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‘So to Speak’ podcast: The ‘heckler’s veto’ strikes Heather Mac Donald

On April 6, Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather Mac Donald was standing in Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum preparing to give a lecture to an empty room.

An empty room was not what Mac Donald expected when she accepted an invitation from the college’s Rose Institute for State and Local Government to deliver a lecture on her new book, “The War On Cops.” But outside the auditorium, close to 300 people had surrounded the Athenaeum, preventing prospective audience members from entering. They were protesting Mac Donald’s defense of law enforcement policing tactics and her criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ultimately, the college livestreamed Mac Donald’s talk to those who could not attend in person. But the talk was cut short during the question and answer period after police and administrators determined it was unsafe for her to remain in the building. The crowd was allegedly out of control, and Mac Donald could hear banging on the windows. Her exit through the kitchen of the Athenaeum into an unmarked Claremont Police Department van was coordinated by walkie-talkie.

Heather Mac Donald is our guest on today’s “extra” edition of “So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast.” Mac Donald is the latest campus speaker to fall victim to the “heckler’s veto,” which is what happens when authorities allow a speaker to be silenced by sheer volume or force so that his or her message cannot be heard by willing listeners. In February, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was prevented from speaking at the University of California, Berkeley. Angry protesters also disrupted a planned speech by social scientist and author Charles Murray at Middlebury College in March.

During our conversation, I ask Mac Donald what it’s like to have one’s speech cut short through vigilante action. What was she told before she was set to speak? What was she thinking as she heard the crowd outside banging on the Athenaeum’s windows? And what does it say about the environment for free inquiry on campus that a scholar must escape under police protection through the kitchen of a campus building for presenting nothing more than an argument?

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