Yes, I understand that invoking the Sturmabteilung, aka the SA, aka the stormtroopers, in relation to protests at the University of Missouri falls squarely into the discourse domain covered by Godwin’s Law (“as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”). But the brown shirt fits, and we should hang it on those comporting themselves in its spirit.
Weeks of anger over administration handling of racial incidents at the university’s Columbia campus culminated on November 9 in the resignations of UM president Tim Wolfe and campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. Various opinions on those events and issues aside, most of us should be able to agree on two things:
Yes, students and faculty are well within their rights to protest and to call for resignations or other redress of their grievances. They may be right or wrong on any given subject, but their rights of free speech and peaceable assembly are sacred.
No, those rights do not trump everyone else’s rights to free speech and a free press.
Having solicited attention to their outcry, the protesters are hypocrites when they invoke a “safe space — no media” claim against journalists attempting to report on their actions. They’re well beyond the scope of their own rights and in violation of the rights of others when they mob and physically assault those journalists.
Yes, that’s exactly what happened. If you don’t believe it, hit your favorite search engine with the phrase “#ConcernedStudent1950 vs the media.”
Among other outrages, you’ll witness the spectacle of UM assistant professor of mass media (!) Melissa Click getting in a journalist’s face, swatting at his camera and demanding that he “get out” of a public area, before yelling for “some muscle over here” to remove him.
Is a comparison to the Nazi Party’s street brawlers over the top? I don’t think so. The supposed purpose of the Sturmabteilung was to provide “security” for Nazi meetings and rallies. Its actual function was to physically disrupt the activities of opponents, including journalists whose reporting didn’t toe the Nazi line.
The only substantive difference between the madness of 1930s Berlin and this week’s analog in Columbia is the symbolism. Such tactics serve neither justice nor freedom — the means inevitably sullies the end.
America’s college protest movement dishonors itself to the extent that it continues to harbor and justify intolerance and evil.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
- “Mizzou Protest: Brownshirts on Parade,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Journal, 11/11/15
- “Mizzou protest: Brownshirts on parade,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Muscatine, Iowa Journal, 11/12/15
- “Mizzou protest: Brownshirts on parade,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Davenport, Iowa Quad-City Times, 11/12/15
- “Mizzou protest: Brownshirts on parade,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Roanoke, Virginia Times, 11/12/15
- “Missouri protestors should not be demeaned,” by Robert Guthrie, Roanoke, Virginia Times, 11/18/15