This past Thursday, political commentator and right-wing author Ben Shapiro spoke at UC Berkeley. The phenomenon of political provocation has become a recent topic with Milo Yiannopoulos’s attempt at addressing the UC Berkeley campus last February. Their messages are abrasive and target the political values of many millennials in the United States. However, Ben Shapiro’s most recent appearance marks the decline of his movement. The coalition of conservative voices which gain attention through their brazen visits to liberal bubbles is faltering. According to an article posted by CNN, the crowd outside Shapiro’s event reached only 1,000, two-thirds less than Yiannopoulos’ attempted event garnered.. While the rhetoric of Ben Shapiro did not change, the reaction to his discourse was a far smaller response.
The Bay Area has seen multiple examples of the ideological battle between the left and right. From Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley in February 2017 to the abortive Patriot Prayer this summer, the liberal bubble of the Bay Area has been encroached by a hail of criticism from conservatives. Prominent conservative voices often target left-wing college students because they know they will receive an emotionally charged reaction from them, and consequently the most attention to their conservative message. Shapiro’s belief that facts override subjectivity and that systemic racism does not exist has caused outrage from multiple communities at the university. These views only enrage liberal campuses and bring attention to the movement.
Because these provocateurs are motivated by the outage they cause, their performance as public figures depends heavily on their opposition. According to the Daily Wire, the publication run by Shapiro himself, the conservative commentator noted that the threat from Antifa was minimal. This speech was met with less indignation and gave little fuel to Shapiro’s crusade against the left. However, Shapiro personally applauded the work of Berkeley police for keeping the peace during his event. On the surface, this event was peaceful and offered an exchange of ideas among a group of students frustrated with political correctness and liberal identity politics. However, the lack of response from left wing student groups and tear gas from riot police marked a shifting point in Shapiro’s movement. Provocateurs like Ben Shapiro can no longer rely on opposition to support their movement.
Like each of his speeches, an anxious crowd awaited his arrival. Following a brief 40 minute discussion of his own views on current events, Shapiro opened the floor up to questions. Students with opposing views were quickly dismissed. The effectiveness with which Shapiro tackles these opposing views added to his self-described objectivity. However, his willingness to address the student views left his ego open to attack. During the Q-and-A component of his event, Shapiro was faced with prompts on the origin of theological morality to the theory that crack cocaine was created by the CIA to destroy the black population. Most questions were confusing, derisive or far too anecdotal to be applied to our current political reality. During the questioning, Shapiro showed a lack of enthusiasm and made the hypocritical claim that all views would be fairly considered. Low turnout mixed with lack of community protest revealed the pathetic reality of this provocateur movement. Even as Shapiro and Yiannopoulos seek out more outrageous venues, their movement cannot thrive. The costs from damages at the hands of protesters and security to safeguard these events has become too great to bear. The movement is falling apart from within, with no consensus among its members.
The so-called free speech movement, which Ben Shapiro is a part of, is not a united front as some would assume. In the article from CNN on the event last Thursday, Ben Shapiro called Milo Yiannopoulos a provocateur and held major disagreements on public policy with the outspoken, gay conservative. Provocative-only-to-be-provocative events are losing their share of the political arena. Their message contradicts the values of many of our friends and neighbors, but the rhetoric is the seed to their own destruction. The movement has no leader, and its members disagree along fundamental lines. We will watch as their appearances and coverage through media decrease as their message becomes lost in the violence they promote. Communities can no longer can take on the cost of their views. They are aware of the effect of these events and are disinterested in supporting Shapiro’s hypocritical notion of free speech. It is not time to turn the other cheek, but to acknowledge them as the weak individuals who crave reassurance through any form of recognition. Do not let them live out their fantasy as pariahs by denouncing their views. Instead, criticize their methods which undermine the free speech they so readily claim to defend.
Featured Photo: Ben Shapiro speaking: Ben Shapiro is a conservative political commentator who makes his rounds to college campuses in order to confront left-wing college students, Gage Skidmore/FLICKR