July 23, 2019 | Townhall
ACRU Policy Board member and senior fellow Ken Blackwell
Looking over the frenzied political landscape in America today, one marred by constant clashes between right and left, a single issue rises above the rest. In many areas of public life, conservatives—their words, their views and values—are under assault. Conservative speech is under direct attack by ultra-left, radical activists who are methodically expunging conservative speech and conservative ideas from public discourse.
This threat to the First Amendment and to the sharing of viewpoints held by roughly half of all Americans, is taking many forms but is often paired with harsh threats and actual acts of violence directed at conservatives. Brutal physical assaults on conservative men and women are waged by an increasingly radical subsection of our society that is growing in power and bravado.
Andy Ngo, a reporter for Quillette, was viciously attacked by masked Antifa thugs while exercising his First Amendment right to free press. The video of his attack was seen by millions, and his subsequent article in the Wall Street Journal prompted a response from Capitol Hill. However, while most on the conservative side condemned the attack on a member of the press, most progressives—those who supposedly carry the torch of free speech—were conspicuously silent on the issue.
Meeting speech with violence is completely unacceptable and directly opposite of the American model of the free exchange of ideas in a pluralistic society. But leftist activists often get away with labeling anything they disagree with as “hate speech” and they work hard to silence the messenger. The violence committed against Mr. Ngo placed him in the hospital, and was justified by street thugs simply because Ngo is a “conservative,” who “unmasked Antifa.”
Fortunately, some organizations are working to stem this violent, hateful tide. A new legal defense group, Publius Lex, founded by Harmeet Dhillon works to preserve justice in a system that seems all too hesitant to investigate and prosecute violent Antifa activists. They have taken Mr. Ngo on as their first legal case.
A more systematic problem of bias against conservative free speech exists on many college campuses around the country. Thoroughly reported by Campus Reform and The College Fix, progressive students enabled by agenda-driven professors and college administrators regularly harass conservative students. Some incidents of suppression manifest in the destruction of property. More subtle cases have been documented such as professors marking down the grades of conservative students for no reason other than a student’s traditional values.
Many universities are also limiting conservative speech via unaccountable administrative tribunals (bias response teams) that make conservative students appear before panels of school officials to answer for comments made in a classroom or elsewhere on campus. Complaints lodged against conservative students are usually anonymous and these accused students often have no legal representation or due process. In addition, many college campuses foster environments where conservative students are shouted down and discriminated against for their views or values. Many students are now afraid to share their ideas of views that challenge prevailing liberal doctrine.
A new organization is meeting, head on, these threats to the First Amendment on college campuses: Speech First is dedicated to protecting students’ speech rights on campus through advocacy, litigation, and other means. Speech First has filed federal lawsuits against the University of Michigan, University of Texas-Austin, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign seeking to restore freedom of speech on campuses and ensure that college students attend classes and participate in activities that promote open discourse.
Many social media platforms are blatantly discriminating against conservatives with Silicon Valley executives openly expressing their disdain for conservative ideas. The de-platforming and banning of prominent center-right voices and conservative thought leaders has touched off accusations of bias and targeting. Twitter now has a policy saying anyone using an incorrect gender pronoun, or wrong first name of someone else could be banned. Twitter has effectively shut down hotly contested debates on subjects such as gender identity with these bans almost always going against conservative thought.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, recently rolled out a new ‘feature.’ It will utilize artificial intelligence to read every single comment or post, and if the algorithm deems the content of the post to be offensive in any way, Instagram will ask you to confirm your post. It’s not difficult to imagine how this algorithm could be manipulated to flag and suppress conservative speech.
The Media Research Center is now monitoring online bias against conservatives. TechWatch documents conservative bias and fights against online censorship of conservatives on various social media platforms. Their online blogs document the onslaught of offensive Silicon Valley has committed against conservatives, as well as how conservatives feel about Big Tech.
Preserving free speech in America and maintaining respect for one another—no matter what political opinions or religious beliefs we may have—is essential to the survival of our nation. What’s more—our First Amendment rights are not labeled Republican or Democrat. Public streets, campus classrooms and online forums should be centers of robust—mutually respected—debate.
Sadly, that is no longer the case. Those who are engaging in the fight to preserve conservative values and the unfettered expression of conservative speech deserve our respect and our full support.