Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Levasseur should speak

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This week’s back and forth over the scheduling of a lecture by Raymond Luc Levasseur, former leader of the United Freedom Front (UFF) and convicted bomber, sets a troubling precedent for the University of Massachusetts and how it handles outside pressure to suppress speech.

Levasseur is known as a domestic terrorist to his critics and a martyr to his supporters, but he’s also a living artifact, a defendent in what was, in 1989, the longest and most expensive trial in Massachusetts history. He and his co-defendents Patricia Gros Levasseur and Richard C. Williams, were acquitted on charges of seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government.

His original lecture was to be held at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library as part of its fifth annual Colloquium on Social Change.

However, under pressure from fraternal-police organizations, as well as the family of victims of violent acts committed by the UFF, Gov. Patrick pressured UMass officials to rescind Levasseur’s invitation. They did.

Days later, University professors invited Levasseur back to campus at a different venue with different sponsors. Following news of Levasseur’s re-invitation, the University issued a statement, condemning it as “repugnant.” The statement, unsigned and issued by spokesman Patrick Callahan, essentially throws its own faculty under the bus while trying to distance the administration from the decision.

Event organizers released a statement late yesterday afternoon saying that Levasseur had been denied permission to travel out of state by the U.S. Parole Board.

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian outright condemns the bombings committed by Levasseur and the UFF. This should go without saying. However, critics of Levasseur’s invitation to campus have tried to caricature it as an endorsement of terrorist activity, as if Levasseur was invited not to provide rare insight into a significant moment in this state’s history, but to recruit for his next plot.

This whole episode reveals some unsettling things about the University leadership and the state government. When controversy over Levasseur’s invitation first arose last week, UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski told The Republican that while UMass condemns Levasseur’s actions, “understanding how and why people take different paths to seek social change are important.”

That sounds like a University that knows the difference between engaging with those who have unpopular views and endorsing them. However, under pressure from Gov. Patrick and UMass system President Jack Wilson, the administration did an about-face, stating in the above unsigned statement that, “The university administration did not invite this speaker and would not invite him. A group of faculty members has decided to invite him. Although the university administration questions the wisdom and common sense of this judgment, the institution must respect academic freedom.”

Now the University has lucked out. Rather than having to make a difficult decision themselves – to risk association with a violent man for giving him a forum to discuss his crimes or to kowtow to those who have reasons, be they personal or political, to silence him – the parole board made it for them.

From materials released before the original event, it seemed like the purpose of inviting Levasseur was to find out what drives someone to commit the atrocities like the UFF bombings.

In the age of the War on Terror, that sounds like a conversation worth having.  While The Collegian thinks that people like Levasseur should not be treated as heroes, writing them off as unworthy of being heard only serves to perpetuate the disenfranchisement that can lead to these acts of violence.

Our nation has the highest incarceration rate in the world; perhaps listening to criminals, suspending judgment until after they’ve spoken, might contribute to its decline.

Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian editorial board.


8 Responses to “Levasseur should speak”

  1. Ed on November 12th, 2009 7:57 am

    FIRE put it best – this is unprincipled hypocrisy. Where were the principled defense of free speech when Card or Fedder tried to speak and the very same people defending free speech here shouted them down?

    OK, we want to hear why radicals blow up buildings. Lets invite Timothy McVey to hear why those on the right might do it – ooops, he is dead. And what this event will do is reignite the move for a death penalty because if Lukey-boy had been EXECUTED, he wouldn’t be speaking here tonight.

    We are on the cusp of a revolt from the right, not left, and people need to think about the consequences of not simply condemning certain things (and those who did them) lest we have a whole crop of Timothy McVeighs breeded.

    Blowing up buildings and killing people is beyond contempt, as are those who conspire to do it. I have no problem saying that. I have no problem saying that I don’t give a damn as to the reason(s) why they might want to do it, it is beyond contempt and they will burn in Hell for all of eternity for doing it.


  2. Frank on November 12th, 2009 12:49 pm

    Feder and Card may have been shouted down, but they were shouted down by students and other attendees. They were not prevented from speaking by the institution. You’re making a shoddy comparison and you know it.

    Let him speak. If you want to go and shout him down, no one will think ill of you for it. I’m sure you won’t be alone.

    An aside: The threat of revolt from the right is an empty one, no more serious than the threats of secession in heavily liberal areas during the last president’s term. This guy may be a deplorable and savage excuse for a human being, but I assure you that he is entirely impotent in this situation.


  3. Larry Kelley on November 12th, 2009 1:53 pm

    First they came for the bomb-thrower and I did not speak because I was not a bomb-thrower.

    Next they came for the Sniper and I did not speak because I was not a Sniper.

    Then they came for the guy who looks like Jesus, smells like Jack Daniels and preaches in Amherst town center on a soap box and I did not speak out.

    By the time they came for the Citizen Journalist Blogger, there was nobody to left to speak.


  4. Joe Meloni's ghost on November 12th, 2009 6:34 pm

    Yes, Ed, we should have listened to Timothy McVey after the fact. The reasons Timothy McVey blew up the Oklahoma City buildings are important. In our society, we regularly just capture the people who do these things and assume that will solve the problem. We don’t realize that these movements begin because a group of people feel marginalized by various manifestations of American life. It’s like what Barack Obama said during the lead-up to the Democratic Presidential Primary last Spring. When people feel like outcasts, they identify one or two things and blame all of society’s woes on those few problems. Yes, the leaders of these groups and those who carry out the bombing, shooting, etc. are usually a few stars short of a flag, but they’re not the only people who feel this way. The Collegian News Staff is right. If we don’t start listening to the people who commit crimes, we will never eliminate them.


  5. Barry Prudhomme on November 13th, 2009 10:28 am

    The objection many have raised is a valid one – the taxpayers of the commonwealth didn’t want to support this speech with their money. Everything from the cost of the $1200 stipend to the extra security required for Levasseur would have come, no matter how small, from the taxpayers.

    Sorry, but the taxpayers spoke – they don’t want to pay for this or be associated with it in any way. As such, Levasseur’s free speech was NOT denied – he is free to speak and say whatever it is that comes to mind – just not on the taxpayer’s dime.

    You say that he shouldn’t be treated as a hero – this much is true, but given the context of why and to whom he was speaking, how else are we to view the school’s treatment of him. He is by definition, a homegrown terrorist.


  6. Zack on November 14th, 2009 2:36 am

    You would think that by now I would be used to UMass, and the Amherst community, being far to the left, but this is just pure insanity. This man killed a police officer, blew up buildings and committed acts of domestic terror. Yet our marxian faculty look right past these unforgivable acts and invite him to our campus to speak to students. Why don’t we invite someone who actually deserves respect? Veterans day was Wednesday, why not invite veterans of wars, rather than invite someone who spits on the efforts of our troops? How can we actually consider this scum to have beneficial things to say at all?

    It’s things like this that have led to my complete disheartenment with this University and its ridiculous faculty. I applaud the administration for putting an end to this ridiculousness and putting the faculty back in their place.


  7. Pac Man on November 16th, 2009 2:03 am

    Zack, “marxian faculty”?
    Are you serious? Do you even know what the words you say mean?


  8. S.P. Sullivan on November 16th, 2009 1:42 pm

    @Zack For the sake of accuracy, Levasseur was never charged with killing a police officer. You could certainly say he was culpable, given that it was members of his organization that killed an officer, but there is no direct connection.


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