Will Colleges Ever Crack Down on Anti-Free Speech Violence?

March 8, 2017

by Maggie Gallagher


Last Thursday, American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray attempted to give a talk at Middlebury College.

A disorderly crowd shouted him down for 40 minutes, whereupon he and his interlocutor Prof. Allison Stanger moved to a back room and did a livestreamed event.

As they left the building, a mob of masked students and non-students tried to physically manhandle Murray and Stanger (who was holding his arm). Stanger ended up in the hospital and a neck brace.

In many ways, Middlebury has responded admirably. Laurie Patton, Middlebury’s president, came to the event and spoke for the principles of free speech. A campus official warned the students that unlawful disruption would result in penalties up to and including suspension.  On March 6, Patton sent a letter to students and faculty, promising those involved in disrupting the event would be held accountable. Those who participated in violence, she is leaving to the Middlebury Police Department, and she promised the school would “cooperate fully in that investigation.”

Middlebury could be an inflection point in the crisis of suppression taking place in American universities. It probably helped that the mob attacked not only the alleged “white nationalist” Charles Murray but injured a member of the liberal tribe as well.

But in one crucial way, Middlebury did one thing wrong: no one called the police.

After the Berkeley riots and the Seattle shooting, Middlebury had to know violence was now a real possibility. Did the administrators have a plan that included calling the cops? Or was the plan to not call the cops?

In the days before Murray spoke, not just student activists but faculty protested his invitation — many of them admitting they had never read Charles Murray’s work but knew he was a “white nationalist” because the Southern Poverty Law Center said so.

A local news source, VTDigger, repeatedly referenced the Southern Poverty Law Center’s slur against Murray, for example, in this February 26 story: “The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified Murray as a “white nationalist” who has used ‘racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.'”

This marks the second time a listing as a hater, bigot, or racist by the Southern Poverty Law Center has helped spark a violent response. The first time, a gay activist named Floyd Lee Corkins II showed up with a gun and a backpack full of ammo at the Family Research Council, and shot the heroic building manager who frustrated his plans. He told the FBI he got his target from the SPLC’s list and also that he intended to “kill as many as possible and smear the Chick-fil-A sandwiches in victims’ faces, and kill the guard.”

And yet, at Middlebury, while a mob was pounding on Murray’s car and blocking its exit, the local police were still not called. They were not called when a campus administrator told Stanger and Murray the mob had discovered their dining place on campus. Stanger tells the story on her Facebook page:

What I want you to know is how it felt to land safely at Kirk Alumni Center after taking a decoy route. I was so happy to see my students there to greet me. I took off my coat and realized I was hungry. I told a colleague in my department that I felt proud of myself for not having slugged someone. Then Bill Burger charged back into the room (he is my hero) and told Dr. Murray and I to get our coats and leave—NOW. The protestors knew where the dinner was. We raced back to the car, driving over the curb and sidewalk to escape quickly. It was then we decided that it was probably best to leave town.

The Addison County Independent spoke to local police the next day: “Sgt. Mike Christopher of the town of Middlebury Police Department said local officers were on campus but hadn’t heard about the attack.”

What does it take to get college officials to call the police to deal with criminal assaults?

I wrote a few weeks ago about the Berkeley riots:

With a violent masked mob of 100 to 150 people creating as much as $600,000 in property damage, just one person was arrested. This was no accident. This was a deliberate police policy: “At Berkeley, the police officers felt that trying to get in the middle of the crowd would’ve sparked more violence and resulted in more severe injuries. They chose not to try to arrest the black bloc protesters, because they felt it would have compromised the safety of their students,” Inside Higher Education reported.

Other college law enforcement officials praised that approach: “It always could be worse,” University of Maryland College Park Police chief Mitchell said. “The property damage was disappointing and absolutely unlawful, but that certainly could’ve been worse as well. I applaud the way they handled the incident.”

To the contrary, I wrote, “I applaud the way the NYPD handled Black Bloc protesters who tried to violently disrupt an NYU speech by libertarian Gavin McInnes the day after the Berkeley riots. Cops immediately moved in and arrested 11 people.” When protestors moved from shouting insults to pushing, shoving, and throwing punches, police quickly put them up against cars and in handcuffs. (See the video at the end of this story.)

I’m glad the Middlebury cops have the job now. But their work of arresting the violent would be a lot easier if they had been there at the time. Prof. Stanger might not need a neck brace.

Students, teachers, speakers: If you are at an event on a college campus where violence breaks out, call the police.

Campus officials: Recognize that what you are doing — when almost no one who uses violence gets arrested — is giving the mob a license to attack minority viewpoints. You are doing it.

Don’t.

Photo credit: Meg Stewart via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0


Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.

Archive: Maggie Gallagher

One comment on “Will Colleges Ever Crack Down on Anti-Free Speech Violence?”

  • Edmund P. Riely Jr. says:

    Maggie, you nailed it. These people act like the Nazi students of the 30s they claim to dread. Many of them are just pampered thugs.
    Bad dogs learning more bad tricks from other bad dogs.

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