WASHINGTON – Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, said on Thursday that he would be happy to defend Taylor Dumpson, the first African-American student body president of American University, who faced bananas hanging from nooses tied up around campus the day she took office in May.
“I’m more than happy to stand alongside her and fight whatever group was responsible for this,” Shapiro said during a debate about free speech on college campuses before a House panel.
Shapiro noted that the Anti-Defamation League named him the No. 1 target for online anti-Semitic harassment in 2016. The former editor-at-large at Breitbart joked that he has a trophy at his house listing him as the No. 1 hated Jew in America.
The hearing took place before the House Oversight and Government Reform’s subcommittee on healthcare, benefits and administrative rules. Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) emphasized that the taunting symbols left at American University do not have any place on college campuses. The bananas found hanging from the nooses included references to Harambe, the gorilla who was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016 after a boy fell into its pen. Dumpson was also targeted with racist online harassment from neo-Nazi groups.
Frederick Lawrence, national commissioner for ADL and professor at Yale Law School, agreed with Plaskett, saying that speech that is intended to create fear or serve as a threat has no place on college campuses. Any reasonable person, he said, would conclude that the displays at American University were a threat.
Much of Thursday’s discussion concerned college administrations’ ability to censor controversial speakers or speeches at the cost of First Amendment rights. Shapiro, who has frequently spoken on controversial subjects on campuses, remains strongly opposed to any censorship, and argued that colleges should err on the side of allowing more speech. He added that administrations are free to disagree with the subject of the speech.
“This notion that there’s some type of grand intelligentsia running the universities, who are capable of discriminating between hate speech and normal speech, who should be sitting atop a hill somewhere under a palm tree, like a qadi dispensing justice on a case by case basis, I think is nonsense, and I don’t think they have any rational standards that they apply,” Shapiro said.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) spoke out against censorship against conservative groups on campus while holding in his hand a pocket-sized Constitution, which a student group was barred from distributing at a Michigan junior college in 2016. Young Americans for Liberty sued Kellogg Community College after two of the group’s members were arrested for handing out the pamphlets without administrative approval and charged with trespassing. The charges were eventually dropped.
“I am inspired that there are young people who are inspired by this document, and it should never be illegal to hand out this document,” Massie said.
Shapiro called the censorship of speakers like himself a “heckler’s veto,” adding that he has no problem with people protesting his speeches but he takes issue with administrations blocking him.
Comedian and documentary filmmaker Adam Carolla also appeared before the House panel and explained that controversial speech is in the “ear of the beholder,” noting that there are super-sensitive ears on campus today. Known for hosting Loveline and The Man Show, Carolla described a recent visit to Home Depot and being subjected to Taylor Swift music while looking for tools. He didn’t complain or start a fire, he said, while explaining that it wasn’t an endorsement for Taylor Swift’s music.
“People need to have that in their mind,” he said. “I’m not saying, ‘Don’t have an opinion,’ and I’m not saying, ‘Don’t voice your opinion,’ but when other people are voicing their opinion or singing their song, sometimes it’s just time to grab your RotoHammer and head for the parking lot.”