Tales From The Safe Space, Part 1 – California State University, Los Angeles

It’s not physical intimidation if you shout “no violence!” while you are doing it

If it strikes you as strange that an intimidating mob of student activists should be attempting to disrupt and shut down a speaking event by shouting “No Violence!” over and over, while physically preventing people who wanted to peaceably attend the talk from entering the theatre, then congratulations – you must be innocent and unschooled in the ways of the New Intolerance on campus.

Those of us who have the misfortune of observing and cataloguing such incidents, however, know that this is now an entirely routine tactic on the part of student activists who claim that their right to live in an ideologically pure, self-reinforcing bubble trumps the rights of others to speak or hear dissenting opinions.

Jennifer Kabbany of The College Fix gives a first-hand account of what it was like to be present at this mob, and the hostility which she witnessed – not even as the Reviled Speaker du jour (in this case Ben Shapiro), but merely as a bystander and journalist:

The demonstrators were upset conservative Ben Shapiro was slated to speak in the theater and they’d blocked the door leading into the venue.

As a journalist there not only to cover the protest, but also the speech, I made my way as far as I could toward the door. The entire lobby was choked with student protesters, but the closer I got to the door, the more intense things got.

People held signs touting various “diversity” slogans, and one or two rainbow flags waved above the crowd. Chants and shouts of “no hate speech” and “this is our school” peppered the moment.

Finally, I managed to squirm my way about 15 to 20 feet from the door. Then I could go no farther. Student protesters had filled the narrow entryway, and anytime someone would try to enter, they would throw up their hands, form a human wall-shield, and chant “no violence.”

I watched the intensity, the anger on the faces of students as they screamed and scowled at the Young Americans for Freedom representatives there trying to host the event. I watched as campus visitors tried to gain access and were physically blocked by protesters who looked all too willing to fight if it came down to it. The anger and vitriol was palpable.

Shouting and chanting “no violence!” while physically restricting the movement of people simply trying to go about their private business is now a commonplace tactic among student anti free speech zealots.

We saw much the same tactic being deployed against student journalists covering the University of Missouri protests, as Conor Friedersdorf noted in The Atlantic:

This behavior is a kind of safe-baiting: using intimidation or initiating physical aggression to violate someone’s rights, then acting like your target is making you unsafe.

“You are an unethical reporter,” a student says [..] “You do not respect our space.” Not 30 seconds later, the crowd starts to yell, “Push them all out,” and begins walking into the photographer. “You’re pushing me!” he yells. And even moments after vocally organizing themselves to push him, they won’t fess up to the nature of their behavior. “We’re walking forward,” they say, feigning innocence. Says one snarky student as the crowd forces him back, “I believe it’s my right to walk forward, isn’t it?” Then the photographer is gone, and only the person holding the video camera that recorded the whole ordeal remains. Ironically, he is a member of the press, too, which he mentions to one of the few protestors who is left behind.

By then, the mask has fallen.“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” an unusually frank protestor yells. “I need some muscle over here!”

The woman calling for muscle? An assistant professor of mass media at the University of Missouri … who had previously asked the campus for help attracting media attention.

As always, the “safe space” is a one way street, and those enforcing the safe space are free to use any verbal or physical means necessary to arbitrarily enforce it.

But those involved genuinely do not see the irony. Rather than seeking to foster an atmosphere where everybody is welcome on campus, these student activists are only too happy to vilify and seek to banish those people with conservative, traditional, wacky, offensive or just plain weird ideas – anything which doesn’t fit the new progressive mold.

Where once student activists eagerly sought to assert and defend their right to free speech in furtherance of their social and civil rights objectives, today’s students are more likely to go running to the authorities asking for “heretical” speech – basically anything which goes against orthodox thinking – to be banned.

This is insulting to those who find themselves censored, and frightening to those who find themselves on the receiving end of summary mob justice from the Safe Space Enforcement Squads. But it does most damage to those who the activists ostensibly claim to be protecting.

It infantilises grown adults (nearly all students are at least eighteen years of age, old enough to pick up a rifle and fight and die for their country) and makes the condescending assumption that they are too fragile and helpless to withstand having their ideas challenged, their lifestyle choices questioned or (to use the currently fashionable terminology) their experiences, even their existences “invalidated”.

As it happened, the event was cancelled before Ben Shapiro even turned up – CSULA’s president taking the counter-intuitive decision to silence free speech so as to better allow the “free exchange of ideas”. When Shapiro proceeded to turn up to speak anyway, with the president’s permission, a protester pulled a fire alarm in a bid to disrupt the speech, and ultimately Shapiro had to be escorted from campus surrounded by a police motorcade, out of “safety concerns”.

Another female student journalist was also aggressively and physically confronted, if not actually assaulted, at a protest about Ben Shapiro’s lecture.

Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight” showed us how the journalists investigating sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese learned that when priests were mysteriously marked as being on “sick leave” in church directories, this actually meant that they had been withdrawn from parish duties by the bishop, and quietly hidden away so as not to raise attention to paedophilia in the Church.

Similarly, if you run a Google or LexisNexis search for public events cancelled due to “safety concerns”, you can be reasonably certain that the events returned in the search results were effectively censored by detractors wielding the threat of violence. “Safety concerns” has become nothing more than a convenient code phrase used whenever free speech falls victim to the New Intolerance.

And yet we are supposed to believe that it is people like Ben Shapiro who threaten the safety of our university campuses.


Postscript: There’s a reason why this piece does not mention the subject of Ben Shapiro’s speech – because it doesn’t matter. So long as he was not engaging in criminal behaviour or actively inciting violence, having been invited he had every right to turn up and say whatever he damn well pleased. The fact that such an idea should be so shocking and alien to us now shows how deeply authoritarian and intolerant we have become as a society – and not only on university campuses.


Safe Space Notice - 2

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