Marc Thiessen: In Berkeley, Shapiro spoke but Antifa won

Editor's note: The following column is adapted from a post which originally appeared on, the blog of the American Enterprise Institute.

Last week, when conservative commentator Ben Shapiro delivered a terrific speech at the University of California-Berkeley, it seemed like a victory for free speech on college campuses. Despite the threats of the radical, neo-Communist Antifa movement, they were unable to prevent Shapiro from appearing.

The university did not back down in the face of violent threats. Chancellor Carol T. Christ sent a letter to students, in which she declared, “We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.” True to her word, the school reportedly spent $600,000 on security for the event. The Berkeley City Council lifted a 20-year ban on police officers using pepper spray to control protesters, and the city deployed 700 police officers to the speech venue (since the university only allowed 1,094 people inside, there were almost as many police as audience members). But thanks to these unprecedented security measures, the speech went off without a hitch. There were nine arrests, but no acts of violence.

Free speech wins, right?


The idea that such massive security was needed for a lecture by Ben Shapiro is absurd.  Shapiro is not a neo-Nazi. He is an Orthodox Jew, who was named last year by Anti-Defamation League as the No. 1 media target of anti-Semitic hate. He is not even a member of the alt-right. He opposed Donald Trump’s election, and quit, a site he said Steve Bannon had turned into “Trump’s personal Pravda.” Shapiro is a smart, clever, mainstream conservative.

To put that figure in perspective, in-state tuition at Berkeley is $13,485. So Antifa forced the university to spend enough money on security to cover the full tuition costs for more than 44 underprivileged students.

Yet it cost $600,000 to allow him to speak on campus.

That is why Antifa won. Without breaking a single window, or smashing a single head with their shields that say “No Hate,” these radical leftists succeeded in imposing a $600,000 tax on conservative speech at Berkeley. Just the threat of neo-Communist violence was enough to force the school to spend more than half-a-million dollars to protect Shapiro and the students who wanted to listen to him.

To put that figure in perspective, in-state tuition at Berkeley is $13,485.  So Antifa forced the university to spend enough money on security to cover the full tuition costs for more than 44 underprivileged students.

The university ate most of those costs, but required the student group organizing the event to pay a $9,000 security fee. Not a lot of conservative student groups on college campuses today have $9,000 to spare for security for campus speakers. For most, that is more than their annual operating budget. Fortunately, the Young America’s Foundation — an organization that supports conservative students on college and high school campuses — was able to cover those costs. But so long as the threat of Antifa violence remains, every college conservative group will have to factor security costs into their budget for bringing conservative speakers on campus — which means they will invite fewer conservative speakers.

And that is only if other colleges and universities show the same backbone as Berkeley.

Indeed, Middlebury College has already shown Antifa how it can shut down events on its campus with threats of violence. In its newly issued “Interim Procedures for Scheduling Events and Invited Speakers” (which might be better titled “Interim Procedures for Getting Conservative Events Cancelled”), the school announced that it will conduct a special review of “any events that are a likely target of disruption, threats, violence, or other acts of intimidation, or are likely to draw unusually large crowds.” It adds that it will implement security procedures and that “only in cases of imminent and credible threat to the community that cannot be mitigated by revisions to the event plan would the president and senior administration consider canceling the event.”

Here is what Antifa heard: if we pose an “imminent and credible threat,” we can cancel events at Middlebury.

Nowhere in Middlebury’s procedures was there an echo of the message Berkeley’s Chancellor delivered before Shapiro’s lecture: “We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.” Little wonder, as this is the same school which allowed radical students to shut down a speech by my AEI colleague, Charles Murray, with near-total impunity. He and the professor who invited him were attacked by a mob as they left the building, including students wearing ski masks. The professor had to be taken to the hospital. No one was suspended or expelled.  Indeed, Murray recently pointed out that “only one school, Claremont McKenna, has suspended or expelled students who have shut down speeches, participated in violent riots, or physically threatened speakers over the last few years.”

Instead of providing a roadmap for how to cancel an event, the message from Middlebury and every other college in America should be: “If you disrupt a speaker you will be removed; if you’re a student, you will disciplined; and if you engage in violence, you will be expelled and prosecuted.”

Since radical students do not seem to fear college administrators, force them to face the only people they likely do fear: their parents. Force them to explain to mom and dad how they got kicked out of college for trying to shut down a campus speaker.