In an op-ed for USA Today published Wednesday, Hayden Williams, a conservative activist assaulted on the University of California-Berkeley campus two weeks ago, explains what triggered the attack and offers his perspective on why the suspect felt compelled to resort to violence against him.
“Students are commonly told now that words are literally violent and can be responded to with physical force,” Williams writes. “I don’t mean verbal threats of violence or efforts to intimidate, I mean words that express ideas that the listener finds offensive or disagrees with.”
The result: “Increasingly, leftists believe they are justified to respond to ideas disagreeable to them with open hostility and even force.”
The man charged with assaulting him — who pleaded not guilty Wednesday, despite video evidence and corroborating eyewitness accounts of his violent actions — felt empowered to use physical force to suppress a minority viewpoint on campus, conservatism, Williams suggest.
“The message that provoked my attacker was our sign that read ‘Hate Crime Hoaxes Hurt Real Victims,’ a reference to the recent case of Jussie Smollett, who was charged by Chicago police with filing a false police report about an apparently fictitious attack,” Williams explains. “My attacker said we were promoting violence, which, in his view, gives him permission to use any means necessary to shut us down. The irony is that the sign was intended to warn of the danger of disregarding facts and jumping to judgment in an effort to confirm a narrative our feelings tell us is true.”
What happened to him at the student-filled plaza was just another example of what is taking place in one form or another all over the country, Williams suggested. “As a field representative for the Leadership Institute, I travel to campuses throughout California helping conservative clubs recruit and train new members,” he writes. “I’ve seen the intolerance and hate toward conservatives on our campuses with my own eyes, and the only difference between what happened to me on Feb. 19 and every other day is that the event was caught on video.”
“The Berkeley administration in particular,” Williams adds, “has allowed a culture of intolerance and violence toward conservatives to grow. The College Republicans club has had its property vandalized, and critics have called for the members to be lynched. When there was a pro-Trump rally in April 2017, a former community college professor was arrested for allegedly assaulting multiple supporters with a bike lock.”
One employee even tweeted, then deleted the following statement about the assault on Williams: “The MAGA people on UC Berkeley campus yesterday got punched in the face by someone this makes me feel emotionally so much better.” (Read Williams’ op-ed here.)
On Wednesday, the suspect in the attack, former Berkeley student and employee Zachary Greenberg, pleaded not guilty to felony counts of assault, battery, and criminal threats. Video footage of the attack, taken by a witness and Williams himself, has gone viral. Below is a compilation video of the footage from Campus Reform, whose parent company is the Leadership Institute. In the video, Greenberg can be seen repeatedly shoving Williams, punching him in the face, and threatening to “shoot” him.
The attack took place while Williams was working with Turning Point USA to help recruit students. TPUSA founder and president Charlie Kirk, who helped bring national attention to the attack by tweeting out the initial video footage, issued a statement a few days later condemning Greenberg’s actions and calling out the media for failing to give the attack the same kind of coverage it would have if a conservative assaulted a liberal.
“This assault reveals the hate and anger so many on the left harbor and that our student activists encounter on a daily basis,” said Kirk. “Our amazing grassroots organizers courageously face threats of violence and discrimination as they fight for the right for conservative voices to be heard on college campuses. I am proud of how our student activists at UC Berkeley comported themselves in what was a very scary and difficult situation. Sadly, if the roles were reversed and a conservative student wearing a MAGA hat had attacked a member of a leftist organization, the story would be a leading headline on the nightly news across all major networks.”