A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

13 February 2018 — 1608 mst

Missoula Rises’ lowdown attempt to sabotage the Cole Lecture

Missoula Rises, a left leaning political group, thinks highly of itself, but has a low opinion of Joe and Jane Citizen’s ability to think for themselves. Therefore, the Missoulian reports, the group’s self-appointed arbiters of what other people should be allowed to hear attempted to deny people access to this evening’s Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture at the University of Montana (the university is the lecture’s venue, but not its sponsor).

Their tactic? Reserving tickets for the event they intended to boycott, hoping to keep the Dennison Auditorium at least half empty.

[Cole Lecture] Sponsor Maria Cole said members of Missoula Rises, a local group that aims to create local change and be “inclusive,” registered for 400 tickets they didn’t intend to use at the lecture by columnist and provocateur Mike Adams. Cole said some people signed up under fake names such as Garth Brooks and Jeff Sessions, and she spent five days cleaning up the registration.

Erin Erickson of Missoula Rises disputed Cole’s estimate of 400 tickets — Erickson said 223 was closer to the truth — but admitted her group was trying to deny people access to the lecture by Mike Adams, a conservative provocateur whose views on social issues her group despises.

Erickson said she wants to be clear that the group does not believe in censorship or the restriction of speech based on political views, but she said the speaker doesn’t have the right to “promulgate hate.”

How Erickson knows Adams will “promulgate hate” is a mystery. She admits she doesn’t know what he will say.

Adams’ talk is titled “The Death of Liberal Bias in Higher Education,” but Erickson said Missoula Rises doesn’t have a transcript and doesn’t know if he’ll stick to the agenda. If the group had succeeded, its members might have taken away some people’s ability to hear the talk.

“They have the opportunity to reserve tickets as well. I don’t know what to say about that,” Erickson said.

Erickson may not know what to say about that, but I do. Missoula Rises acted in bad faith when it reserved tickets with the express purpose of denying other people the opportunity to hear Adams. Erickson and her colleagues have perishingly little confidence in the good judgment of their fellow human beings. That’s the kind of paternalistic arrogance and high-handedness that earned Anthony Comstock his reputation as a self-righteous prig who believed he should control what other people could read, hear, and see.

Erickson’s assertion that Adams has no right to utter “hate speech” may be well intentioned — Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at Berkeley, and coauthor of Free Speech on Campus, would say so — but as a matter of law and a civil society’s enlightened self-interest she’s wrong.

Ironically, and predictably, the attempts of Missoula Rises, and last fall, the UM Journalism School’s dean, to undermine the Cole Lecture and to shut down, or at least disrupt, Adams’ lecture have helped Maria Cole publicize the event and undoubtedly increased interest in, and exposure to, the speech. “Banned in Boston” could make a book a best seller, a lesson that censors and would-be censors never learn.

The festivities begin at 1800 MST this evening. Security will be oppressive, with gluts of real police and rent-a-cops. Tickets are required, as is an ID that matches the ticket, backpacks and big bags are banned, and ticket holders may be searched. Nowadays, protecting free speech requires, or is thought to require, the presence of a police state. Which is what the antifa wants.

The university’s new president, Seth Bodnar, wants tolerance, forbearance, and an honest exchange of ideas. Here’s the statement he issued today:

To the UM Campus Community,

I want to share a few reflections ahead of tomorrow’s event on our campus featuring Mike Adams.

I take very seriously the concerns of our community members regarding this event. We are a community committed to seeking and celebrating diversity and to supporting the growth and development of people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. Ours is a university driven by the core values of inclusiveness and equal opportunity. We stand united against divisiveness, intolerance, and hate.

At the same time, I understand the importance of allowing ideas — even those we may deem to be ill-informed, odious, and antithetical to our values — to be aired. Freedom of speech is a core value of our country and, especially, of our public institutions of higher education. It is a principle of constitutional magnitude, enshrined in our First Amendment. As a country, we have fought to protect the right of individuals to express their ideas, even when those ideas offend us. We have done so to ensure that all speech is permitted, even speech with which we disagree.

In practice, this means that we will sometimes encounter ideas that provoke, anger, or wound us. Protecting the right of free expression can therefore conflict with our strong commitment to foster a campus that is welcoming and inclusive. This is a challenging tension with which we grapple as a society and as a university.

The solution to this tension, however, does not lie in censorship. Once we begin to pick and choose on the basis of which speech may occur, we open the gates to having our own voices silenced – yours, mine, and all those who do not voice majority opinions.

Allowing someone to speak on our campus is not an endorsement of his or her views, nor do we condone speech that is hateful or targets people based on their identities. What a speaker says may define him or her, but it does not define us. It is possible for us to stand firmly in support of free speech while also standing firm in our values.

The Constitution and a long history of case law makes it clear that public universities cannot ban speakers based on content or viewpoint. But this does not leave us powerless. There are things we can do. We can work to ensure that safety and order are maintained. We can speak out strongly, clearly, and critically to challenge speech with which we disagree.

We are aware that this event may draw spectators and protestors. Campus police are working to ensure there is order, and other campus officials are working to ensure that our policies are followed. We look to our own community to express their views productively and peacefully, and I ask the entire UM community to demonstrate that, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, the best remedy for bad ideas is good ones.


That sets the right tone. Bodnar’s off to a good start.