Free Speech Denied at U. Michigan · 26 October 2006

By Roberta Leguizamon -- -- 10/26/06

When the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) planned to bring "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" to the University of Michigan on Oct. 13, they expected resistance. The event, which has been held with varying degrees of success on other campuses across the country over the last few months, is purposefully offensive. Like the "Affirmative Action Bake Sale" which has also been held at numerous universities over the last few years, "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" is an event designed to create passion and dialogue about issues which sit at the heart of America's cultural landscape. This particular event also succeeded in exposing the Left's predictable hypocrisy when it comes to the issue of free speech.

Andrew Boyd, Chairman of the U-Mich chapter of YAF, said, "YAF members all have very different opinions on the issue of immigration; this event was intended not to promote any one of them, but rather to get a dialogue going. Political life here on campus has been dry, boring, and stagnant…someone had to stir things up, and we decided to be that someone."

Predictably, the event was more successful at demonstrating the Left's intolerance of views it finds distasteful than it was in provoking debate on the issue of illegal immigration. In fact, most of those gathered were there to protest the event. Andrew Grossman of the Michigan Daily reported:


"The protesters came from a wide range of campus organizations, including the Student of Color Coalition, La Voz Latina, Black Student Union and the undergraduate and law school chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union. Many wore yellow 'Michigan Immigrant' T-shirts, which the protesters had made specifically for the event."


Boyd said he welcomed the peaceful protestors. "The majority of protestors were there to protest peacefully... I knew they would be there and I encouraged it because they were using their freedom of speech and exercising their individual rights just as I was. These principles are something that YAF strongly believes in," he said.


The event turned out to be anything but peaceful, however, when Leftist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) decided to make an appearance. As Christopher Zbrozek explained in the Michigan Daily:

"Once YAF arrived, Boyd tried to announce the rules of the 'game.' He quickly found himself trying in vain to be heard over repeated chants of 'No racist harassment on campus!' A section of the protesters - led by BAMN members - decided Boyd's allegedly racist message simply wasn't fit to be heard.

"'We want to shut it down,' explained Liana Mulholland, co-chair of the campus BAMN chapter. 'They can't have that game here.'"


Clearly Ms. Mulholland and her friends among BAMN believe they can determine unilaterally what kind of speech is permissible and what isn't at U-Mich.


In an interesting twist to the game at U-Mich, the YAF dressed their "illegal immigrant" as Christopher Columbus, and their American citizen as a Native American. Boyd tried to pose numerous questions to the crowd. "Was Columbus an illegal alien? Should the Native Americans have sent him packing along with all the rest of the settlers to come? Was the relationship between the natives and the immigrants beneficial at all? What things went wrong in the eventual blending of cultures that could perhaps be avoided in future cross-cultural interactions?"

However, several reports on the event mentioned the BAMN group, which consisted of both students and imported protestors from other parts of the state, including 17 high school students from Ann Arbor, chanted so loudly they drowned Boyd out as he tried to speak. So rather than participating in a reasoned, respectable debate on the issue of illegal immigration, BAMN turned the event into a spectacle of Leftist intolerance and militancy.

BAMN, which considers itself a leading voice in the "new civil rights movement," is actually a front group for the Revolutionary Workers League, of which its co-chair, Luke Massie, is an active and influential member. The RWL describes itself as a "U.S. sympathizing section of the International Trotskyist Committee."

BAMN has a long history of abhorrent behavior, much of it extremely counterproductive to the Civil Rights cause. For example, this November, Michigan residents will be voting on an amendment "to ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes." As such, BAMN, whose full, pretentious name is the "Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary," has been spearheading the campaign against the amendment.

When numerous lawsuits filed by BAMN and other Leftist groups failed to stop the initiative from being placed on the ballot this November, BAMN resorted to violence and intimidation. On December 14, 2005, BAMN disrupted a Michigan Board of Canvasser's meeting, shouting obscenities and even flipping over a table.

Chetly Zarko is the treasurer of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative Committee, which created the ballot initiative. Zarko described the events of that night as follows:


"At almost precisely 10am, with what appeared to be two (chartered) buses BAMN arrived with what I estimate to be 120-150 members, mostly high school students taken from classes in Detroit Public Schools. Media estimates were as high as 250, but photographic evidence and common sense (the buses) suggest the number was slightly smaller…

"Following the voluminous testimony, at around 12:30pm, Canvasser Lynn Bankes read into the record a motion to certify the initiative pursuant to the Court ruling. As she read, BAMN leaders Luke Massie and Shanta Driver began to yell a slogan, started clapping, and the noise level in the room quickly drowned out the Board and any other conversation in the room became impossible…

"Several minutes passed inside as the chanting continued, and BAMN members began jumping on chairs, moving around, and flailing. The situation was becoming more frenzied…"

Eventually police had to be brought in to reestablish order at the meeting.

The fact is, the civil rights movement, and the progressive moment in general, would be far better off without extremist groups like BAMN, which would use noise, violence and intimidation to silence their political opponents. As a matter of fact, the NAACP at U-Mich denounced BAMN in Oct. 2005, after BAMN bused in hundreds of students for an anti-MRCI rally. According to Donn M. Fresard of the Michigan Daily:

"During the rally against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a proposal that could ban the use of affirmative action by the University and the state if it is approved by voters next year, the Detroit students were given microphones and could be heard yelling profanities and slurs at anti-affirmative action protesters at the back of the crowd…

Alex Moffett, who was vice president of the NAACP's campus chapter at the time, publicly denounced them for perpetuating negative stereotypes of African American youths. She wrote in an email which was published in the Michigan Daily:

"I want to send out a special thank you to those gagged students that were present during the foolishness that was the bamn [sic] rally today. For those of you that broke your silence in an attempt to give guidance and direction to the young black students (because they obviously had not been given any by the rally organizers). I would personally like to thank you. It broke many of our hearts to see those young black students tokenized and made a fool of in the way that they were. The fact that the bamn [sic] organizers would allow those students to come to campus with no prior preparation or supervision was reprehensible. All that bamn [sic] was successful in doing today was perpetuating untruths about todays [sic] black youth.

"The U of M Chapter of the NAACP is publicly denouncing bamn and their actions today. As an organization we believe that bamn's behavior has been unacceptable and as a community we will not allow our people to be represented in such a fashion."

In fact, most of the groups which peacefully protested the YAF's "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" event were displeased that BAMN showed up as well, acknowledging that such groups make a mockery of free speech and Leftist activism. During his speech-which was "heard" best by lip-readers- Boyd said, "It was hilarious to see how all the forces of political correctness descended upon U of M once we dared to announce an event that doesn't have a 'PC' title… it's good to keep the forces who would stifle debate, dialogue and intellectual stimulation on their toes."

As Zbrozek bemoaned in the Michigan Daily:

"YAF pulled off a brilliant success yesterday [Oct. 13] - but it had an awful lot of help from BAMN organizer Luke Massie and his friends."

Roberta Leguizamon earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ohio University and is a Contributing Editor to Frontpage Magazine.


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