Attorney General Jeff Sessions drew a comparison between antifa and the Klu Klux Klan during comments Tuesday about protecting free speech on college campuses in America, saying both groups wear masks to hide members’ identities.
In remarks on the campus of Georgetown University, the former Alabama senator referenced a protest in March at Vermont’s Middlebury College, where so-called anti-fascist protesters, or antifa, protested an appearance by Charles Murray, author of “Bell Curve,” a work that argues intellect is biologically determined by race that is popular with white supremacists.
Yet Sessions took aim at the students protesting that event when he noted they wore masks like the “detestable Klu Klux Klan.”
“When the debaters attempted to move to a private broadcasting location, the protesters — many in masks, a common tactic also used by the detestable Ku Klux Klan — pulled fire alarms, surrounded the speakers, and began physically assaulting them,” Sessions said. “In short, Middlebury students engaged in a violent riot to ensure that neither they nor their fellow students would hear speech they may have disagreed with.”
The comments came as part of a broad address on the topic of campus free speech that referenced the canceled “Free Speech Week” organized by Milo Yiannopoulos, which was supposed to be a four-day event but devolved Sunday into a series of 20-minute speeches on campus that the university dubbed “the most expensive photo op in university history.”
Again, Sessions took a shot at the role of those protesting the event. “After the Orwellian-named anti-fascist protesters had successfully shut down numerous campus speaker events with violent riots, Berkeley was forced to spend $600,000 simply to prove the mob was not in control of their school,” Sessions said.
Sessions’ comments which touched on campus speech, the NFL protests, and religious freedoms are part of a broad new focus for the Department of Justice to intervene in free speech cases on campus and elsewhere. “Starting today,” he said, “we will enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression from whatever end of the political spectrum it may come.”
During the speech, the DOJ simultaneously filed a “statement of interest” in a case at Georgia Gwinnett College, where a student alleges that his Christian group wasn’t given sufficient space on campus to “evangelize.”
Sessions said that the DOJ plans to file suit in other cases in the coming weeks and months.
According to Sessions, the American university, “once the center of academic freedom — a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” has degraded into “an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
He also said that school administrators that try to limit speech deemed hateful or offensive are “bending” to student protesters. “In effect, they coddle it and encourage it,” Sessions said.
Student and faculty protesters were reportedly banned from attending the event, which was ironic given the day’s subject matter. Nonetheless, they rallied outside the auditorium before, during, and after Sessions made his remarks. “We acknowledge our colleagues’ right to invite the Attorney General Sessions to speak on campus,” wrote Georgetown Law School faculty in an open letter. “However we, the undersigned, condemn the hypocrisy of Attorney General Sessions speaking about free speech.”
The faculty members list a number of examples they believe illustrate their point, like the fact the DOJ is currently prosecuting a woman who laughed during Sessions’ confirmation hearing. In August the DOJ issued a warrant to a web-hosting company, demanding they turn over all information pertaining to groups organizing protests during President Trump’s inauguration.
Sessions, during a question and answer session after the event, was asked what he thought about the wave of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice after Trump condemned them as “sons of bitches.”
“The president has free speech rights too. He sends soldiers out every day to defend this country, under the flag of the United States, under the national anthem,” Sessions said. “I agree it is a big mistake to protest in that fashion because it weakens the commitment we have to this nation that has provided us this freedom.”