Free speech blurs the line between the left and right

Josh Shumate

Next month, The University of Alabama College Republicans is hosting an event featuring controversial Breitbart News Tech Editor, Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos, an openly gay conservative from Britain, has become increasingly popular among college students for his outspoken criticism of feminism, “political correctness,” restrictive speech codes, and “social justice warrior” leftists.

Yiannopoulos’ strategy for combating these things has been rather brilliant. He says something offensive, someone overreacts, and he is then given an opportunity to make fun of the oft-offended progressive left. During his speaking tour, he has been shouted down, assaulted, and on several occasions had his events canceled by University administrators. The more the outrage, the more relevant his critiques become.

Yiannopoulos is also known for having an uncomfortably close relationship with the alt-right movement. He acts as somewhat of a spokesperson for the movement, which champions what can only be described as modern day white supremacy. Although I certainly believe Yiannopoulos’ opinions are tainted by this relationship and find his style is especially repugnant, the underlying issue of free speech and censorship is one that should not be ignored.

There is a legitimate movement in America which aims to silence, censor, and ruin anyone who dares to have a different opinion. On campuses across the country, universities have refused to allow an innumerable number of speakers because of their ideology. “Trigger warnings” and “microaggressions,” while occasionally necessary tools to protect those with PTSD or to explain how seemingly innocuous comments can be offensive, have been overused and abused as tools to silence and shrink the pool of allowable opinion. Even President Obama has criticized this push as a threat to free speech. Off campus, legislators have passed “hate crime” legislation that has the potential to criminalize speech. Just last week, a Louisiana man was charged with such a crime for merely shouting offensive words at a police officer.

Historically, the right has been opposed to more restrictions on speech and has challenged the culture of political correctness. However, recently it seems as if things are changing. I oftentimes find that those on the right who are the most outspoken about how leftists are too offended, find themselves equally “triggered” when someone does something they deem unacceptable. This phenomena has never been more clear than with the rise in popularity of 24-year-old conservative troll Tomi Lahren. Lahren has her own TV show on The Blaze and releases videos on her facebook page where she offers her “final thoughts” on the day of news. The “final thoughts” segment almost always centers around something someone on the left said or did that Tomi finds herself qualified to scream about. While debate is certainly pivotal to free speech, like those who silence on campus, Lahren does not want a debate. She merely wants to rant in the type of emotion-filled, fact-free and angry way that perfectly encompasses the characteristics of “social justice warriors” she claims to oppose.

As Lahren’s popularity has grown, her videos have begun to propose things that are more authoritarian and less emblematic of the kind of society that is free of the “politically correct” constraints that she so angrily shouts about. Just last week she made it clear that in her view Colin Kaepernick’s citizenship is conditional on him meeting her desired level of patriotism. This is not a new bar of outrage from Lahren either. She says the same thing about plenty of others who disagree with her about police brutality, immigration, or any number of other issues. Her message is clear: agree with me or I will shout you down, call for you to lose your job, and tell you to leave the country. Sound familiar? Regardless of how you feel about Kaepernick or others who become the target of Lahren’s whiny complaints, you should recognize that she is helping to creating a culture of conservative “political correctness.” The days of arguments based on fact and reason are quickly being replaced by an “if you don’t like it, you can leave” conservatism that mirrors the emotional tirades of the left.

Even more maddening is the fact that Tomi and others like her are heavily supported by the same folks who will grace the seats of the Ferguson Center Theatre next month to hear Milo Yiannopoulos. Not only does this show how attracted many on the right are to anger and ignorance, it speaks volumes about how insincere these “politically incorrect” conservatives are about free speech and censorship. I avoid using slurs or calling people racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., because I genuinely believe that people should be allowed to disagree on issues without being lambasted with allegations of bigotry. I always try to give people the benefit of doubt. It’s only fair. However, If you associate yourself with someone like Milo Yiannopoulos because of “free speech” and “political correctness” while also supporting those who use leftist tactics to silence their opponents, you don’t leave much doubt as to your true motivations, even for me.

Josh Shumate is a graduate student studying public administration. His column runs biweekly.