First Amendment

Hurricane Shapiro descends on Berkeley

Mike Baker

What with all the actual, sad death and destruction visited upon Houston and much of Florida as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, you may have missed the recent reporting on another storm brewing over on the West Coast. 

Just the other day, the Los Angeles Times, never a media outlet prone to hyperbole in defense of progressivism, created a headline stating that the University of California Berkeley is bracing itself for the arrival of conservative speaker Ben Shapiro.  Apparently, according to reporting, Berkeley students, faculty and area residents are girding themselves for the impact of Hurricane Ben. 

Well, the day has arrived.  Thursday evening Mr. Shapiro descends on the campus of Berkeley as city officials and local police mount an unprecedented effort to avoid violence from sensitive people unable to process differing opinions. The Berkeley City Council, not known for being proponents of enhance security measures, has announced that the police will now be authorized to use pepper spray on any protestors who turn violent. 

And, in a rather surprising proactive measure, the Council banned certain items from the event site and surrounding area, including bricks and dynamite.  To be honest,  I assumed dynamite hasn’t been something you could legally tote around California since the Gold Rush. 

The administrators and faculty on Berkeley’s campus have likewise been preparing for the approaching storm.  Students and faculty alike have been offered counseling in the event they feel threatened by Mr. Shapiro.  I don’t know if you’ve seen a picture of the young fellow in question, but trust me, nobody would feel threatened bumping into Ben in a dark alley, even if he were wearing a clown suit and carrying a chainsaw.  Ben presents the opposite of threatening. He looks like he wants to sell you some encyclopedias…maybe ask your permission to go out on a chaperoned date with your daughter. 

So what is it that has the City Council taking unprecedented security measures -- the police sealing off city blocks surrounding the event site and the campus providing safe spaces and therapy for those in need?  It’s opinions…talk…words.  That’s it.  The impending storm simply consists of hot air.  Ben Shapiro, like any other speaker with an opinion, agenda or belief system, is scheduled to show up and… talk.  The horror of it all.

Now unlike the people in the paths of Harvey and Irma, the good folks of Berkeley can simply choose to ignore Hurricane Ben.  They don’t need to brace for anything, much less gird themselves.  And what exactly are they girding?  I don’t think girding has been a thing since the Middle Ages.

I know that I risk sounding condescending here, but if you don’t like somebody’s ideas or opinions, you can choose to ignore them.  Or, if you really feel strongly about it, have time on your hands or maybe think it’s a good way to meet people, you could go out and peacefully protest.  If you’re a bit of a wonk, you could organize a debate where the differing ideas are presented to an audience and then winners are announced, trophies handed out and everybody goes out for hot wings and beer later. 

Unfortunately, there’s a growing number of people, both on the left and right, who seem to think that words are violence.  Words may be hurtful, hateful or horrible, but they aren’t the same as actual violence.  And if you think the First Amendment is important, then you don’t get to pick and choose. You wouldn’t think this is something that would be necessary to reiterate on the campus of Berkeley, the birthplace of the free speech movement. 

The good news is that the last time Ben roared thru Berkeley, the reception was reportedly polite and respectful. The bad news is that since then we’ve seen the rise of Antifa and an increasingly harsh and divided political landscape.  Interestingly, in an admirable public relations coup, the propaganda wing of Antifa (short for Anti-Fascist), was able to convince people to refer to their fascist group as Antifa. Suddenly, wearing all black, putting on masks and trying to shut down differing opinions through bullying tactics is no longer considered fascist in some circles.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t care if Antifa wants to go out and protest peacefully.  The key word being peacefully. That’s their right and one of the beautiful aspects of America.  But thank God, and the Berkeley City Council, that anyone attending a protest now, for whatever reason, can’t bring dynamite to the party. 

Mike Baker is the Co-Founder of Diligence LLC, a leading global intelligence, security and risk management firm. Prior to starting Diligence, Mike spent over a decade and half with the CIA as a covert field operations officer. He is a regular contributor in the national and international media on intelligence, security, counterterrorism and political issues. He appears regularly on Fox News, as well as other major media outlets.