opinion

Dogs of Bore

Trumpkins Cry ‘Free Speech’ — And Stab It in the Back

With Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the crowd that ordinarily swoons over no-feelings-spared edginess has suddenly found their inner snowflake.

Four Donald Trump supporters who claim to be hardcore free speech fundamentalists revealed themselves as opportunistic hypocrites when they repeatedly disrupted two New York City Shakespeare in the Park performances of Julius Caesar (which features an obvious Trump stand-in as the assassinated title character) over the weekend.

Adopting the very same "shutdown" tactics they claim to abhor when utilized by left-wing activists, this past Friday right-wing blogger Laura Loomer marched onto the stage during the assassination scene, screaming, “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right!” before being ejected from the amphitheater.

The incident was filmed by Jack Posobiec — a popular right-wing Twitter personality and propagator of debunked Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracy theories — who also filmed his own ejection from the arena for standing up and screaming at the audience, "Goebbels would be proud!"

Posting the video to Twitter, Posobiec boasted, "BREAKING: Julius Ceaser Gets SHUTDOWN" (sic). He later tweeted that the crowd applauded the assassination of Caesar, but provided no evidence to back up that assertion. Naturally, that didn't stop the rumor from spreading throughout the #MAGA Twitterverse as evidence of the bloodthirsty perversity of "leftist" New York theatregoers.

During the final performance of the play this Sunday, two members of the self-described Western chauvinist group Proud Boys rushed the stage, one during the assassination scene, another later leaping on the stage screaming "Goebbels would be proud" and "CNN is ISIS." The irony of defenders of Western civilization trying to shut down one of Western civilization's most classic works of art was apparently lost on the Proud Boys.

Mainstream conservative media figures like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have applauded the protesters, defending the attempted shutdown of the play on the always intellectually shaky ground of "whataboutism," as in, "what if Obama was depicted as the murdered Caesar?" One easily identifiable flaw in that argument is an Obama figure was depicted as Caesar, in a well-received 2012 production that was received positively by both The New York Times and The American Conservative. There were no instances of liberals (or anyone) storming stages, nor any public or media outrage, perhaps because anyone with an even cursory knowledge of Julius Caesar knows that it is in no way pro-assassination.

It’s unlikely that this weekend's stage stormers are really offended by this staging of the play—or believe the production caused the attempted assassination of Republican congressmen last week. Rather, the disruptions were staged stunts, as partially evidenced by the FreeLaura.com domain registered well before Loomer's arrest by her employer, Rebel Media boss Ezra Levant, who is using the site to solicit donations for a "legal defence fund." A separate crowdfund has already raised over $10,000 for Loomer's defense, even though the fines she faces for misdemeanor trespassing and disorderly conduct would be closer to $1,000 (a high estimate at that). In other words, deliberately getting arrested may prove to be a smart business strategy for Loomer.

The rank hypocrisy of those who have built their media brands on no-holds- barred political rhetoric and no-feelings-spared edginess is evident enough. And while some defend the attempted "shutdown" of Shakespeare as a righteous example of the left getting a taste of its own medicine (a childish excuse to justify public tantrums while attempting to stifle others' free expression) the tyrannical instinct from these so-called "free speech fundamentalists" wasn't born this weekend. They've tried to shut down college speakers they disagree with, but insist that when their allies have their events shut down on college campuses it is evidence of a kind of thought-policing unique to the left. When the cast of Hamilton lectured then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance last year, Loomer tweeted, "Will Democrats ever let Republicans just enjoy a play?"

Loomer and the other theater disrupters may think of their actions as fearless civil disobedience, but you can't have it both ways. If disrupting a conservative's speech is wrong, then disrupting a play is wrong. If easily offended college students are “snowflakes,” then shrieking men's rights activists are snowflakes, too.

For those of us truly interested in defending freedom of speech from both government censorship and the heckler's veto of authoritarians on both the left and the right, the self-exposure of the #MAGA crowd is helpful, for it makes plain that they are not allies in the struggle, but rather, unprincipled opportunists bastardizing the phrase "free speech" to fluff up their inflated sense of ballsy rebellion, as well as using the First Amendment as a rhetorical shield to say obnoxious things under the guise of bold truth-telling.

These particular professional trolls don't believe in free expression for all, nor do they respect the right of their ideological opponents to express themselves provocatively. But perhaps their greatest shame lies in their unapologetic deployment of the dreaded "Saul Alinsky tactics" — long decried as the embodiment of leftist mind-controlling evil — as a means to bilk their followers for donations while they masquerade as wounded martyrs.