University of Florida president, Kent Fuchs, was wrong to align himself with the protesters who shouted down Richard Spencer at his Gainesville event, Thursday. Fuchs did so, with the following tweet:
For the record, I don't stand behind racist Richard Spencer. I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencers vile and despicable message https://t.co/eHFuUUchbh— W. Kent Fuchs (@PresidentFuchs) October 19, 2017
Fuchs then doubled down on that message with an editorial, Friday, praising the university for "shutting down" Spencer's address. Taken together, Fuchs' words must be seen as an endorsement of those who attended Spencer's speech and repeatedly disrupted it.
That's a big problem.
Because a public educator like Fuchs' should never ardently endorse or reject law-abiding speech on issues of political concern. As the head of one of the nation's top universities, Fuchs holds immense power to affect the education of over 50,000 people. But as president, Fuchs also has profound influence over the universities faculty. When he takes an ardent political stance such as that which he took towards Spencer, he sends an implicit but clear message to academics without tenure. Put simply, he tells them that they better not countermand his approach of "shutting down" Spencer's views. Doing so, Fuchs' chills the free academic pursuit of controversial debates.
But he also strengthens Spencer.
To understand why, consider what happened at one point during Spencer's question and answer session yesterday.
A student, Siraj, stated that he had come to the speech to listen to Spencer's views and learn what Spencer claims the alt-right actually stands for. Explaining that he was the son of two immigrants, Siraj quickly won the silence of protesters assembled at the back of the room. But when Siraj lamented that "the protesters were very rude, and didn't allow [Spencer] to speak," the protesters erupted and shouted him down. Siraj then asked Spencer if he could "have a dialogue" with him so as to outline his own "ideals." The exchange suggested that Siraj disagrees with Spencer's views.
Regardless, Siraj's approach towards Spencer represented the best qualities of American democratic tradition: the peaceful, respectful, but passionate exchange of views. The protesters who tried to silence him represented the very worse: self-obsessed authoritarianism.
Yet watching the exchange, it was noticeable that Spencer manipulated the protesters shouts to his own advantage. Remaining calm, he made himself look like the better party.
That's a tragedy, but one that would have been avoided had more protesters adopted Siraj's approach and challenged Spencer in front of the crowd. Instead, the protesting horde and their apparent ally, Fuchs, claimed the day and lost it. They obstructed law abiding debate and boosted Spencer's idiotic mythology of resistance.
They also did something else.
They played into the hands of a media crew in attendance who wanted material to make America look divided.
Ruptly TV. AKA Putin.
When it comes to free speech, the Left has truly lost its way.