“Ben Shapiro is a 33-year-old who supports small government, religious liberty, and free-market economics and opposes identity politics, abortion, and Donald Trump,” Bari Weiss announces in her latest column for The New York Times. “He is, in other words, that wildly exotic creature: a political conservative.” What a travesty, then, that the University of California, Berkeley’s president issued a letter to students indicating his concern about Shapiro’s forthcoming appearance at the campus and the “impact some speakers may have on individuals’ sense of safety and belonging.” To Weiss, this letter is evidence that the left just can’t handle conservatives without calling them fascists.
Weiss glosses over Shapiro’s extremism—he once called for the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and marked Trayvon Martin’s birthday by tweeting that he’d be alive “if he hadn’t taken a man’s head and beaten it on the pavement before being shot.” But her characterization of Shapiro isn’t the worst part of her piece.
In the process of attacking “the sloppy conflation between actual white supremacists and, well, run-of-the-mill conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals,” she defends Joey Gibson, the organizer behind the West Coast’s Patriot Prayer events. In Weiss’s account, Gibson is just a conservative, and the left has unfairly castigated him and his events by affixing the label “white supremacist” to both. Weiss acknowledges that Gibson’s events have been attended by white supremacists in the past, but credits him for announcing that Richard Spencer and Identity Evropa’s Nathan Damigo were not welcome at his most recent Bay Area event, “Liberty Weekend.”
She also credits him for his diverse speaking roster:
The others were Hispanic, black, Asian, Samoan and Muslim; two were women. Mr. Gibson himself is half-Japanese.
But it doesn’t actually matter that Gibson identifies as a person of color or that he permits a Samoan to speak at his rallies. Extremists attend his rallies because they agree with him and they feel comfortable with him. Let’s take another look at that speaking roster. The Samoan is Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who punched a man half his size at a Portland rally in May. Kyle Chapman, better known as the white supremacist folk hero Based Stickman, is another. Instead of denigrating Berkeley, maybe Weiss should read what its student paper reported about Chapman:
During the March rally, Berkeley police arrested Chapman for suspicion of felony assault. Chapman was also arrested while promoting another Berkeley pro-Trump rally April 10 after another alleged fight.
And if Gibson has a problem with Identity Evropa, it’s a new position. Via Public Research Associates, here’s a photo of him happily posing with Identity Evropa’s Jake Ott (Gibson is in the immediate foreground):
And here he is with Based Stickman:
Gibson hasn’t just allowed the alt-right to attend his events; he’s encouraged it, and his events have become important organizing opportunities for the West Coast racist right. Jeremy Christian regularly attended them before murdering two people in Portland, Oregon, because they interfered with his racial abuse of two women. Gibson later held a moment of silence for Christian’s victims at one of his events, but alas for Weiss’s argument, this isn’t all he said. From the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog:
Gibson at one point explained to the crowd that opposing Muslims “is not racism,” because “Muslim isn’t a race, it’s an ideology.” He compared it to the Ku Klux Klan.
The women Christian racially abused were Muslim.
Maybe Weiss doesn’t know that. Maybe she doesn’t know any of this. Ignorance is the most generous explanation for the following paragraph from her piece:
In the end, however, the violence didn’t emanate from Mr. Gibson’s camp, but from antifa groups that showed up to kick some fascist butt. Meantime, Mr. Gibson said things like “moderates have to come together.” Strange words for an accused fascist. But when mainstream politicians are engaging in Reductio ad Hitlerum, should Mr. Gibson’s branding as such come as any surprise?
The branding is accurate. Weiss is an opinion writer, but she still has a responsibility to the public. She failed it miserably here.