Depending on which news sources you rely on to reinforce your prejudices, what happened on Friday night at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus represented either the death of free speech, a triumph of free speech, a spontaneous expression of anger by groups fed up with being vilified by Trump, a successful attempt to deny Donald Trump a platform, or a coordinated campaign that succeeded beyond its organizers’ wildest dreams.
So let’s begin with what we actually know: Since the start of his campaign, Donald Trump has singled out various groups, such as Mexican immigrants or Muslims, for derision, while at the same time deploying the language of escalating violence—as Rachel Maddow recently documented. Until last week, protesters at Trump events have appeared in small numbers—brave witnesses whose interruptions, though an annoyance to Trump, had little impact on his campaign. In Chicago, however, protesters—many of whom coordinated their actions on social media—numbered in their thousands. Although the organizers stressed the need to remain peaceful—and the Chicago police confirmed they never recommended the rally be called off—Trump himself decided to cancel the event. In the aftermath, some relatively minor clashes did occur between Trump’s supporters and protesters. Also in the aftermath, one group of Bernie Sanders supporters issued a tweet that led a particularly credulous reporter for MSNBC to claim they had been behind the protest.
In fact, it was students at UIC themselves who took the lead in organizing the protest, and though many of them might have been Sanders supporters, many were not. Just to confuse the issue, another UIC student, Jorge Mena Robles, an undocumented immigrant, drafted a petition calling on university administrators to cancel Trump’s rally. Posted on the MoveOn.org website, the petition attracted over 51,000 signatures. But Michael Amiridis, the university’s chancellor, replied that UIC had “no legal basis to exclude any candidate because of the views he or she expresses…. The answer to speech that one does not like or finds offensive is more speech and not censorship.”