Why First Amendment advocates should be wary of the right

By Patrick Malone

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)
(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

Last year, the University of Massachusetts College Republicans made waves with an event called “The Triggering: Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far?” It was a speaking event in Bowker Auditorium featuring prominent alt-right mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos. Ostensibly, Yiannopoulos had come to speak on behalf of free speech, which he argues is imperiled by “social justice warriors.” The irony of this argument, in light of his dogmatic support for Donald J. Trump and Gamergate, seems to have escaped him.

Trumpism seemed to take root at college campuses as a response to a left-leaning culture. In an environment that many perceived to be too “politically correct” or lacking in “intellectual diversity,” the words Trump 2016 were a cry of rebellion. “The Triggering,” if nothing else, sparked heated discussion about free speech on college campuses.

Unfortunately, as the race for the White House continued, the tremendous threat that the alt-right posed to the First Amendment became increasingly clear. Yiannopoulos and the rest of the alt-right’s free speech-centric arguments seem to have been nothing more than thinly veiled authoritarianism.

During the campaign, Trump spent a considerable amount of time attacking his critics in the press. He accused news sources such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, Katie Couric and many others of fictitious reporting, slander and fraud. These are dangerous terms, considering these accusations culminated in Trump threatening to “open up the libel laws” and censor journalists.

Many Trump supporters have suggested that he would moderate his position in office. However, his recent attack on the cast of Hamilton and declaration that the “theater should be a safe and special place,” suggests he isn’t doing so. These aren’t statements to be taken lightly, considering Trump now commands the most powerful office in the United States and may have the opportunity to pack the Supreme Court.

The movement that catapulted Trump to the Oval Office is similarly intolerant of free speech. Breitbart News, the publication affiliated with Steve Bannon and Yiannopoulos, has no shortage of articles praising Gamergate, which most view as a vicious harassment campaign against women in gaming and journalists,. The alt-right hails it as a victory in America’s “culture war.” Colin Kaepernick, similarly, has received death threats for expressing his views on racial inequality. With hate crimes on a sharp upward trajectory after Trump’s election, America must now contend with the reality of physical violence and threats to suppress political opposition.

While it is still unclear what Trump will actually do once he assumes office, the actions of him and many of his most ardent supporters are extremely concerning. Trump’s views on freedom of speech stand to jeopardize our way of life and chip away at the bedrock of our political discourse. If you support freedom of speech, discussion and expression, then you ought to keep an eye on the alt-right.

Pat Malone is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].