Executive Managing Editor
A small handful of students at the University of California, Santa Barbara held signs at the Arbor on Thursday and engaged with others in heated discussions about free speech and conservative values. The demonstrators’ efforts, in turn, brought about a counter-demonstration from progressive-leaning students later in the afternoon.
About five to seven demonstrators held up the signs toward students passing by on the way to classes. By the time the demonstration was over, a crowd of 20 to 30 students had surrounded the sign-holders, debating the free speech activists over the content of their posters.
“Even Nazis Deserve Free Speech,” read one of the posters at the demonstration, which set off several shouting matches between the demonstrators and the crowds of students who had gathered to address the signs.
Other signs included more expansive declarations. “Viewpoint diversity is the most important type of diversity in a university,” one sign read, likely referring to calls for increased racial and cultural diversity on college campuses.
Still other signs were more specific. “Islam is the enemy of the gay community,” a sign proclaimed.
A particular back-and-forth argument between the groups revolved around white nationalist spokesman Richard Spencer, who was hit in the face by an unidentified individual on Inauguration Day several weeks before. A video taken of the incident went viral in the days after.
“You can’t hit someone just because they disagree with you,” yelled first-year undeclared major Troy Eggertsen to the surrounding crowd.
“We’re going to punch guys like Richard Spencer over and over until he shuts up,” a student shouted back.
“Richard Spencer supports genocide, which threatens our basic rights,” another student said. Both students wished to remain anonymous.
The free speech demonstration was in response to a violent protest at the University of California, Berkeley early last week, which shut down a scheduled event for conservative political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. What started as a peaceful protest of the UC Berkeley College Republicans’ event launched into a riot after approximately 150 masked individuals began attacking members of the crowd, vandalizing property, and setting fires, according to Berkeley administration.
Student organization UCSB Young Americans for Liberty, which brought Yiannopoulos to UCSB’s campus in May 2015, issued an official statement of solidarity on its Facebook page Thursday following protests the night before. Dominick DiCesare, who helped lead the demonstration Thursday afternoon, serves as president of the UCSB chapter of YAL.
The organization will not bring Yiannopoulos back to UCSB, DiCesare said. “I don’t personally agree with his views,” he said, “and he’s also very difficult to work with sometimes.”
DiCesare went on to say he would not want to bring back the British commentator simply to get a rise out of the UCSB student body. “I’m not trying to provoke anybody,” he said. “He made his point on this campus, and it responded with incredible peace. They showed me they can have their disagreements and still be peaceful.”
Some students arrived with their own signs later in the afternoon to hold their own demonstration. Several held signs that read “End Islamophobia, End Hate.”
“I believe using inflammatory tactics to incite a response from people is not the best way,” fourth year biology major Bree Gibbs said. “The idea of normalizing hate and putting down another group may help people decide to act on that.”
“Hate crimes and anti-Semitism have been up since the election,” she said. “It’s a daily reminder that as much as we can think we’ve moved forward, we haven’t. It’s horrifying.”