-Vietnam War protests in Berkeley and Oakland in 1965 (he did later write a book highly sympathetic to United Farmworkers union leader Cesar Chávez, who, by the way, was a staunch opponent of illegal immigration).  Jack Weinberg, whose arrest for circulating unauthorized political material on campus on October 1, 1964 sparked the mass protest that launched the movement, has made no public statement that Google seems able or willing to prioritize.

All of this is to say the defense of First Amendment principles by the self-proclaimed guardians of free speech in our era is rather weak.  If these FSM veterans and their erstwhile cheerleaders took themselves seriously, they should be all over CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and even Fox News every time Antifa shows up anywhere to denounce the latter as the antithetical to everything that they (the FSM veterans) fought so honorably for.  But somewhere between aging frailty and modern progressive indifference, they are virtually invisible.

The torch, then, has been passed – or dropped, if you prefer.  Picking it up are Young America’s Foundation, the Berkeley College Republicans, and every other group of the right or left that invites speakers with whom the radical progressive left disagrees with or feels justified burning towns and cracking heads over.  Conservatives are the legitimate defenders of the principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment.

Before the Free Speech Movement degenerated into the anti-Vietnam war protests for which Berkeley is famous, with hippies, pot, radical revolutionaries, and paramilitary tactics, the demonstrators appeared clean-cut, even conservative.  The men wore short hair, jackets, and ties, the women plaid skirts and white blouses.  Leftists and socialists allied with Students for Goldwater on the principle that what mattered most was the free exchange of competing ideas (someone please tell me how many Goldwater Republicans have been invited to give the annual Mario Savio memorial lecture).

Not everyone swooned over the FSM leadership's moral superiority, even in their heyday.  Ayn Rand was less sanguine about the movement's legitimacy.  In 1965, she wrote, "For its motley leftist leadership, the student rebellion is a trial balloon, a kind of cultural temperature-taking. It is a test of how much they can get away with and what sort of opposition and they will encounter. For the rest of us, it is a miniature preview – in the microcosm of the academic world – of what is to happen to the country at large, if the present cultural trend remains unchallenged."

Fifty-three years later, we have a long way to go.  In fact, we have more ground to recover than when the "mess at Berkeley" (thank you, Ronald Reagan) began.

Howard Hyde is author of the book Escape from Berkeley: An EX liberal progressive socialist embraces America (and doesn't apologize) He is a fellow of the American Freedom Alliance and editor of the website www.CitizenEcon.com.