Saturday, February 23, 2019

A fascinating history of conservative activism on college campuses (Michael Simkovic)

A fascinating, albeit intemperate and sensationalist, perspective on the history of conservative activism on college campuses is available here.  

The essay discusses strategies such as top-down national campaigns funded by wealthy donors, programming crafted by national organizations staffed by well compensated and experienced political operatives with ties to the Republican party, and executed on particular campuses by (sometimes less than fully autonomous) local campus chapters with substantial assistance from national organizations.  Many of the campaigns featured subtle exploitation of racial anxieties, appeals to anger, and intentional efforts to upset political opponents so that their reactions can be recorded and used for propaganda purposes.

As previously reported, and confirmed by numerous press stories and leaked documents (see e.g., here and here) many of these strategies continue to be used on campus by many of the same or similar conservative organizations today.  

Unfortunately, the essay counter-productively uses militant language to encourage students to "combat" these "threats."  Physical violence is both morally wrong and strategically ineffective: it only affirms conservative activists' narrative of victimization. Indeed, a conservative activist group recently scored a major public relations victory after a campus recruiter from a national organization tabling at Berkeley was struck in the face by a passerby who may have been offended by the organization's racially charged slogans about "hate crime hoaxes."  This particular conservative group has been accused by rival conservatives of allegedly condoning racism and sexual assault, and criticized for maintaining a McCarthyist Professor Watchlist.

The brief incident--which the conservative group anticipated well enough to capture from multiple well-framed camera angles--went viral. (From the video, it appears that the conservative recruiter and the man who struck him were struggling over an article of clothing and the passerby warned the recruiter to stop touching him prior to striking him).

A conservative cameraman recording students in the area who were not involved in the incident and who asked not be be recorded responded, "You're in a public place, dipshit, get the fuck out of here." (Note--this warning has apparently been edited out of the version of the video that is currently available online).

For the record, whether an outdoor location on campus is a public place or not is a factual question. If people in the area have a reasonable expectation of privacy, then the cameramen violated the California Penal Code by recording people without their consent and could face criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit, along with their assailant.

A far more effective approach than verbal or physical sparring would be to teach students techniques to avoid getting angry even in tense situations, and to treat all members of campus communities with compassion, empathy, respect and understanding regardless of their political views--even if hateful.  Universities could also do their part by requiring student groups and their national affiliates to make comprehensive disclosures of all of their sources of funding (including the natural persons who fund entities) prior to allowing them to recruit, host or advertise events on campus.

Wealthy people funding McCarthyist professor watchlists, paying to send hateful provocateurs on speaking tours around the country, and disturbing the peace on college campuses should have the courage to identify their own names with their political projects.

UPDATE 3/2/2019: The New York Times has reported that neither the recruiter for the conservative organization nor the alleged perpetrator are students or employees of the University of California. 

In spite of the minimal connection to the University--which responded professionally, condemned the attack, and worked with the police to arrest a suspect--President Trump and other conservative activists have expressed intent to use the incident as a pretext to threaten universities with cuts to federal funding unless universities do more to promote conservative views on campus.

There's evidence that more serious (at times deadly) hate crimes against racial, ethnic and religious minorities on campus have increased since President Trump took office.

Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Student Advice, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink