Speaking at a Congressional hearing regarding free speech, Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro had plenty to say on the subject, as he took on the falsities of intersectionality, microaggressions, “white privilege,” and the desire of the Left to shut down free speech on college campuses. What follows is a transcript of his remarks and some of the questions prompting them.
Shapiro’s opening statement pulled no punches:
It’s an honor to testify here before you here today. The reason I’m with you today is that I speak on dozens of college campuses every year, so I have first-hand experience with the anti-First Amendment activities that have been taking place on some of our college campuses. I’ve encountered anti-free speech measures, administrative cowardice, even physical violence on campuses ranging from California State University at Los Angeles to University of Wisconsin at Madison which is driving the legislation that Ms. Demings was talking about, to Penn State University to UC Berkeley. And I am not alone.
In order to understand what’s been going on at some of our college campuses, it’s necessary to explore the ideology that provides the impetus for a lot of the protesters who violently obstruct events, pull fire alarms, assault professors and even other students — and the impetus for administrators who all too often humor these protesters. Free speech is under assault because of a three-step argument made by the advocates and justifiers of violence.
The first step is they say that the validity or invalidity of an argument can be judged solely by the ethnic, sexual, racial, or cultural identity of the person making the argument.
The second step is that they claim those who say otherwise are engaging in what they call verbal violence.
The final step is they conclude that physical violence is sometimes justified in order to stop such verbal violence.
Let’s examine each of these three steps in turn.
First, the philosophy of intersectionality. This philosophy now dominates college campuses as well as a large segment, unfortunately, of today’s Democratic Party, and suggests that straight white Americans are inherently the beneficiaries of white privilege, and therefore cannot speak on certain policies, since they have not experienced what it’s like to be black or Hispanic or gay or transgender or a woman. This philosophy ranks the value of a view not based on the logic or merit of the view, but on the level of victimization in American society experienced by the person espousing the view. Therefore, if you’re an LGBT black woman, your view of American society is automatically more valuable than that of a straight white male.
The next step in the logic is obvious: if a straight white male — or anybody else who ranks lower on the victimhood scale — says something contrary to the viewpoint of the higher-ranking intersectionality identity, that person has engaged in a “microaggression.” As NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes, “Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.”
You don’t have to actively say anything insulting to “microaggress” — someone merely needs to take offense. If, for example, you say that society ought to be color-blind, you are microaggressing certain identity groups who have been victimized by a non-color-blind society.
Note: Microaggressions, as the name suggests, are not merely insults — they are aggressions. They are the equivalent of physical violence. Just two weeks ago, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University published an essay in The New York Times suggesting that words should be seen as physical violence because they cause stress and stress causes physical harm. Thus, Feldman suggested, “it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking,” to ban or restirct speech you don’t like at your school.
This is both inane and dangerous.
That’s because it leads to the final logical step: words you don’t like deserve to be fought physically. When I spoke at California State University at Los Angeles, one professor threatened students who sponsored me by offering to fight them; he then posted a slogan on the door of his office, stating, “The best response to micro-aggression is macro-aggression.” As Haidt writes, “This is why the idea that speech is violence is so dangerous. It tells the members of a generation already beset by anxiety and depression that the world is a far more violent and threatening place than it really is. It tells them that words, ideas, and speakers can literally kill them. Even worse: At a time of rapidly rising political polarization in the Unied States, it helps a small subset of that generation justify political violence.”
Indeed, protesters all too often engage in physically violent disruption when they believe their identity group is under verbal attack by someone — usually conservative, but not always. Not only do some administrators look the other way — at Middlebury College, Cal State LA, Berkeley, Evergreen, actual crimes were committed, and almost nobody has been arrested — but they actively forbid events from moving forward, creating a heckler’s veto: the notion that if you are physically violent enough, you can get administrators to kowtow to you, to bow before you, by cancelling an event you disagree with altogether.
All of this destroys free speech. But just as importantly, it turns students into snowflakes, craven and pathetic, looking for an excuse to be offended so they can earn points in the intersectionality Olympics and then use those points as a club with which to beat opponents. A healthy nation requires an emotionally and intellectually vigorous population ready to engage in open debate at all times. Shielding college students from opposing viewpoints makes them simultaneously weaker and more dangerous. We must fight that process at every step. That begins by acknowledging that whatever we think about America and where we stand, we must agree on this fundamental principle: all of our views should be judged on their merits, not on the color or sex or sexual orientation of the speaker, and those views should never be banned on the grounds that they offend someone.
Thanks so much.
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, chairing the hearing, asked, “Mr. Shapiro, would the professors you cited in your testimony view your four-minute and forty-eight second opening statement as a microaggresion?”
Shapiro laughed, “I assume that some of them would; college students do all the time, since when I speak there there have been riots and such.”
As the questioning continued of those on the panel, including Nadine Strossen, the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, Frederick Lawrence, the former president of Brandeis University and a national commissioner for the Anti-Defamation League, Dr. Michael Zimmerman, former provost and vice president for academic affairs at Evergreen State, and comedian Adam Carolla, Shapiro was jokingly asked if he was an agitator. Shapiro laughed, “Not as far as I’m aware.”
Referring to Carolla’s prior comment about “mini-skirting” the debate, Shapiro began, “I think that some of what’s been said does “mini-skirt” the debate.” Then he continued:
Mr. Krishnamoorthi, when you were talking about the Wisconsin law, I believe that law was brought up in direct counter to what happened, people talked about it on the floor of the legislature, in direct counter to what happened when I spoke at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where you had a bunch of protesters who stood in front of the stage and obstructed the stage and then refused to leave, and when I asked the police would they remove the protesters, they were going for 15 minutes.
By the way, personally, two things, just to preface, I have no problem whatsoever with people protesting my speeches; I do have a problem with people who won’t actually let me speak. Number two: as far as all the talk about white supremacy; I can speak from experience. Mr. Lawrence, your organization named me the number one target of anti-Semitism online last year. So I have a trophy in my house that says number-one hated Jew in America. I’m totally familiar with the level of vitriol that’s been common in our politics. But one of the things that’s a problem, and I think we have to be careful about, is when we say, “Leave it to the administrators,” and then the administrators do what they did at UW, which is, I said to the police, “Will you remove these protesters?” and the police said “we have been told by the administration that if we remove the protesters we are to shut down the event entirely. So we can’t remove the protesters”; we literally had to wait until they got tired and walked out, basically.
When that’s the response of the administration, shouldn’t there be some sort of repercussion for that? Because what I’m seeing is a “heckler’s veto” that’s taking place on campus; what I’m seeing is people who are not engaging in free speech designed to enrich the debate, but in order to shut down the debate. There have to be some sort of ramifications for people who are actually committing trespass. Everyone is trying to focus in on this term “hate crime” and “hate speech,” but the important part of those phrases is not the first word; it’s speech versus crime. So if there’s a crime that’s being committed, we’re all in agreement. If somebody commits a crime, and they are speaking of an imminent threat to somebody, of course that’s a crime. But that has very little to do with the hate and a lot more to do with the crime as to whether that’s prosecuted, because hate speech is not prosecutable, nor should it be policed by the campus.
The fact is that what we are seeing is a conflation between speech and active attempts to obstruct in order to promote the obstruction by some administrators on a few college campuses.
Alabama Congressman Gary Palmer addressed Shapiro:
Mr. Shapiro: Proponents of curtailed speech often argue that certain types of speech amount to violence, noting that certain listeners are emotionally harmed when listening to ideas with which they disagree. There was an article in the LA Times that made this argument, going so far as to call on courts and legislatures to allow the restrictions of hate speech, as do all other economically-advanced democracies in the world. Is there any limiting principle at play where forbidden speech is anything that a particular person or group of people find offensive?
No. I haven’t seen any limiting principle at play at all on college campuses, which is the problem. You’ll have people like Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal treated exactly the same way as Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos, and they are poles apart in terms of how they express themselves and many of the views that they hold. This idea that there is some sort of “bright line,” even the term “hate speech” is really difficult because it just suggests that if I don’t like what you’re saying, or if I impute to you an intent that you may not have, now you’re hateful and you should be banned. It seems to me a more effective use of terminology would say “speech I find insulting,” or “speech I find offensive. ”
But the idea of hate speech itself, there are certain kinds of speech I think we can all agree are objectively hateful, but I don’t think there is any “limiting principle” at play from a lot of administrators, because I think that they use that club of hate speech in order to cudgel people with whom they disagree. They just say, “I don’t like what you’re saying now, and that’s hate speech.” And microaggression culture contributes to this; literally on campuses students will be told that if you say to another student, “Where are you from?”, that this is some form of microaggression, that this is a minor, minor form of hate speech, if you say, “Where are you from?” because you’re implying they’re not from here. Of course you’re not from here; I assume you weren’t born on this spot, but it doesn’t matter.
The idea that you’re going to broaden out terminology in order to prohibit groups that you don’t like or ideas that you don’t like; I would much prefer that if we’re going to move the ratchet in any one direction, let’s move the ratchet in favor of more speech.
I agree, of course, with Mr. Lawrence that it’s perfectly appropriate if an administrator wants to say that I personally disagree, that the university doesn’t agree with the views that are being espoused by a particular speaker, that’s perfectly appropriate, but sometimes there are gray areas in terms of what the university’s doing. When Mr. Lawrence was at Brandeis University, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was uninvited from the university because of blowback from some of the students. Is that a case of her free speech rights being violated? It’s a private university, but if it were a public university, would that be a case of her free speech rights being violated because administrators decided not to stand up for those because students were upset?
This is why I think that the notion that there is some sort of grand intelligentsia running the universities who are capable of discriminating between hate speech and normal speech, to be sitting atop a hill somewhere, under a palm tree, like a Qadi, dispensing justice on a case-by-case basis, I think it’s nonsense and I don’t think they have any rational standards they apply.
Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie, having referenced an incident where students were arrested and spent seven hours in jail for offering other students copies of the Constitution, held up a copy and asked, “Mr. Shapiro, I’m going to assume you don’t find this to be a threatening or harmful document,” prompting Shapiro, referencing his iconic debate with CNN’s Piers Morgan, to reply, “I’ve brandished it at a few people myself.” That prompted laughter from those who knew of the debate.
Massie, referring to Shapiro’s opening remarks, asked, “Can you speak to how time, manner, and place restrictions are being abused?”
So most obviously, UC Berkeley did that with Ann Coulter, where they kept room, and they kept saying they didn’t have rooms available. They said the same thing to me a week ago; there was some public outcry. Now they’re offering some rooms; I hope that that event goes forward.
It’s not rare; they do this a lot; a private university that did it was DePaul University; I was threatened with arrest if I set foot on campus. I actually showed up there; a security guard told me. I asked him , “If I move six inches forward are you going to arrest me?” and he said yes and he had the sheriff of Cook County behind him. It’s become a cover for ideological discrimination, because if Ta-nehisi Coates wants to speak on any of these campuses, there’s not going to be any problem. The administrators will make certain that time, space, and manner restrictions don’t get in the way, and this is why I say, saying, “At the discretion of administrators is wonderful” is all well and good except they very often are attempting to achieve a particular political end by using means that are normally legitimate, and that’s definitely a dangerous thing.
If you don’t mind, I have a quick note on something Mr. Lawrence was saying earlier about the damage that’s done to students by various things that happen on campus, by threats of violence, and this sort of thing. Obviously everyone, I think, agrees that what happened to Taylor is unacceptable, but one of the things that I think should be pointed out is that we have a lot of other students in the crowd, and administrators who spend an enormous amount of time pushing stuff like, “White privilege means that you must accept that you are subordinate in terms of your view because of your identity”; this also has some lasting damage with regard to First Amendment exercise and with regard to how people perceive the freedom of the country. I understand that this is a universally-held belief among university educators, that we have to accept the guilt of particular races or particular sexual orientations for discrimination that’s happened in the past, but when you teach a bunch of 18 and 19-year-old people this, you shouldn’t be surprised when number one, they go into hiding with their viewpoint, and number two, they become frustrated. It’s an absurdity to suggest that you can tell people that their viewpoints are out of line because of their identity at the same time you’re telling other people that their viewpoints are completely inline because of their identity, and any assaults on their senses must be prevented at any cost.
The next encounter with Shapiro occurred when he was attacked by Virgin Islands delegate Stacey Plaskett, which can be found here.
A fascinating moment occurred when Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin asked Shapiro if he made a distinction between public and private universities in their treatment of speech. Shapiro made the distinction, but also made something else abundantly clear: his belief that government had no right to force its beliefs on private businesses.
He stated, “As far as the distinction between public and private, I do make a very strong distinction between public and private universities when it comes to speech rights, because private universities, I believe, should have, like private business, should have the broadest possible purview to act in accordance with their values.”
Raskin asked, “To censor speech?”
Shapiro: “If they are private universities, sure. Which is why when I went to DePaul University, and they threatened to arrest me, I left the campus. If they had done that at Cal State LA, I would have stayed and been arrested.”
Asked by Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Grothman whether there was a problem that people on the Left were cloistered and did not communicate with those on the Right, Shapiro replied:
I think you do have some leftist professors who attempt to be open to other ideas; Lani Guinier was one of my professors at Harvard Law School, and she ended up writing a job recommendation for me because we got along so well, and she’s very far to the left. But that’s more a rarity than it is a common thread; even if you put aside President Trump, the fact is that I think that the polls show that well under 10% of the faculty at Ivy League schools voted for Romney in 2012. This has been very consistent. This is why I think you are seeing some of the violence; when I spoke at Cal State LA you actually saw the professors calling me a member of the KKK before I got there. Most of the students had no clue who I was, but they were perfectly willing to protest and beat people up.
What followed was the question and answer between Shapiro and Congressman DeSantis, which started hilariously with DeSantis asking the most pertinent question of all: “Ben Shapiro, who came up with the Thug Life Ben Shapiro?” That exchange can be seen here.
Near the end of the hearing, Jordan referred to “diversity training” employed on some campuses, asking Shapiro, “Do you think that the ’bias training’ is something that is actually helpful?”
Shapiro answered, “I don’t think it’s effective; I think that in fact it tends to alienate a lot of people who feel like, ‘I’m not a racist; why am I being forced to endure the implication that I’m a racist and I have the necessity of undergoing bias training.'” Referring to the hate directed at Taylor Dumpston, he added, “People who tie nooses around bananas are not going to be dissuaded from doing so by bias training. They’re garbage human beings.”
Jordan summed up beautifully, as he pointed out that the true “speech code” should be the First Amendment. He asked, “Mr. Shapiro; your thoughts on a speech code. Shouldn’t it be the First Amendment? Shouldn’t that be sufficient?”
Shapiro asserted, “Absolutely, and I think that we’re moving into very dangerous territory when we start identifying speech as violence. That, I think, is what’s happening more and more often in our politics; I think it’s happening on college campuses; when you start saying that what you say offends me to the point where I’m going to treat it as violence, then we are moments away from an actual violent conflagration, and that has to stop immediately.”
Do you think, Mr. Shapiro, that some of the things we have seen from the federal government are contributing to what I would describe as the crazy situations on many campuses, situations you’ve had to go through and live through? Do you think some of the things that the government has done are chilling free speech on college campuses, and specifically, and frankly, what prompted my renewed interest, or greater interest, I should say, in this series of hearings we’re having on was a few years ago when we discovered with the power and the ability to intimidate and impact people’s lives, the agency known as the Internal Revenue Service, was systematically and for a sustained period of time, targeting people for their political beliefs. Do you think that has some chilling impact on what may be what is in fact happening on our college campuses?
Sure. When people have an enormous amount of power, whether it’s on an administrative level or the federal level, they tend to use it in ways that benefit the side that they control; I think you’ve seen this, it’s a completely different topic but I think you’ve seen this in how a lot of the sexual assault hearings are taking place on campus now, where they’re taking place under Title IX auspices, and they don’t actually follow any constitutional due process procedure. That’s an area where the federal government has gotten involved, and really overridden individual rights, and listen, nobody is in favor of sexual assault, everybody wants to see rapists prosecuted, but we need to come back to some sort of rational standard of application, and not just what we wish we could do in some sort of Utopia.