That's Ann Coulter, believe it or not, on the right of free speech. But last night she came to Ottawa to exercise it for herself. And then she moused out.
Now the Speech Warriors™ are pig-biting pissed, or so they want to appear. Actually, I strongly suspect, they're pleased as punch. They have a fresh new martyr, even if they've had to spin like mad to create one. Because Ann Coulter and her organizers, confronted by demonstrators exercising their own rights of freedom of assembly and of expression--pulled the plug on her themselves.
Let me make an observation right at the start. For all the talk of students "shutting down" Coulter's talk, there was not one mention of physical violence against anyone. There was not one reported arrest, although two dozen tactical squadders from the Ottawa Police were on hand. No weapons of any description were in evidence--just voices, sometimes angry, uncivil ones to be sure, but so what?
Here are some accounts, mostly from outraged conservatives. I urge readers to follow my links and read them first-hand. Let me begin with one by my friend and frequent sparring-partner, libertarian Terrence Watson. Much of his article concerns his discussions with protesters. There was shouting, which he found uncomfortable. There was quite a crowd in the foyer, including demonstrators, folks who had registered to hear the talk, and others who hadn't, so there was some jostling.
Watson says that the demonstrators were "threatening to burst through the doors," but that doesn't exactly jibe with his report that many were apparently already inside.* Could some of those at the doors have been would-be attendees, of whom there seemed to be many? In any case, what bothered Watson seems to have been the message of the protesters, who plainly opposed Coulter's presence.
Then there was Deborah Gyapong. She reports that violence was done--to a table. She thinks that two-thirds of the crowd was actually there to hear Coulter, which accords with what other commentators have said. She says she was relieved there was no book-burning. So am I.
Here's right-wing news commentator Brian Lilley. "Protestors were determined to shut this speech down and they did, through songs, cheers, pulling fire alarms and through threats of violence."
One "thug," he continues, "picked on" an old man in his seventies, "who gave as good as he got." Obviously we aren't talking physical combat here. They were evidently yelling at each other--free expression, if no doubt uncivil. And then the "thug's" friends pulled him away! Lilley provided no further evidence about those "threats of violence," but the songs and cheers must have been a bitch.
Then there's local so-con John Pacheco: he writes of a "screaming, salivating, fist-pounding mob which pressed in on the doors," but once again, not a mention of physical violence, weapons, or anything else. And one person's "mob," of course, is another person's "crowd."
And here's Coulter herself.
The police, Coulter says, “had been warning my bodyguard all day that they were putting up [messages] on Facebook: ‘Bring rocks, bring sticks, you gotta hurt Ann Coulter tonight, don’t let her speak.’ And the cops eventually said, we’ve got a bad feeling, this isn’t gonna happen. And they shut it down.”
But there are no reports anywhere else of rocks, sticks or personal threats to Coulter. Even so, she repeats her third-hand mantra: "angry mobs with sticks and rocks." Why did none of the Coulter supporters in the crowd report any? It was just more Coulter hyperbole, I believe: she knows she can dine off this event for years to come, and is looking forward to it, with ever-new embellishments. By the way, here are the only relevant Facebook sites I could find: more free expression, some of it really rude. But no mention of rocks or sticks.
CTV's Daniele Hamamdjian said "a combination of overcapacity and utter disorganization" contributed to the collapse of the event.
Prior to the cancellation, Hamamdjian said only a small number of students were tasked with verifying the names of the people who had signed up to attend Coulter's talk.
"It was a disaster in terms of just organization, which is probably one of the reasons why it was cancelled," Hamamdjian told CTV News Channel from Ottawa on Wednesday morning.
Police eventually showed up to the scene and blocked the door to the building, but Hamamdjian said she doubted whether the combination of protesters and disorganization actually constituted "a physical risk to Ann Coulter."
Blogger Rebekah of Miss Marprelate writes: "Then the fire alarm went off. Do you know how loud industrial fire alarms are? Do you know what they sound like when they go on for about ten minutes?!"
At about 8:09, over an hour after the lecture was supposed to begin Ezra Levant finally got up to speak. He said that there were 2000 protesters outside and that it would not be physically safe for Ann Coulter to appear. Levant did however give a little mini-speech which included some stinging words about [University Provost] Francois Houle.
And Rebekah, like Lilley, referred to unspecified "threats of violence."
Finally, here's University of Ottawa student Nick Milne, who writes quite an entertaining article, in fact, well worth the read. Much of the confusion began, he says, when would-be attendees discovered that they had to register to get in: in this, he is in agreement with other observers. The foyer soon became crowded. Milne thinks that only about 200 in the milling throng outside the doors were actual protesters, calling the media estimate of 2,000 "an absurd lie."
He interviewed student council president Seamus Wolfe, and had quite an amiable discussion with him, it seems. Milne stuck around after the cancellation, and saw angry people arguing with each other. At one point he intervened:
Two men were getting up in each other’s faces in a very loud, essentially incomprehensible argument. There was a thick mob of people around them, some egging them on, some trying to restore calm. One of them was holding a stout wooden stick with a sign attached to it, and he was beginning to brandish it somewhat alarmingly. I’ve seen this kind of thing before, unfortunately, and quickly went up to him. Grabbed his shoulder, spoke clearly in his ear. “If you’re going to argue like this,” I said, “do NOT do it holding that club. Is that how you want this to go down? Is it worth it?” To his credit he agreed, and gave me the sign. So now I have a nice stick, and nobody died.
How Canadian is that?
So is it fair to conclude, based upon mostly right-wing accounts, the following?
Ann Coulter had to brave 1) a polite note from the University of Ottawa Provost; 2) chanting demonstrators, mostly outside the lecture hall; and 3) a fire alarm, turned off after a few minutes.
Personally, I would have preferred to have her speak, and arrested if she broke Canadian law, by, say, advocating genocide. But when you look at the welter of accounts, some of which I have linked to above, what was stopping her?
Sounds like she encountered a robust, healthy exercise of free expression, except of course for the juvenile fire alarm prank, which was quickly remedied. But it was all too much for Coulter and her team. And now the myth will be perpetuated forever--count on it--that protesters "shut down" her speaking engagement.
Like hell they did.
UPDATE: Kady O'Malley has more. A point worth noting: at least one of Coulter's "security team" was talking cancellation--at 5:15pm. [H/t Shiner in the comments.]
And, via BigCityLib, this post from Jaeger at Small Dead Animals is worth a look as well, and now Hades has frozen over.
UPPERDATE: Matt Drudge got almost everything wrong. "2000 protesters surrounding building with rocks and sticks." Good grief. (Screen cap at Mondoville: Drudge has since revised his irresponsible coverage. But his first report is all over the Web.)
UPPESTDATE: Via reader Marky, this bit of purple fiction from Coulter herself:
The police called off my speech when the auditorium was surrounded by thousands of rioting liberals -- screaming, blocking the entrance, throwing tables, demanding that my books be burned, and finally setting off the fire alarm.
See? They lie, and lie, and lie. The police did NOT call off her speech--her own people did. There was NO riot, "thousands" of protesters is plain silly, "tables" were not "thrown," and no "demands" that her books be burned have been reported. (The latter two claims appear to derive from Deborah Gyapong's post referenced above.)
*Watson replies in the comments:
I probably could have made it clearer, but my two observations are consistent.
They let some people into the lecture hall. But the lines, especially toward the back, had broken down. Those already inside the foyer had remained in queue (they didn`t really have an alternative, as there wasn`t a lot of space there), but those outside had begun to cluster and press toward the doors.