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In U.S., even an agent of bigotry has right of free speech

Protestors watch a bonfire on during a rally

Protestors watch a bonfire on during a rally against the scheduled speaking appearance by Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos at University of California at Berkeley, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Credit: AP

Across this country, our disagreements are deep and many. The gulf between opposing sides seems to widen by the day.

That’s no excuse for the travesty that took place Wednesday night at the University of California, Berkeley. Protesters smashed windows, threw smoke bombs, committed vandalism and lit a bonfire, forcing college officials to cancel a scheduled speech by an editor from alt-right website Breitbart News. Which was the goal of the protest.

Berkeley has a proud history of student protest. That passion is understandable, but what happened Wednesday was deplorable — and some of it seemed to be carried out by anarchists more interested in destruction than dissent. Peaceful protest of someone whose thoughts one finds objectionable is an American right. But the freedom to express those thoughts, no matter how insulting they are, is another fundamental right and one that students on many of our nation’s campuses seem not to understand.

Milo Yiannopoulos, the speaker who sparked the uproar, is an internet provocateur. His comments are racist, anti-Muslim and misogynist. But he has a right to make them. The rest of us have a right to peacefully object, or to ignore him. — The editorial board