Megan McArdle on the sudden willingness — even eagerness — on the part of progressive activists to move from agitation to literally beating up the objects of their hatred:
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Or so we were told by our mothers. But events on both sides of continent in recent weeks seem to belie that old adage. A new generation of protesters has come to the conclusion that words do hurt — and that therefore, extreme measures, up to and including physical force, are justified to keep them from being spoken.
At Berkeley last month, a riot broke out over a speech planned by Milo Yiannopoulos, a sort of professional conservative troll who worked for Breitbart until a scandal over some hebephilic remarks cost him his job and his book contract. This was not simply setting things on fire or breaking a few windows (though those would have been quite bad enough); multiple people seem to have been beaten by the “antifas” (anti-fascists). In the videos that have been released so far, the anti-fascists look a lot closer [to] Nazi brownshirts than the people they’re trying to stop. There was further violence this weekend in Berkeley at a pro-Trump march.
Then a few days ago, a speech by Charles Murray at Middlebury College in Vermont also turned violent, and a professor was injured as she walked with Murray after his speech. Murray has given his own personal account of what occurred, and a lengthy video of the proceedings is available on the web. They are not as frightening as what happened at Berkeley, but they are plenty horrifying enough: they shouted him down, refusing to allow him to speak, then banged on the building and pulled fire alarms when he was transferred him to a private room to do a streaming talk they were unable to disrupt. Finally, they tried to physically prevent him from leaving.
The fact that two different speeches triggered violence at two different campuses within the space of a month suggests that we may be entering into a new and more dangerous phase of the anti-free-speech movement. Free-speech advocates, particularly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, have done a great job pushing back against overweening college administrations that try to curtail the speech of students and professors. But these are actions coming from the students. Who do you sue to keep a mob of students from resorting to the heckler’s veto, or their fists, to combat ideas they don’t like?
As more than a few folks on the right have pointed out, if the “antifa” activists continue translating their distaste for certain words and concepts into actual violence, the right is significantly better armed and nobody in their right mind should want to provoke a descent into reciprocal violence when the other side has all the weapons.