Antifa’s tactics can quiet free speech

What should never be normal is what we are now witnessing: those folks appointing themselves a freelance constitutional convention, editing out the rights they find vexing, and enforcing their new rules with the power of their fists.

Last week, conservative Ben Shapiro gave a speech. At Berkeley. And all across America, people watched their screens to see what sort of violence would erupt.

Reality was anticlimactic. Law enforcement was out in force, at an estimated price tag of $600,000. Concrete barriers were erected to hold back the liberal “antifa” (short for anti-fascists), and police obtained permission in advance to use pepper spray. Much of the campus was locked down and cleared out. Nine people were arrested. And so, Shapiro arrived, gave his speech and departed without the mayhem we’ve become accustomed to seeing at such appearances. And collective relief was sighed.

But how relieved should we be that this is what it takes to maintain order in the face of a speech? On the one hand it shows that even in the heart of antifa territory, police and authorities who are determined to control them can do so. That’s good to know (and gives the lie to chicken authorities who would give antifa a heckler’s veto). Yet, those authorities could be forgiven for feeling daunted, even aggrieved, when they realize that every speaker antifa doesn’t like means vast sums and considerable effort expended on turning your public spaces into a demilitarized zone.

I don’t have an ironclad date for when antifa became a recognizable, and destructive, force in our politics. But I really began to notice them around the time of President Donald Trump’s election, when I saw people defending their actions on the grounds that they were trying to stop Trump from being “normalized.” It was argued that protesting-as-usual — show up, mill around for a while, chant a bit and then go home to see how much news coverage you got — was inadequate to our uniquely dangerous historical moment. Stronger action was called for.

I think it’s safe to say that Trump has not been normalized by anyone. The media treat him with deep contempt — mostly earned, I’d argue, but still not the normal way you expect to see a president portrayed. Foreign leaders sure don’t seem to think he is normal, nor do the bureaucracy or the courts. And partisans on both sides are behaving distinctly abnormally. They do not see themselves as…

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