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Hundreds turn out for David Horowitz speech, discussion

By Erika Fricke Daily Planet Staff
Saturday March 17, 2001

In the 1960s, then UC Berkeley master’s student and campus activist David Horowitz was hauled before the campus administration and disciplined for holding an unscheduled “rally” for a liberal cause.  

Horowitz told an audience of over 450 people Thursday night that he came back to campus to stop what he’d started. 

“Forty years ago I tried to start the ball rolling,” Horowitz said in an interview before the talk at the Valley Life Sciences building. “I’d like to spend my later years trying to roll it back.” 

Two conservative student groups, the Berkeley College Republicans and the Berkeley Conservative Foundation, invited Horowitz to campus after the student-run newspaper, the Daily Californian, publicly apologized for an ad it had run. The ad, written by Horowitz, listed 10 reasons why paying reparations for slavery was a bad idea. Among other arguments, the ad claimed that blacks had already received trillions of dollars in welfare payments and that blacks, like whites, had benefited from the wealth that slavery had helped to bring to the country. 

Many of Horowitz’ opponents on campus used words like “racist” and “bigot” to describe him. Comparing the word “racist” to the word “communist” Horowitz declared the current political climate on campus “racial McCarthyism.”  

In the McCarthy era, people who were called communists were stigmatized, censored and often lost their jobs. Horowitz implied that calling people “racist” was an effective way of censoring them. 

But Horowitz reserved his fiercest criticism for UC Berkeley officials, calling them the “parents” who should be overseeing students and fostering free speech. 

“It’s the job of the administration to protect political minorities,” he said. “There should be ethnic, religious and intellectual diversity.” 

Instead they create a climate where only certain liberal, progressive sentiments are condoned, he said, adding, “Apparently at this campus some ideas are too dangerous for the students or the university community to hear.”  

Horowitz claimed that protecting students from speech that makes them uncomfortable is part of a whole trend of treating minority students as if they are “weak, ill, and crippled.” Instead people should be able to handle challenges to their opinions. 

“I have no ill will to the students whose feelings were hurt by the ad,” he said, referring to the group of students who demanded a retraction from the Daily Californian. “I’m angry at the parents.” 

Horowitz did not explain why he held the university responsible for the apology issued by the editor of the Daily Californian. University spokeswoman Marie Felde refuted the implication that the administration has any control over the ideas presented on campus. “There are regulations that deal with the time and place of organized rallies and amplified sound,” she said. “The content of the speech is never regulated and it would never be here at Berkeley.”  

She said that Horowitz’ presence at the university, speaking to a packed house, “questions the comment” that Berkeley is a “monolith” of liberal ideology, as Horowitz said.  

But some students in the audience, on both extremes of the political spectrum, heard an unwelcome truth in Horowitz’ words.  

Jennifer Simmons, an African-American student and member of the Berkeley College Republicans, said she feels limited by an environment where she feels proscribed political opinions reign. 

“It’s hard to be conservative on this campus,” she said, “All the minorities are so liberal. Going out on my own and saying, ‘This is what I believe in,’ ostracizes me.” 

Shagha Balali took a breather from intense discussions on the steps outside the Valley Life Sciences building, to address the question of free speech on campus.  

“People will not state opposing opinions because of their fear that they’re going to be bashed because of it,” she said matter-of-factly. 

University administrators disagree; they say that public discussion is thriving. 

“The best possible illustration of the welcoming of a multitude of viewpoints is to come onto campus at noon,” Felde said. “There was one table the other day that sought support to end the death penalty and another selling campus yearbooks, and I don’t know how much more open to a range of opinions you can have.” 

Thursday’s event ended abruptly during a question and answer session that followed Horowitz’ speech. The first two speakers questioned his facts on African-American history. The third speaker got to the heart of the debate, saying that the First Amendment does not require a newspaper to publish somebody’s opinion, just because the person pays for ad space. The Daily Californian, he said, was not required to publish Horowitz’ ad.  

When Horowitz tried to respond, the speaker yelled over him. The audience got involved, some of them shouting for the man to quit talking, others shouting for his right to “free speech.”  

The question became moot when someone turned off the speaker’s microphone, and Horowitz quickly left the stage.  

Stephen Brooks, administrative director for the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which Horowitz founded, described the reason for the rapid exit.  

“His assessment of the situation was that it had devolved beyond the point which reasonable dialogue would be possible,” Brooks said. Horowitz realized that the student was making a speech, not asking questions, and wouldn’t relinquish the microphone, he said. “He realized there was no way back to the civil discourse that had taken place before.” 

The move disappointed many of the audience members, who declared it counter to the entire message of free speech and public debate. 

Law student Richard Petty sat right up in the front of the auditorium with the event organizers. “I think it was very disappointing,” he said. The spirit that makes it possible for unwelcome ads to run in campus newspapers, said Petty, is the same one that means the microphone of an unwelcome speaker should be left turned on.