Free Speech Is Under Attack On Minnesota’s Campuses

Today’s Star Tribune has a front-page story on the assault on free speech at the University of Minnesota, in which I am quoted:

The barricades were in place outside Anderson Hall, and a half-dozen police officers stood guard inside long before the guest speaker arrived.

Charlie Kirk, a 24-year-old conservative firebrand, was bringing his pro-capitalism, small-government message to the University of Minnesota on Dec. 5. And he clearly was expecting some blowback.

“Tonight I will be smashing socialism at the University of Minnesota!” Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, tweeted that morning. “Protests expected from the intolerant campus left. Will be fun!”

As it turned out, the protests — on one of the most frigid nights of the season — never materialized. But to Kirk’s fans, it’s a sign of the times that, in 2017, they could need police protection to bring a conservative speaker to campus.

“Here’s a guy who comes in and says free enterprise is better than communism and the United States is a great country, and he’s so controversial he requires armed guards on campus,” said John Hinderaker, president of the Center of the American Experiment, who attended Kirk’s speech. “We really have reached a point of insanity.”

When we approached Anderson Hall, the site of Charlie Kirk’s speech, traffic barricades had been erected and the entrance was being guarded by at least a half dozen armed officers, both from the University of Minnesota campus police and the City of Minneapolis. Attendance at the speech was by registration only, and after running the gauntlet of armed officers, we had to give our names at a desk just inside the entrance to the building.

The officers remained both outside and inside the hall through the conclusion of the program. While I don’t have any first-hand information, my understanding is that heavy security was provided because liberals had made bomb threats. As I listened to Kirk’s speech, I wondered what the police officers in the hall made of the situation. I can only assume they were mystified as to why their armed presence was required to protect a guy who advocates for free enterprise and defends the United States. Insanity does indeed reign.

Part of the problem is that at too many colleges and universities, spineless or openly pro-leftist administrations have tolerated and even encouraged violent protest. Leftists who destroy property, prevent speakers from being heard, and in some cases–e.g., Middlebury–engage in felonious assault, are generally punished minimally if at all.

Of course, the problem isn’t only limited to our campuses. Across a broad swath of the Left, hostility toward free speech has now become open. Antifa thugs prowl our cities, masked and armed with baseball bats and broom handles, attacking conservatives and sometimes police officers and mere passers-by. There is no difference between today’s Antifa and the Brownshirts of the 1930s, and yet it is hard to think of a single Democratic Party politician who has denounced violence on the Left.

What is the solution? Government at all levels needs to be vigilant in protecting the Constitutional rights of Americans–which is, after all, its most fundamental duty. And for the most part, local governments carry out this responsibility very well. College administrators need to take free speech as seriously as our police generally do. (I am so old that I can remember when some people thought that university presidents were more reliable defenders of free speech than police departments.) And we as Americans need to rededicate ourselves to a defense of our country’s founding principles.