Even the ‘peaceful’ campus protests are actually violent bullying

How “nonviolent” are nonviolent protests?

The cliché from left-wing politicians and academia is that the last two months’ worth of campus mob actions have been a marvel of nonaggression.

Yet actually, the mobs are “nonviolent” only because everyone else is nonviolent, surrendering to the agitators’ use of physical bodily force to get their way.

Anti-Israel supporters climbing a fence during demonstrations at The City College Of New York. Getty Images

The nonviolence line is common on New York’s left.

After Columbia University first called the police on its campus lawbreakers in mid-April, city Comptroller Brad Lander said such action against “nonviolent protest” violated the university’s protection of speech.

AOC added that “calling in police enforcement on nonviolent demonstrations . . .  is dangerous.”

“Nonviolent” has also become the go-to neutral term.

“The one thing” Columbia protesters “have not been in these days is violent,” Columbia prof Mark Mazower, in a neutral diary for the Financial Times, observed.

These accounts ignore the reality: Protesters use physical bodily force to bully others and to subvert the rule of law.

Even when the mobs are looking peaceful, they’re not really peaceful.

Chairs and tables from Hamilton Hall lay on the campus of Columbia University. NYPD
Anti-Israel protesters hang signs from Hamilton Hall. James Keivom

As Michael Powell observed in The Atlantic of the “liberated zone” on the Columbia lawn, self-appointed, keffiyah-masked leaders formed a “human chain” to keep “Zionists” from “entering the camp.”

These “liberated zone” occupiers had no legal or moral right to prohibit other people, including people with different viewpoints or different physical emblems (like an Israeli flag) from using the lawn.

It is a space open, theoretically, to everyone affiliated with Columbia.

The only thing keeping out the “Zionists” was the credible threat of mob violence: that “human chain” wall of bodies.

Push against the human chain, the mob implied, to assert your legal or moral right to access the lawn, and the chain will push back — otherwise, why make a human chain?

You can see this for yourself in a video of a UCLA student attempting to breach a wall of masked students blocking his path last Tuesday.

“My class is over there,” the self-identified Jewish student told the mob, but they refused to budge from the common right of way.

In doing so, they used physical force, and only physical force, to assert their will: Might makes right.

The scene only looked nonviolent because the student didn’t meet their physical force with physical force of his own.

If he had pushed them out of the way to cross a path that should have been open to him, the story, inevitably, would have been: “Jewish student violently assaults peaceful protesters.”

As Zack Thibodeaux, a blind Yale student, wrote of his own attempts to avoid the mobs, “It is a significant burden when they block others’ access to campus,” as he must take unfamiliar routes and expose himself to danger.

The student is blocked for the sole reason that he is the physically weaker party.

Anti-Israel protesters barricade the door of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University. NYPD

He understandably can’t or won’t muster sufficient force to overcome the people who are using unauthorized physical force to control the campus.

This precept holds when “nonviolent” protests are even more obviously violent.

After a Columbia agitator used a hammer — not exactly a symbol of nonviolence — to break into Hamilton Hall last week, another masked, gloved intruder got into what the Times termed a “shoving match” with a maintenance staffer inside the building.

The worker then “left.”

It’s good that this incident didn’t escalate into serious injury.

But that’s not because the “protester” chose nonviolence; it’s because the maintenance worker kept his cool, wisely surrendering to not just the threat of violence but to the reality of violence.

Protestors gathered at a anti-Israel encampment on the lawn of Columbia University, standing in a crowd of tents. James Keivom

Similarly, the only reason Vanderbilt students could occupy a campus building in March was because, after the students shoved past a guard, the guard physically yielded to their superior strength.

None of this is nonviolent protest. Nonviolent protesters wouldn’t use physical force to deter other people from common space, and nonviolent protesters would turn away at a guard’s insistence that they leave, not physically overpower him.

Nor does surrendering to riot-gear police make a mob nonviolent.

All it means is that the mob rationally realizes the police are stronger.

Students and other campus protesters are free to engage in nonviolent protests: They can write letters and articles, engage in campus and public debate and organize campus demonstrations.

But that’s not what they’re doing: This isn’t free speech via peaceful protest, but threatening and menacing the rest of us — which often works, because we are nonviolent.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

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