- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

The scene is all too familiar by now: A conservative gets threatened with violence for trying to speak at an Ivy League campus.

This time the conservative was Jim Gilchrist, founder of the border-watching Minuteman Project, invited by the Columbia College Republicans to talk immigration Wednesday night. Just moments into his talk at the Manhattan school’s Roone Arledge Auditorium, two students from the International Socialist Organization climbed the stage to unfurl a banner reading “No one is illegal!” Then half a dozen or more fevered militants rushed the stage, fists waving, in a bid to intimidate.

Within moments security officers ushered Mr. Gilchrist and colleagues Marvin Stewart and Jerome Corsi — yes, that Jerome Corsi, of “swift-boating” fame — off the stage. Loud voices began chanting in Spanish “Si se pudo” — “Yes, it could be done” — drowning out any possibility of discussion. No one was reported to be hurt, thankfully. The rowdy students were neither removed by security nor arrested; instead, the speakers were ushered out.

So much for reasoned debate and free speech. Conservatives tolerate people like Ward Churchill, Cindy Sheehan and others who espouse their ideas on students around the country every day — without anything remotely resembling such intimidation.

Columbia’s officials announced that the events are “under active investigation, so “it is premature to make any official statement regarding facts that are yet to be confirmed.” Not so fast. The video circulating around the Internet late last week confirms that threats of violence warranting discipline had taken place. Why couldn’t the university promise to discipline the stage-stormers?

Its own press release makes the case. “The University deplores the disruption that took place last night at the ‘Minutemen Forum’ sponsored by the Columbia College Republicans at Alfred Lerner Hall… This much is a matter of core principle at Columbia: The freedom to speak, to pursue ideas, and to hear and evaluate viewpoints totally objectionable to our own is an essential value of this university and, indeed, of our civil society.”

Columbia officials must demonstrate a real commitment to free speech by showing that people who threaten violence and break the rules get punished. Otherwise, this is just empty rhetoric.

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