It’s Ordinary Americans, Not Professional Provocateurs, Whose Freedom of Expression Needs Defense

February 22, 2017 | David French
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On Monday, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) had to disinvite the journalist and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, whom it had previously engaged as the keynote speaker at its annual conference on the grounds of its commitment to “free speech.” David French argues against making people like Yiannopoulos into icons of free expression:

[I]f Yiannopoulos is the poster boy for free speech, then free speech will lose. He’s the perfect foil for [far-left activists], a living symbol of everything they fight against. His very existence and prominence feed the deception that modern political correctness is the firewall against the worst forms of bigotry. . . .

[Yiannopoulos’s] isn’t the true face of the battle for American free-speech rights. That face belongs to Barronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington whom the left is trying to ruin financially because she refused to use her artistic talents to celebrate a gay marriage. It belongs to Kelvin Cochran, the Atlanta fire chief who was fired for publishing and sharing with a few colleagues a book he wrote that expressed orthodox Christian views of sex and marriage. Stutzman and Cochran demonstrate that intolerance and censorship strike not just at people on the fringe—people like Yiannopoulos—but rather at the best and most reasonable citizens of these United States. They’re proof that [the hard left] seeks not equality and inclusion but control and domination.

Yiannopoulos has the same free-speech rights as any other American. He can and should be able to troll to his heart’s content without fear of government censorship or private riot. But by elevating him even higher, CPAC would have made a serious mistake. CPAC’s invitation told the world that supporting conservative free speech means supporting Milo. If there’s a more effective way to vindicate the social-justice left, I can’t imagine it.

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