Welcome to the politics of confected controversy – a weird place where the President of the United States of America openly threatens to remove federal funding from one of the world’s premiere universities because it canceled an address by the tech editor of an online publication.
Of course, in all fairness, it’s not just any online tech editor, it’s Milo Yiannopoulos. He has parlayed his position at Breitbart News into a one-man juggernaut of right-wing provocation with his “Dangerous Faggot” tour of American colleges.
The denizens of the University of California, Berkeley – apparently unaware how the 21st-century game of political optics is played – fell for the provocation so perfectly, they might have been following a script. Engaging in pointless violence only seemed to prove Yiannopoulos’ argument: The Left feels threatened by free speech.
Yiannopoulos was scheduled to address an audience at UC Berkeley Wednesday night, but the university canceled the address after protests broke out around 5 p.m. and quickly devolving into violence. Protesters breached police barricades, threw rocks, broke windows, vandalized buildings and set fire to some outdoor equipment.
As the night wore on, the violence spread from the university’s campus to downtown Berkeley. Some protesters engaged in scuffles. Others appeared to clash with police, who reportedly used tear gas to disperse at least one violent crowd.
Like clockwork, President Trump (who has appointed Breitbart’s former executive chairman Steve Bannon as his chief strategist) took to Twitter to condemn the violence as an attack on free speech and issue a typically histrionic threat with a tweet: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
Trump’s sentiment was echoed by Yiannopoulos himself in a Facebook post, where he asserted: “One thing we do know for sure: The Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”
And so the kabuki cycle of provocation, infantile tantrums and stylized indignation continues.
It’s going to be a long four years.