Books & Culture

A review of “No Safe Spaces” (Directed by Justin Folk, PG-13, 95 minutes, Atlas Distribution Company)

Freedom of Speech No More?

“No Safe Spaces” succeeds at its primary goal: revealing the fundamentally evil designs of our enemies. There are, however, serious flaws in this otherwise polished production.

For his work in devising a way to predict the spread of infectious diseases, physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis found himself on a list of top global thinkers in 2010. The year before that, he was ranked among the world’s most influential people, making him one of the brightest stars in the constellation of liberalism. And yet none of these ornaments of an enlightened and celebrated intellect could inoculate Christakis from a disease that has infected the public mind of late, incubated in the petri dish of academia.

“What you did was create space for violence to happen,” shouts one student in the footage of the mob that surrounded Christakis at Yale in 2015. He and his wife had held positions at the prestigious university until that fall.

Just days before he found himself facing off against his students, Christakis suggested that they did not need the university to set guidelines for appropriate Halloween costumes. With that politically incorrect opinion, Christakis invited the sword of diversity down on his neck.

A recording of the incident shows a visibly concerned Christakis standing amid a swarm of mostly nonwhite students. As they verbally flog him for having transgressed against the cult of diversity and inclusion, the professor musters the courage to utter a few trepidatious words. But he is immediately interrupted: “Be quiet!” a student screams.

According to the mob, Christakis had promised to make Yale a safe space “for all human beings,” but he fell fatally short of that lofty mark. It was his “job” to create a “place of comfort” for the students. His response to that charge is timid. “I have,” he says—to which a student, in response, shouts, “You have not done that!”

Onlookers break down in tears when Christakis refuses to plead guilty to crimes against political correctness. The professor’s place, the students say, is not to defend himself, but to absorb the full gravity of their collective grief and repent. At one point, a tall black male charges up and comes nose-to-nose with the professor.

By the end of that academic year, Christakis stepped down, and his wife followed him out the door.

This story, all but forgotten now, was given new life in “No Safe Spaces,” a documentary featuring conservative commentator Dennis Prager and comedian Adam Carolla. The aim of the film is to expose the illiberal direction that the halls of higher education have taken. The days of rage that have rocked universities across the country in recent years are well documented here.

Recall that in 2017, Berkeley was plunged into a fiery hellscape ahead of a Milo Yiannopoulos speaking event. Police barricades were furiously swept away by students, plate glass windows were shattered, explosive devices were hurled at police officers. “We need our voices heard, and if this is how it must be done,” said one Berkeley student, “then I suppose that’s what we gotta do.”

It generally escaped notice that Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin was a member of an Antifa-affiliated group, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), on Facebook. “BAMN orchestrated the violence that shut down a scheduled lecture at UC Berkeley featuring Milo Yiannopoulos in early 2017,” according to journalist Tom Ciccotta. The message that these protests were intended to convey, as one student said, is “that under no means will we allow any of this go on anywhere near Berkeley.” Only after that message was sent did Arreguin condemn those “black-clad extremists” with whom he had associated.

The film follows Isabella Chow, a student senator at Berkeley, who found herself before the queer armies marching beneath the rainbow standard. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “the Queer Alliance Resource Center asked the student Senate to pass a bill condemning the Trump administration for considering a legal definition of gender that would require it to match a person’s sex at birth.” Chow abstained from voting based on her traditional Christian beliefs. The backlash was swift as it was predictable.

“Tonight is not about dismissing Christianity as universally toxic,” said a student of Chow’s abstention, “but about validating the experience of those at the hands of bigots who have cowardly hidden behind religion to justify their actions.” Because Chow did not compromise on her beliefs, she was declared a bigot. Because she would not bow before the outrage mob, she was condemned a coward. At Berkeley, “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength.”

The Defenestration of Bret Weinstein

But things go from bad to worse when we arrive at Evergreen State College in Washington. During the spring of 2017, the little college in the woods was transformed into the national headquarters of the LGBTKGB.

For years, Evergreen has held a “Day of Absence” event, where minority students and faculty stay off campus to show just how much they contribute to the university. Around the same time that Berkeley was being torn apart by protests, the script was flipped at Evergreen: “students of color” demanded that whites stay off campus for the Day of Absence.

The change in format did not sit well with Bret Weinstein, a self-described “liberal” biology professor at the college. “There is a huge difference between a group or a coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles,” Weinstein wrote in an email, “and a group encouraging another group to go away.”

“The first is a forceful call to consciousness,” he explained, “which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force and an act of oppression in and of itself.” But Weinstein’s students had, in fact, merely taken the logical step that follows consciousness: action against their white oppressors.

Weinstein’s refusal to be absent from the campus sent the student body into a rage. Campus police officers were immediately outnumbered and overwhelmed. “This group, it’s getting more and more hostile,” Stacy Brown can be heard saying on a recorded line, then the chief of police for Evergreen. “Things are escalating, two officers are not enough to engage, even if someone is being physically hurt,” she says. The film cuts to a black male cornering an elderly white woman at the college. He appears to be shouting at her, pointing his finger at her, and she can only cower against the wall.

Brown ends the call, announcing that the campus police are “disengaging”—that is, retreating.

The students at Evergreen eventually took over the administration building. They can be seen forcing their way into faculty offices, ultimately intimidating the president of the college to agree to a “meeting.”

“Prioritize people of color,” shouts a student as the kangaroo court enters session. “If you’re white and sitting down, give your seat up to a person of color.” Weinstein, of course, attended what he assumed would be his firing at the hands of students. “The food and water that was available, publicly supplied,” he said, “were for people of color.” White people were instructed to “not avail themselves of those things.” The staff and faculty had utterly lost control of the campus. “Whiteness is the most violent fucking system ever to breathe!” shouts a student to wild cheering and applause.

As Weinstein left the campus flanked by students, one among them was naïve enough to break ranks and speak to the canceled professor. The following day, a rally was held at the college. The student who talked to Weinstein was forced to read a statement in front of everyone on campus. “They effectively humiliated her in order to demonstrate that they had recaptured her in some way,” said Weinstein.

The next day, as Weinstein biked to the campus, he saw what can only be described as a checkpoint. Students appeared to be looking for him. On a bad feeling, he rode to the police station, telling officers what he thought he had just witnessed. The students “are looking for you,” an officer told him, “and what’s more, I can’t protect you; you’re not safe on campus, and you’re not safe anywhere in town on your bicycle.”

By June, Evergreen students had formed vigilante patrols to “police” the campus with baseball bats for the politically incorrect. “Credible reports protestors w/ bats roaming campus for 2 days,” Weinstein wrote in a tweet. “People hit, won’t report.”

In the aftermath of Evergreen, Weinstein warns that it would be a mistake to dismiss the incident as anomalous.

“In some ways,” he says, “Evergreen is a preview of what is coming. The fact that this is happening across so many campuses means that it is going to spread into every quadrant of society.” Eventually, these students graduate and go on to hold the levers of power in government, in large corporations, in schools. Weinstein, therefore, believes that “Evergreen is describing a future that is rapidly approaching.”

Conservative Blinders

“No Safe Spaces” succeeds at its primary goal: revealing the fundamentally evil designs of our enemies. The arc of history will be bent by them or broken over their collective knee, but they will never stop. There are, however, serious flaws in this otherwise polished production. For a start, the mainstream conservatives Prager props in the documentary have recently behaved themselves in a way consistent with how the Left operates.

After Prager says to an audience that our opponents cannot merely denounce us as “wrong,” but must paint us as “evil,” the film cuts to Ben Shapiro. Though he has styled himself a gladiator for free speech, Shapiro has developed a reputation for castigating nationalists, but refusing to debate them.

Next comes Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, brought on by Prager as a sort of expert.

“Make no mistake, it’s not just the free speech laws and the free speech zones, but it’s the ‘culture,’” says Kirk. “This is what’s so important—it’s what is culturally allowed to be said, and not allowed to be said.” Kirk’s words ring hollow in the wake of his recent “Culture War” tour where he refused to address right-wing students during Q&A sessions on the basis of what Kirk himself thinks is “culturally allowed to be said.”

Those asking questions about demographics were charged with holding “racist” ideas. Those with queries concerning traditional marriage, morality, and values were accused of being “behind the times” by Kirk’s gay cohost, and, therefore, without “any place in the conservative movement.”

Kirk, like Shapiro, styles himself as a free speech warrior. And yet like Shapiro, Kirk has made it a habit to paint his detractors as ne’er-do-wells, going so far as to bar them from events by security. At UCLA, Kirk was booed off the stage with chants of “America First” after canceling the Q&A session to save himself the trouble of answering the tough questions that come with free speech. As journalist Sharyl Attkisson says in “No Safe Spaces,” it’s far easier to vilify a person or an idea than to debate in earnest.

There is, on the other hand, Prager’s subtle attempt to extricate liberalism from leftism throughout the film. It is not expressly stated, but nevertheless comes into view through dialogues and interviews: liberalism is separate from leftism; there is little or no connection between the two. Therefore, one cannot be blamed for the rise of the other. This has been a project of Prager’s for sometime, and arguably it has been wounded by this production.

Contradictions of Liberalism on Display

Since Evergreen, Weinstein has resumed chipping away at the foundations of the only social force with the moral and ethical framework to counteract leftism: Christianity.

“Some of history’s darkest chapters involved brutal coercion of people because they didn’t accept that ‘Jesus is the son of God,’” wrote Weinstein recently. “Assuming Christians have outgrown that inclination, they’d be wise to quit broadcasting this exclusionary claim. Seems obvious. What am I missing?”

That is, Christians must stop being Christians. Or to use Prager’s line, on preferring “clarity over agreement,” Weinstein is merely clarifying that liberalism requires that Christians dissolve Christ and adopt a secularized theology of humanism. In doing so, he sounds an awful lot like Isabella Chow’s adversaries. This hostility to Christianity—to tradition—undoubtedly played no role at Evergreen, where Weinstein “did not see a coup in the institution coming.” When his liberal colleague and spouse, Heather Heying, laments that academia seems to have been “destroyed from within,” one can only be amazed by her obliviousness.

Meanwhile, Christakis is still committed to the proposition that the liberal political project can show us the way up from “tribalism.” He still quotes Martin Luther King Jr., “that we might one day come to judge each other by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin.” But King expressly supported race-based arrangements. “If a city has a 30 percent Negro population,” said King in 1968, “then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.” If he were alive today, King would not be a card-carrying member of the Heritage Foundation.

These are the contradictions—between what is claimed by liberals and what is true—that leads the youth down the road to disillusionment. When disillusionment turns into rage, a generation emerges convinced that illiberal leftism is, paradoxically, the only answer to the impossible dreams of liberalism. But long before then, liberalism pointed the sword of criticism at the heart of society in the name of liberating the hearts and minds of men. All those “pleasing illusions” of society, as Edmund Burke wrote, “as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion” by the rationalist guns of liberalism. The crackdown on politically incorrect speech is a symptom, not the cause of this social explosion.

Before leftism, it was liberalism that counted the stripping away of traditional moral and ethical codes as victories for free speech and expression. The elimination of the Hays Code, which, whatever its flaws, attempted to establish moral guidelines for motion pictures in America, was counted as a victory for free speech by liberals. Now the Left pushes child pornography through Netflix.

Certainly, the end of blasphemy laws, which were intended to protect the very belief system on which our regime is based, came with a sigh of relief from liberals. Now the Left can cast Jesus Christ as a homosexual in film. When Americans saw fit to outlaw flag burning in 48 states—to subordinate free speech and expression to social cohesion and moral order—liberals counted it as a win when the Supreme Court overturned each and every protection statute.

All the Left has done, then, is to impose its own moral and ethical framework in the lacuna left by the victories of liberalism. Most Americans at the time of the founding, professor Barry Alan Shain notes, “believed it was the legitimate and necessary role of religious, familial, social, and governmental forces to limit, reform, and shape the sinful individual.” In other words, Americans had no qualms then against  “legislating morality” at the expense of free speech and expression.

Nor did older generations of Americans believe that moral neutrality was possible or even desirable. Those on the Right who profess this view are condemned as “reactionaries” by liberals, even as the Left forcibly imposes its own bizarro morality to limit, reform, and shape the politically incorrect individual.

What is cancel culture but the punishing of those who blaspheme against the tenets of leftism? What is the promotion of degeneracy and the vilification of traditional values in media as an industry standard, but an inverted Hays Code? The Left even has the power to prohibit the destruction of its preferred flag. An Iowa man was recently sentenced to 16 years in prison for burning a gay pride flag.

Though the documentary ends on a high note of Prager conducting an orchestra, nothing in the film, or that has happened since its release, indicates that Weinstein’s forecast has been changed. So far as we have seen, mainstream conservatives are not up battling the Left, and seem more concerned with gatekeeping the Right. Liberals remain oblivious or in denial of their role in radicalizing a generation. Who could really believe that the future of civilization rests on the job security of Weinstein, Peterson, and Christakis?

Liberals have not only disillusioned the Left, but a generation of right-wing dissidents who see in them the hands from which the moral order has slipped.