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Progressively Losing Freedom

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Winning elections is important, sure. But so is control of the streets. So is protecting the continued free exchange of ideas.

On college campuses, so-called “progressives” routinely dub speakers they dislike “fascists.” The former head of the Democratic National Committee now claims the horrifying things these “fascists” say qualify as “hate speech,” which falls outside First Amendment protection. Apparently, the new theory goes, what falls inside constitutional protection are the threats and acts of violence that “anti-fascists” wield both against the speakers as well as those coming to listen.

The old theory of the First Amendment — the one called “liberal,” interestingly enough, when I was young — has it that the Constitutional provision isn’t necessary to protect widely popular ideas, but, instead, to allow the free expression of ideas that inflame, even.

Yet, these mob attacks are not targeting speech that enrages the public as a whole. If they were, where are the Marxist, socialist or communist orators whose talks have faced violence and shouts of “shut it down”? No, even with the last century’s 94 million victims of communism buried in their graves, this sick political idea remains protected by its opponents’ respect for free speech.

On the other hand, upset a militant sliver of the left with an always-teetering chip on their shoulders and watch a conflagration ensue.

Neither Milo Yiannopoulos nor Ann Coulter speaks for the majority of Americans or even necessarily a majority of all conservatives, but neither do their ideas appeal only to the fringes of political thought. Nor do conservatives or libertarians universally agree with every theory or analysis produced by social scientist Charles Murray, author Heather Mac Donald, commentator Ben Shapiro or others who have been banned, shouted down, blocked by threats, roughed up and even sent to the hospital. But their ideas are serious and do find a great deal of support.

After her address at Claremont McKenna College was shut down, Mac Donald rightly called it “an exercise of brute totalitarian force.” The fascists are the violent, speech-stompers on the far left, who call themselves “anti-fascists” . . . without recognizing even a hint of irony.

The goal of the guillotine-esque gauntlet now fashionable on university campuses is simple and obvious: silence the expressions of views incompatible with their own, meaning conservative and libertarian views.

Nonetheless, while most Americans, including most liberals, find the violence against conservative speakers to be beyond the pale, our nation’s largest circulation newspapers have begun to call many of these disfavored speakers “provocateurs” — meaning “one who provokes.” This label in news reports serves to subtly shift responsibility for the disturbances to the speaker, rather than the violent, black-masked thugs who pepper-spray and beat their opponents down in the street, smash windows, set fires and destroy property.

The leftwing bias on university campuses has long been known, of course. Nearly 40 years ago, as a freshman at Westminster College — where Winston Churchill had delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech, warning of the danger of communism — most of my professors were socialists, Marxists and communists.

Since then, academia has done the seemingly impossible: moved further to the left. By all reports, this bias now affects not only which outside speakers might address students, but what students feel safe in saying on campus and in class and even writing in their papers — graded by the equivalent of the Gang of Four (the communists, not the band).

And with the success that violent suppression of speech has met thus far, expect things to get much worse. Already, the campaign to shut down “non-progressive” speech has metastasized beyond the leftist province of higher education.

Last week, the people of Portland, Oregon, celebrated their Rose Festival . . . well, within limits. And those limits were imposed by the threat of force from vigilantes on the left acting brazenly and publicly.

“The annual 82nd Avenue Rose Parade and Carnival scheduled for Saturday have been canceled because of threats against the Multnomah County Republican Party, a longtime participant in the parade,” the Portland Tribune reported. “In a Tuesday afternoon email, the 82 Avenue Business Association, which sponsors the Rose Festival-sanctioned event, said it canceled the entire event because [it] could not guarantee the safety of the community.”

The threats of violence came from the Direct Action Alliance, an “antifa”-styled group that “created a Facebook event called ‘Defend Portland from Fascists at the Avenue of Roses Parade.’ The group wanted to disrupt the march because of ‘Nazis and fascists’ participating.”

By “Nazis and fascists,” they mean you.

When members of one of the two major parties cannot march in a public parade because of the supposed inability of local police to prevent the threatened carnage on the streets, if they do, the issue of political violence ought become more paramount.

“This is nuts,” said Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld last week. “What we’re seeing is the first anti-free speech movement. And it’s from the progressive punitive mob coddled for decades by the media, entertainment industry and government. On campuses and their towns, the American flag is slowly being replaced with a white one. Speeches, now parades, what’s next?”

Speak now or forever hold your tongue.

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