Cartoon: On Stopping Bigots From Speaking


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I’m not shy about being partisan; most of my cartoons are unambiguously from the left. But I don’t agree with all lefties about everything. This is one of the relatively rare cartoons in which I’m criticizing the left.

As I said in my previous cartoon on campus free speech issues, the panic about this issue is overstated. There are much more crucial free speech issues that get far less coverage. And the majority of student protests are completely non-violent.

But there have been a few incidents this year of protestors on campus (not all of whom were students) not just protesting right-wing speakers, but physically preventing them from speaking, by blocking the building, by breaking windows and setting fires, and by drowning out the speakers with ceaseless noise so they can’t speak at all, and even with direct violence attacks. These are tactics I disagree with entirely.

It’s wrong morally – who can speak shouldn’t be literally decided by mobs – and it’s also terrible tactically. When people like Milo Yiannopoulos (I have seldom felt  schadenfreude  as strongly as when  Yiannopoulos’ career crashed and burned) or Charles Murray are prevented from speaking by a violent leftist mob, that makes them appear sympathetic and mainstream. It only increases the number of people hearing their views.

(I should clarify, when I say it’s wrong morally, I’m referring to preventing a speech through physical means – such as violence, physically blocking access, or unceasingly drowning them out. Stopping a speech through free speech means – such as a successful petition which persuades the college to disinvite the speaker – may or may not be good tactics, but I don’t see any moral problem with it.)

Research  has shown  that violent protests tend to reduce popular support for movements and issues, both in polls and in how people vote. I understand that the protestors are angry, and frustrated, and have real and important grievances. But the tactic is a form of censorship, and it’s self-defeating.


Panel 1
Two students, both dressed in black hoodies, are in front of a wall of flames, speaking to each other cheerfully. Both of them are holding protest signs, showing a guy with a mustache, with a circle and cross “not allowed” symbol superimposed over his face.

MALE STUDENT: We stopped that bigot from speaking in our college auditorium!
FEMALE STUDENT: And we stopped his hateful message from spreading!

Panel 2
The mustache dude, wearing a jacket and tie and looking happy, stands behind a podium speaking. Many, many cameras and microphones are pointed at him, and various off-panel reporters yell questions at him.
REPORTER 1: Sir? Over here!
REPORTER 2: Were you frightened?
REPORTER 3: Tell us more about the mob of violent leftists! We’ll print every word!
REPORTER 4: What would your speech have said?
MUSTACHE DUDE: Please! One question at a time!

Panel 3 (A tiny “kicker” panel at the bottom)
The two students are being spoken to by the mustache dude. The students look grumpy, the mustache dude cheery.
MUSTACHE DUDE: Please don’t stop my next speech! … Do you need the address?

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15 Responses to Cartoon: On Stopping Bigots From Speaking

  1. 1
    pillsy says:

    You may well be right about morality [1], but I’m really not clear about the tactics. Sure, it may raise the target’s profile, but it may not, and frankly a lot of these twerps really don’t do well with having their profile raised. Indeed, the idea that giving them a platform to speak allows for refutation–another common and not obviously wrong argument–suggests it may well be the way to go. You mention Milo, but the dude imploded spectacularly about five minutes into riding the wave created by the Berkeley riots.

    Maybe it will pan out differently for Murray. But Murray’s been around for years and periodically gets people to forget he’s a blithering racist regardless.

    [1] But no one will ever take my joy at Richard Spencer being punched in the face away from me. Which, by the way, didn’t seem to do him a whole hell of a lot of good.

  2. 2
    pillsy says:

    Argument aside, the cartoon is really good. Love the character designs and the flames in the first panel especially.

  3. 3
    pillsy says:

    Also, clearly the new hotness in free speech and threats to it is CA bringing charges against those anti-abortion activists for violating wiretapping laws. If they had clearly violated the statute, it might be barely tolerable, but it really doesn’t look like they did.

    As it is, the charges are an extremely horrible idea that pose a clear danger to freedom of speech, and one that could easily (oh so easily) backfire against much more sympathetic people representing much more sympathetic causes.

  4. 4
    Humble Talent says:

    We’re talking about campuses because it is topical, but I think this idea has more traction than that… Any violent protest is ultimately counter productive. I can’t think of a better example than the Ferguson riots… Nothing says “We’re dying and need help” like setting fires and looting in your own community.

    Just to devil’s advocate here… Because while I agree with you completely, this idea is churning around in my head… Do you think there’s a point where physical violence is actually called for? It might have to be extreme, like the War of Independance, for instance, which seen under a certain lense could be called the most violent of protests, and fairly successful.

  5. 5
    Humble Talent says:

    As it is, the charges are an extremely horrible idea that pose a clear danger to freedom of speech, and one that could easily (oh so easily) backfire against much more sympathetic people representing much more sympathetic causes.

    I love it! Thank you. I’m not even being slightly sarcastic… I tried to make this case about a thousand times during Obama’s administration: You have to be careful about what you do, because eventually what you’re doing can be used against you. Obama’s executive orders were problematic for me not because they were progressive in nature (fish gotta swim, I saw those coming), they were a problem because Obama expanded their use, and the relative power of the executive. Which might have been great for progressives while their guy was in office, but what were they going to do when someone they didn’t like was in office and taking advantage of all the new toys that were left there for him. Now that Trump’s in office and churning out executive orders, I wonder how everyone feels about Mr “I have a pen and a phone”.

  6. 6
    Harlequin says:

    Pillsy, your info in comment #3 doesn’t mesh with what I’ve read on the issue. The relevant CA law (according to this Slate piece, anyway) mentions in person meetings as well as telecommunications. I ageee with you that the prosecution is still overkill in a general sense, though.

    Amp, the kicker joke really made me smile.

  7. 7
    pillsy says:

    Pillsy, your info in comment #3 doesn’t mesh with what I’ve read on the issue. The relevant CA law (according to this Slate piece, anyway) mentions in person meetings as well as telecommunications. I ageee with you that the prosecution is still overkill in a general sense, though.

    I seem to have followed Kevin Drum down the garden path on this one; he has since updated his article saying that the investigatory exception evidently only applies in civil suits. That seems kinda weird, but there you go.

    I apologize for failing to check my facts before posting nonsense on the Internet.

    In any event, it may be within the letter of the law, but it’s still an awful idea and I really don’t think California should be doing this.

  8. 8
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    In a 2-party consent state, you can’t secretly record. And states with 2 party laws have them for a reason, which is to prevent stuff like this!

    I have definitely seen people get smacked for recording illegally. I would not hesitate to bring a claim against someone who did it to my client and I think it’s fully appropriate to do it here. So far the only case in my jursidiction which has shows a constitutional right to record in secret relates to recording the police.

    In essence, these folks are trying to pull a defense that amounts to “but we’re special and they’re evil and this was reeeeeeally important so the benefits outweigh the harm”. But deciding on that tradeoff isn’t theirs to make. They could convince an investigator, get a warrant, or otherwise arrange to do it. But if they go off on their own and break the law, damn right they deserve to get prosecuted.

  9. 9
    Phil says:

    I have an off-topic question about your transcript. I read recently that screen readers handle words in all-caps by reading one letter at a time, which can be frustrating. I wonder- does anyone have experience with them who could confirm? And, is that something that might influence how you type your transcripts?

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    Phil: Yes, definitely. If all-caps are hard to read in screen readers, then I’d stop using them in transcripts.

  11. 11
    Harlequin says:

    pillsy, a little belatedly–I’m not sure from your response if I came off as hostile, but I apologize if so: I wasn’t sure which of us had it right, and figured you’d correct me if that piece I linked was wrong, that’s all!

  12. 12
    RonF says:

    Maybe the lesson to take here is that no one has the moral authority to decide for someone else a) whether a given speaker is a bigot and b) whether they should have the right to be hear that speaker and decide the merits of the speaker’s ideas for themselves.

  13. 13
    pillsy says:

    @Harlequin: It didn’t come off as hostile at all; besides, I was actually wrong.

  14. 14
    Jokuvaan says:

    Trying to silence the other side by either violence or shaming and name calling is a sign of being unable to win the argument.

    At this rate Trump will win not only once but twice.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    “Or shaming” seems dubious, to me. I mean, when Joseph Welch publicly shamed McCarthy, saying “at long last, have you left no sense of decency?,” that sure wasn’t because he was unable to win the argument.

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