The video seems like a spoof from The Onion: Students at Yale University walk through its tree-lined, Gothic architecture-filled campus and proceed to happily sign a petition to abolish the First Amendment of the Constitution.
In fact, they appear grateful for the opportunity to lend their names to the effort to rid the country of freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and expression.
“I think this is fantastic. I absolutely agree,” a young man in a puffy black jacket and backpack says to the man with the petition.
“Excellent. Love it,” a woman is seen saying next, followed by a different man in a backpack saying, as he signs his name, “I appreciate what you’re trying to do.”
That man with the petition to repeal the First Amendment is not a student at Yale, nor a member of the academic community.
He is not a radical nor an anarchist seeking to dismantle the Constitution or ban freedom of speech. He is not trying to encourage the college students demanding restrictions on freedom of speech, like the ones at Amherst College in Massachusetts and Hamilton College in upstate New York.
Rather, the man, filmmaker Ami Horowitz, is highlighting the ridiculous—or terrifying, depending on your view—nature of some of these student demands by taking their desires to create “safe spaces” and ban “microaggressions” to the extreme. And documenting their wholehearted support on film.
“It’s a very disturbing trend for both our university system—the greatest university system the world has known—as well our country as a whole,” Horowitz told The Daily Beast.
Horowitz has a history of making documentaries revealing people’s support for ludicrous and/or disturbing causes.
Last year, he made another short film on a prominent college campus, University of California at Berkeley.
In it, Horowitz is shown standing on campus waving an ISIS flag, receiving neutral glances or pumped fists of support from students. According to YouTube, this video has been viewed over a million times.
“My goal simply is to expose things that I think people need to know about, issues that are not being properly covered that would blow people’s minds,” Horowitz said.
In his latest endeavor, Horowitz shows a cornucopia of young men and women nodding in agreement as he poses as an activist genuinely invested in banning free speech. He could not be trollier if he tried, getting these young men and women to nod along and concur with his lines, like:
“I feel the Constitution should be one big safe space”
“Microaggressions should not be protected”
“You shouldn’t be exposed to things you don’t want to hear”
Even if your crotchety old uncle had scripted the short movie, the young men and women could not have done a better job of validating the stereotype of college students as a bunch of overly-coddled, hyper-PC, ignorant, entitled fools.
“In under 60 minutes on Yale’s campus, I collected over 50 signatures from the Yale University community, calling for the repeal of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Horowitz boasts at the end of the film.
Horowitz stood by the number of signatures he received in support of abolishing the First Amendment, though he placed them in context for The Daily Beast.
He said that he spoke to around 100 people on Yale’s campus in just under an hour. “Of the 100 I stopped and talked to, roughly 55 kids signed the petition, 15 said, ‘No fucking way I’m signing this,’ and the rest said, ‘I’m not interested’ or ‘I want to do research on it.’”
Horowitz would not disclose whether he got the people in the film’s permission to include them in his video. “I’d rather not get inside baseball on how we produce this stuff,” he said.
He also said that he did not check student ID’s to verify whether they were actually Yale students and estimated that “out of 100, I would say 90 were Yale students. Some were people clearly working there.”
One woman who intimated she was a professor—“She said to me, ‘I have to leave to get to my class for my students’”—also signed the petition. While he has the list of signatures, Horowitz said he could not recall which name was hers on the petition list to identify her.
Yale University spokesman Tom Conroy expressed skepticism when asked if he could confirm whether those in the video were affiliated with the university.
“There are a number of heavily edited prank videos like this one circulating lately in which someone surreptitiously records people while pretending to support a position that they actually oppose, and trying to get the individuals they speak with to agree with them,” Conroy told The Daily Beast in an email.
“I have to acknowledge that I don’t take them seriously as an accurate representation of what people interviewed or shown in the videos believe. A great many reasonable people I know have expressed the same skepticism about these videos… I did look at this video and the faces of those being interviewed are obscured. I don’t know why that is, do you?”
Horowitz, obviously, does not see his video as a prank, nor merely showing an insignificant segment of the Yale community. “I was there for an hour, and I’m pretty confident I could have gotten hundreds if I stayed there all day,” Horowitz said.
Watching the video, one wonders whether those signing the petition actually realize that they are lending their name to support the end of freedom of speech. After all, campuses are often filled with people haranguing passers-by to sign petitions.
Did Horowitz think some of the signers were being intellectually lazy and simply not paying attention (an explanation slightly more encouraging than the prospect of people intending to repeal the First Amendment)?
“You can never know what’s going on in someone’s mind, but I feel pretty confident no one signed it blindly,” Horowitz said. “Everyone asked questions. They were all relatively thoughtful.”
There was one interaction in particular that stood out to Horowitz.
“One girl had the honesty to say, ‘I don’t know what’s in the First Amendment,’” recalled Horowitz.
As Yale is ranked the third best university in the nation with an acceptance rate of 6.3 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report, if this girl is a student, Yale may have problems beyond ones related to freedom of speech.
“She pulled it up on her phone, read it thoughtfully, and said ‘Okay, I’ll sign this,’” said Horowitz. “That one blew me away.”
While these interactions may be shocking to Americans just starting to tune into the college protests, limiting freedom of speech is not uncommon in the litany of demands students are presenting to their universities.
Conroy firmly denied any freedom of speech restrictions on campus. “At Yale, no one is ever prevented from expressing a viewpoint and no one is ever disciplined for something they say… There is no hate speech code at Yale or any prohibition on any form of speech, and no speaker invited to campus by students or faculty is denied a forum,” Conroy said.
Yet, while there are no formal restrictions on freedom of speech, there is recent evidence that at least some students on campus are, in fact, alarmingly intolerant of speech or views that contradict their own or upset them.
Video of Yale University student (identified by The Daily Caller as Jerelyn Luther) shouting and cursing out Professor Nicholas Christakis went viral last month, with viewers horrified at the intolerance for differing opinions.
Christakis oversees the dorm Silliman College with his wife, Erika, who sent a now-infamous email daring to suggest adults shouldn’t have to police offensive Halloween costumes for college students.
“It is not about creating an intellectual space. It is not!,” the student screamed in response to Christakis calmly disagreeing with her when she commanded that it is his “job to create a place of comfort” for students.
Christakis has since taken a sabbatical, and his wife resigned from her position as lecturer.