Hold the right responsible for its violence

November 20, 2017

In October, the Columbia University College Republicans (CUCR) hosted a series of speakers representing the hard-line right wing--including Tommy Robinson of the far-right English Defense League; former candidate for the GOP presidential nomination Herman Cain; and alt-right provocateur Mike Cernovich--all in the name of "free speech."

Columbia students and members of the surrounding communities didn't let the Republicans' misnamed "Free Speech Month" go unchallenged. The purveyors of hate were protested by opponents who wanted to send a message that their campus would not be used as a recruiting ground for the far right or a platform for their bigotry. When Cernovich came to Columbia to speak, several men who claimed to be his guests injured a counterprotester who was part of a team to keep the anti-right wing demonstration secure.

When the CUCR wrote an opinion article for the student newspaper claiming that no violence had been provoked by its speakers, the Barnard-Columbia Socialists responded in a statement issued on Facebook about the violence inflicted on one of their members and how this fits into the right's larger agenda of using the mantle of "free speech" to promote its hate and bigotry, on campuses and beyond.

IN THEIR op-ed piece for the Columbia Spectator, the Columbia University College Republicans (CUCR) stated:

[C]ritics have alleged that we have brought presenters who threaten the physical safety of our own peers. We ask that someone point to just one specific act of physical violence inspired by a speech hosted specifically by CUCR. If the probability of violence were as great as our critics allege, surely some violent act would have occurred between the two different events.

We are writing this post because we know CUCR's claims of not having provoked violence to be false. One of our comrades was injured on the night Mike Cernovich came to campus Monday, October 30. We were hesitant to speak out publicly sooner, both for fear of becoming a target of harassment and in order to give our comrade some time to recover from her injuries.

She, along with a group of other students, was part of a student-run security and medical team for the protest against Cernovich. At around 8:40 pm that night, our comrade heard an altercation happening near the side entrance of Lerner Hall. She went over with her security partner and began to try to de-escalate the verbal altercation that had broken out between a couple of student protesters and three men, estimated to be 40 years old, who claimed to be guests of Cernovich.

Students protest alt-right provocateur Mike Cernovich at Columbia University
Students protest alt-right provocateur Mike Cernovich at Columbia University

While she was speaking to the protesters, standing in between the two groups, our comrade lost her balance and started falling toward Cernovich's guests. At that moment, she felt one of them knee her hard in the ribs. Public safety did nothing, even though they were all stationed around the protest and had turned away protesters earlier for not having a university ID.

Our comrade woke up the next morning with heavy bruising and coughed up blood. Medical professionals confirmed that she suffered minor internal bleeding, and she currently has a concussion from the incident.

She is in communication with the appropriate deans.

Cernovich has a documented history of coordinating online harassment of women during Gamergate--harassment that was so extensive and terrorizing that multiple restraining orders were issued and women had to flee their homes after rape and death threats. This is a history that both CUCR and the Columbia administration were well aware of. Yet Columbia security sent guests of Cernovich into a crowd of young students without any attempt to ensure the safety of those students when our comrade was assaulted.

DESPITE THE legitimate fear of harassment for making this statement, we think it is important to speak out and expose the violence normalized, whipped up, and inflicted by the far right against those who stand up to them.

While CUCR claims to make this a question of free speech, and the administration colludes with them in allowing this representation of the situation, this incident shows that far-right forces are using our campuses as recruiting grounds and venues for the type of physical violence and intimidation that we have seen them perpetrate in Charlottesville and elsewhere.

If the CUCR chooses to invite speakers in the interest of being provocative, then they also have a responsibility for whom and what those speakers bring to campus. When they submit a guest list to the university that includes personal friends of Cernovich, and then those guests attack a student, they are responsible for that violence. And when Columbia fails to condemn bigotry and fails to take measures to protect its students, particularly its most vulnerable students, then it also bears responsibility.

We condemn the violence inflicted on our comrade, and we demand that CUCR and Columbia be held accountable for their actions. We stand in solidarity with oppressed students and every person that have put themselves on the line to challenge the slew of right-wing speakers invited onto campus.

In solidarity,
Barnard-Columbia International Socialist Organization

First published on the Facebook page of Barnard-Columbia Socialists.

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