The latest campus speech controversy has been unfolding over the past few weeks on the campus of UC Berkeley. And now, speaker Ann Coulter has thrown the Young America’s Foundation under the bus for its part in the events.
Is that fair? Did YAF really back off in its support of Coulter?
No, and here’s why.
The Speech That Didn’t Happen
For those who haven’t followed this story, here’s a quick recap. UC Berkeley recently cancelled an April 27 speech by right-leaning author and pundit Ann Coulter. The UC Berkeley College Republicans and YAF both backed the speech, which would discuss immigration.
Specifically, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy claimed that administrators couldn’t find a “safe and suitable venue” for the event. There has been a recent increase in violence on campus and in the surrounding areas of the city of Berkeley in response to pro-Trump events and conservative campus speakers. The riots following Milo Yiannopolous’s failed attempt to speak at UC Berkeley are perhaps the most famous example.
UC Berkeley’s administrators argued they could guarantee the safety of either Ms. Coulter or the event’s attendees. The school offered an alternative date of May 2–which fell on a “dead week” before final exams, where fewer students would be able to attend. Coulter, YAF, and the Berkeley CRs rejected this proposal, and YAF threatened to sue.
However, YAF soon realized that it was at an impasse with UC Berkeley’s administrators. The group announced it could no longer support the event, and the Berkeley CRs also withdrew. Coulter cancelled shortly thereafter.
Coulter apologized on Twitter, and two of her tweets are highlighted below. (The rest are available on her official Twitter account.)
I’m so sorry Berkeley canceled my speech. I’m so sorry YAF acquiesced in the cancelation. And I’m so sorry for free speech crushed by thugs.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 26, 2017
It’s sickening when a radical thuggish institution like Berkeley can so easily snuff out the cherished American right to free speech.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 26, 2017
The Accusations Against YAF
In addition to her Tweets, Coulter was even more aggressive about YAF in a statement made to Fox News:
Coulter, YAF — which had helped organize and finance the event — and the Berkeley College Republicans initially fought the school’s decision, with YAF and the college Republicans filing a civil rights lawsuit on Monday. But by Wednesday YAF had “actively” opposed Coulter’s speech, she said, and “ordered the lawyer not [to] file for [a] court order” which would have mandated a room for the talk. The college Republicans are bound by YAF’s decision, Coulter said, “so there’s nothing more I can do.”
“I looked over my shoulder and my allies had joined the other team,” Coulter said in an email.
Other outlets picked up Coulter’s version of events. Far-right blogger and filmmaker Pat Dollard posted the story to his website. He titled his article “Coulter Pulls Out Of Berkeley Speech As Chickenshit Young America’s Foundation Cowers At The Feet Of Antifa.” Lifezette, the website of radio host Laura Ingraham, published a story that said YAF “caved and withdrew.”
One outlet, the405Radio, went a step further than just echoing Coulter’s tone, making new accusations against YAF. The site’s unnamed writer claimed that YAF “doesn’t have the belly to stand” in the face of violence and threats. He or she also said that it’s “easy for conservatives to sue for free speech” instead of actually standing up for it.
In short, Coulter and her allies have accused YAF of weakness. YAF failed to support her, abandoning its own principles in the face of violent opposition from Antifa.
…But Is This True?
This is the version of events many of Coulter’s supporters have adopted and spread. But this version of events could not be further from the truth.
During event planning, YAF discovered that “the University of California Police Department at Berkeley has an official ‘stand-down’ policy for any situation that develops on campus as long as the situation doesn’t involve the imminent loss of life.” This gave protesters a free pass to riot, and YAF’s own statement on the subject indicated that its greatest concern was student safety.
As a result, YAF demanded that, as a part of its scheduling, the school enact a zero tolerance policy for masked agitators, and coordinate with the City of Berkeley’s police force to secure the event. This demand was entirely justifiable, and necessary.
In a new update released today, YAF argues that this breakdown led them to back out of the event:
Please note, the university blocked every effort to provide a venue required to sponsor an educational event with Berkeley students.
At no time was there ever a space or lecture time confirmed for Ann to speak. Conservatives shouldn’t be relegated to speaking outside under the threat of violence when numerous liberal speakers are given venues at any time they wish.
YAF has learned from harsh experience that these protections are necessary. When conservative journalist and attorney Ben Shapiro tried to speak at CSULA last year, protesters blockaded both the main and back entrances to the school. Some small fights broke out among protesters outside the venue, and someone in the crowd molested a deaf event attendee.
What Coulter Won’t Ever Admit
Coulter’s version of events hinges on people not knowing one really important fact: YAF didn’t actually stop Coulter from speaking.
Think it through for just a minute. Coulter had to have been included on at least some, if not all, of the conversations between YAF and UC Berkeley. She would have known in advance about the security issues and Berkley’s refusal to cooperate with YAF’s demands. She could have made security arrangements on her own: after all, Coulter isn’t exactly poor. Plus, YAF’s statement even said she was still free to speak if she wanted to do so.
Coulter could have still shown up at UC Berkeley on her own, with her own bodyguards and entourage. Hell, she didn’t even have to actually speak. She just needed to show up somewhere on campus, get protesters angry, and be hurriedly escorted out for her own safety. A “Milo 2.0” event would have given her huge publicity.
However, Coulter wouldn’t have been protected by YAF or the Berkeley CRs if she went on her own. It would have been her own people on the line, and not student activists or institutional proxies.
This makes Coulter’s cancellation even more significant. She was 100% free to decide to speak on her own… but made the exact same choice YAF did to back out.
Doesn’t that make it just a teeny bit hypocritical for Coulter and her allies to accuse YAF of being weak?
Fighting Smarter, Not Harder
Free speech at UC Berkeley is a modern civil rights battlefield. Being a conservative or libertarian–or even being right-curious at all–at UC Berkeley comes with real risks. Without law enforcement protecting students’ rights, they could be seriously injured or killed by rioters.
Coulter had drawn a red line, so to speak, saying that she absolutely would come to speak. But when UC Berkeley waffled on YAF, Coulter would have had to push forward on her own. And she blinked.
Coulter wants to look tough and get media attention without actually putting herself on the line. Throwing YAF, one of the most prominent pro-conservative organizations in America, under the bus is her way of saving face. “I totally wanted to do this, but THEY didn’t let me” is a childish defense, at best. But sadly, her most ardent allies–who now consist mainly of alt-right proponents and Trump supporters–are buying it.
It takes courage to stand up and fight. But it takes greater courage to pick smart battles, even if that means looking weak or taking losses in the short term. YAF has a strong case against UC Berkeley: even the liberal ACLU voiced its support for Coulter’s right to speak. YAF’s legal victory will secure greater liberty for more students down the road–and with less risk of bloodshed.
There is nothing cowardly about that decision, no matter how much Ann Coulter or her allies may try to complain in the short term.