Costello: At Berkeley, don't feed the provocateurs

Conservative speaks out before Berkeley speech
Conservative speaks out before Berkeley speech

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Conservative speaks out before Berkeley speech 03:32

Story highlights

  • Carol Costello: The University of California at Berkeley has become a lightning rod
  • Many would blame Donald Trump, but political provocateurs bear much responsibility

Carol Costello is the host of "Across America With Carol Costello" on HLN. The views expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)High drama at the University of California at Berkeley tonight. Ben Shapiro is set to speak -- a conservative lightning rod -- in a powder keg.

That's what Berkeley seems to becomes when a conservative speaker is invited to campus.
The university is establishing a "closed perimeter" around Shapiro's speech. Any violence will be met with police force. And (sigh) the university will provide counseling services for anyone who "is offended."
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    "The whole thing is insane," Shapiro told me. "If you disagree with me, I'm a Nazi, let's riot."
    Shapiro says protest groups have distributed posters labeling him a white supremacist, despite the fact that the hate-tracking group, the Anti-Defamation League, determined Shapiro was among the most targeted by white supremacists last year.
    Many would blame the rise of Donald Trump for an increase in violent protests, but that's too easy. Professional provocateurs are to blame. They exist to "poke the bear" in order to drive their own hateful agendas. And when they speak on campuses like Berkeley, they attract crowds of supporters and dissenters who often violently clash.
    Dan Mogulof, assistant vice-chancellor at Berkeley, told me his university is being used. "There are organizations across the political spectrum that are ready, willing and able to turn this college into a battleground."
    Mogulof is not talking about Shapiro, but about the hatemongers on both sides. The anti-fascists who invade his campus to prove -- what? -- that men and women with masks over their faces can intimidate conservatives?
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    And he blames the provocateurs on the right as well, although he did not name names. But I will. Milo Yiannopoulos, tentatively scheduled to speak at Berkeley on September 24, was forced to resign from Breitbart after videos surfaced of Yiannopoulos defending pedophilia. He told CNNMoney that he is guilty of "imprecise language," but rejects the notion that he endorses pedophilia.
    But the pedophilia controversy wasn't the first time the provocateur said something contentious. In multiple public appearances, Yiannopoulos has made disparaging remarks about members of the transgender community, liberals, minority groups and Muslims.
    Berkeley will welcome Yiannopoulos in the spirit of free speech, but it's just another sad opportunity for him to play provocateur and pervert conservative discourse.
    Shapiro agrees. "Of course, he has the right to free speech," he told me. "Do I want to stand on a stage next to him? F*#k no." He later called Yiannopoulos a "pig."
    You would, too. Yiannopoulus once tweeted a racist Twitpic of a black baby with this message: "Prayers to Ben who had to see his kid come out half-black. And already taller than he is." The picture is not of Shapiro's baby. Shapiro is Jewish and married to a white woman. Yiannopoulus is now banned from Twitter for abusive tweets aimed at SNL's Leslie Jones, who is African-American.
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    I hope there will not be violence at Berkeley tonight or any other night. Shapiro has asked his supporters to listen peacefully. He says it's "up to Berkeley" to prove a conservative can speak safely on the campus.
    "It could be a great moment of unity," Shapiro added. If the university controls the anti-fascists, he says, it will mitigate the notion that conservative thought is not tolerated at places like Berkeley.
    I don't know if I buy that notion, but I do hope one day America will be able to ignore the provocateurs instead of violently fighting them. It's a waste of time.