November 2, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Setting the record straight on the attempt to silence me at Vassar

Print More

On Oct. 31, 2017, The Cornell Daily Sun ran an article about the controversy concerning my lecture at Vassar College on Oct. 25, on the issue of “hate speech” and free speech on campuses. The Sun’s reporting completely missed the reality of what happened at Vassar.

The Sun focused heavily on a sideshow regarding the name change of the lecture, as if the name change was the problem that incited the attempt to prevent me from speaking. To the contrary, it was not the name of the lecture, but an organized campaign by student activists to inflame the campus with false factual accusations as to the event.

As I wrote at my website, in a link I provided to the Sun reporter for an explanation of what happened, Actual Malice at Vassar College:

“The campus was misled into thinking that I, and supposed ‘neo-Nazis and white supremacists’ who were likely to attend with me, were going to target non-white, LGBT and Jewish students. It was a fabrication.

“Two campus forums attended by hundreds of people were held by a student group called Healing 2 Action to prepare how to protect the campus from the supposed threat I posed. Among other statements reportedly made at the meeting was the false claim that the ‘speaker himself is trying to incite violence….’ That was a lie without any factual basis. …

False claims by Healing 2 Action that event information was shared by me ‘on multiple white nationalist websites,’ and that there was ‘active encouragement for other white nationalists to come to the event’ were spread to thousands of people by the Vassar Student Association, the student government, in an all-student email. The claim was made in that all-student email that there was a need to ‘protect the people that this speaker has targeted in the past.’”

This fabricated incitement against me and the lecture is what caused the campus turmoil, not the change in the name of the lecture.

These baseless inflammatory safety accusations were used as one of the reasons to try to shut down speech the activists did not want to hear. As I mentioned in my email exchange with the Sun reporter:

“I think some people at Vassar who opposed me speaking on the topic have seized on the name change as a distraction from the fact that they opposed me coming to campus for any reason.”

There also was an attempt, which unfortunately the Sun partially quoted, to misrepresent my prior writings to turn mainstream right-of-center political positions into some type of “ism.”

The objection to me speaking was that student social justice activists didn’t want a conservative speaker on campus discussing emotional issues as to constitutional protections even for hateful speech. They then created a false safety narrative which ignited the campus, and engaged in a campaign to demonize me.

It wasn’t pleasant being the object of this incitement, which included an event poster defaced to put horns on my head, as if I were the devil.

In the end, I was able to speak under heavy security. Almost 300 students packed the lecture hall and surrounding hallways to listen to me.

My lecture was 45 minutes and we had a 1 hour and 20-minute Question and Answer session. You can watch the videos here and here. I hope you will find them informative, and also that you will understand how outrageous the incitement campaign was in light of this reality.

I’m hopeful, but not optimistic, that the type of incitement and demonization I was subjected to at Vassar will not be repeated against members of the Cornell community who speak up in defense of free speech as the campus works its way through its own difficult issues of “hate speech” and free speech.

Prof. William A. Jacobson, law