Angela Davis purchased the firearm that was used to kill a judge.
Everyone believes in free speech. But not everyone honors it.
Free speech doesn’t mean that speakers should not be challenged about their views. It does mean that speakers will not be prevented by mob action or institutional policy from expressing their views. But that is exactly what is happening today on college campuses and more widely in the media, in the workplace, and elsewhere.
Free speech is the cornerstone of democracy. It requires that everyone be able to express his views freely in any setting. Today free speech is under assault everywhere, even in western democracies.
Where are these attacks on free speech coming from?
A TALE OF TWO SPEAKERS
It is useful to contrast the experiences of two commentators—one from the right, the other from the left. The former is represented by conservative political scientist Charles Murray, the latter by Angela Davis, who has described herself as a feminist, black, queer, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist revolutionary.
Although Murray and Davis are just two individuals, what happened to each of them is typical of the progressive-conservative divide in America today: free speech for progressives but not for conservatives.
Charles Murray is a prominent and controversial speaker and writer. He has influenced social welfare policies by arguing that they hurt the very people they are intended to help. He believes these policies should be ended.
Like most social conservatives, Murray emphasizes personal responsibility. He laments the debilitating effects of welfare policies that have weakened traditional family structure. He coined the term the“Law of Unintended Rewards.” This refers to the notion that any social transfer—-the free granting of money to the poor, single mothers and others—-increases the net value of the undesirable condition that led to the transfer. Here Murray is talking about such things as welfare payments that disincentivize work and encourage fathers to abandon their families.
Murray has alienated some on the left by suggesting that Jews might have good qualities. In 2007 he wrote that Jews, as a group, are outstanding achievers and that one of the reasons for this is their high IQ scores.
Murray’s book, The Bell Curve, has been a major source of upset for progressives and has led them to demonize him. In a small part of that book he discussed the enduring differences in intelligence between minorities and whites, as reflected on intelligence tests. He and his co-author argued that intelligence scores are one of the best predictors of social and economic success. This has led progressives to falsely accuse him of supporting eugenics. In fact, Murray has argued that “it seems highly likely…that both genes and environment have something to do with racial differences.”
Many progressives have supported efforts to prevent Murray’s free speech. This was in evidence at Middlebury College, a small liberal arts college in Vermont. In 2017, an organized mob of students and Antifa-style off-campus activists shut down Murray’s talk. As Murray began to speak, the audience of mostly hostile students turned their backs to him, held up placards and screamed slogans such as, “Your message is hatred. We will not tolerate it.” In the end Murray was forced to deliver his speech remotely to an empty room. As Murray and a faculty member left the campus they were assaulted by the off-campus activists who tried to prevent their car from leaving. In the ensuing melee, the faculty member suffered serious neck and brain injuries that required hospitalization.
A Far Left Speaker
Angela Davis is a popular and frequent speaker at many campuses across the country. She has been a professor in various minority grievance disciplines such as Ethnic Studies, and my favorite: the Department of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies.
Davis is a prominent proponent of the most extreme positions on the left.
She supports defunding the police, ending “mass incarceration,” dismantling the capitalist system, opposing colonialism, providing reparations for African Americans, and the full menu of far-left policies.
Predictably, Davis “supports the Palestinian people” by advocating policies that would end Israel’s existence. These include the “right of return” of Arab refugees and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose leaders admit that it seeks the end of Israel. Davis pushes the false narrative that the institutional racism faced by blacks in the US is mirrored by Israeli (she means Jewish) racism toward Arab Palestinians. She has been a long-time member of the Communist Party, although she claims to have left it.
Davis has a checkered history.
In 1970, Davis purchased a number of firearms. Several of these were used by Jonathan Jackson, a black 17-year-old, to take control of a courtroom where his brother was on trial. Just two days before the courtroom assault, Davis had purchased the firearm that was subsequently used to kill the judge in the case against Jackson’s brother. Davis’ firearms were used to take the judge, prosecutor and three jurors as hostages. In the ensuing police battle, the judge and three defendants were killed. The prosecutor and a juror were also killed. Authorities learned that Davis had been corresponding with one of the defendants.
California authorities issued a warrant for Davis’ arrest. Because Davis had supplied the weapons in the assault, they charged her with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of the judge.
She fled the state. Subsequently the FBI placed her on the nation’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. The FBI apprehended her and in 1971 placed her on trial. A lawyer from the Communist Party USA defended her. She was acquitted.
I don’t know if the verdict was correct. But there is no question that she supplied firearms to a child and thereby enabled horrific murders.
In the ethically-challenged world of academia, Davis’ questionable past was no impediment to a successful academic career. Progressives might argue that her acquittal proved her innocence and therefore she should not be denied an academic career. I smell hypocrisy here. No such deference was granted by progressives for George Zimmerman, who was also acquitted of murder charges—-in his case, for the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Nor have progressives ended their calls for “justice” against police officer Darren Wilson who shot and killed another black teen, Martin Brown, after Brown punched the officer and grabbed his gun. Both Zimmerman and Wilson were acquitted of all charges after extensive investigations and trials. Yet both men, unlike Angela Davis, remain villains to the left.
Angela Davis was, and continues to be, a hero to many on the far-left. The loved ones of the people killed by her firearms had no say.
One is Welcome, One is Not
Consider the contrast in experiences between Murray and Davis in addressing college campuses and other venues. Mob rule by progressives has effectively prevented Murray from speaking to all but the most conservative audiences. His sponsors must hire security personnel, an expensive and chilling impediment to Murray’s free speech. This is common when conservatives are invited to speak on college campuses.
For example, when conservative commentator Ben Shapiro spoke at the University of California at Berkeley in 2017, the university paid $600,000 for the extra security detail that was required. That same year the University of Florida paid about $500,000 in security costs for a speech delivered by white nationalist Richard Spencer.
By contrast, those who sponsor Davis’ talks never have to worry about violence from conservatives. They have no out-sized security costs. I am not aware of any instance in which Davis has been prevented from speaking or publishing her ideas, extreme as they are to most Americans.
Progressives would have us believe that they are the true defenders of liberal values. But there is nothing liberal about using a mob to intimidate and shut down free speech.
When it comes to free speech, I side with conservatives. They will not shut me down, even if they disagree with my ideas.