If mainstream liberals want to preserve their good brand, they must distance themselves from thugs who rioted Wednesday at the University of California, Berkeley, and other mobs oppressing civil rights to protest President Donald Trump.

Left-wing activists shut down a speech by Milo Yiannopolous, an openly gay British Jewish man who writes for the right-wing blog Breitbart. Yiannopolous, an avowed Trump supporter, has risen to fame by giving talks that explain how Democrats lost in 2017 by marginalizing working-class voters.

He spoke last month at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado Springs, where law enforcement maintained the peace and ensured the show would go on. Berkeley was another matter.

Yiannopolous does not mince words. He jokingly refers to other gay people with a pejorative f-word, like a few black rappers abuse the n-word. He challenges political correctness by expressing himself in shock-talk, intertwined with political insights.

At issue is not whether Yiannopolous has a worthwhile message, but the right of a man to speak and for audiences to hear him.

Colleges have long been arenas for the free exchange of radical ideas. Professors lecture students about the evils of capitalism, the virtues of terrorists and other concepts that shock middle America.

No campus is more famous for promoting free speech than UC Berkeley, where the free speech movement of 1964-65 convinced administrators to lift a ban of on-campus political activities. Berkeley activists admirably expanded free speech and academic freedom throughout the country.

How times have changed. The scene Wednesday involved masked bullies burning university property, smashing windows and making a scene so violent law enforcement had to deprive a man of addressing a crowd that paid to hear him.

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And, no, the interruption was not lawfully protected speech. It was more like a Ku Klux Klan rally forcefully oppressing basic rights. It was a mob shutting down a gay man, imploring he can't express right-wing views.

Because masked Klan mobs forcefully subdued civil rights, the federal government enacted 18 U.S. Code § 241 in 1948 to penalize intimidation and violence that interferes with free speech and other civil rights. It reads, in part: "If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate . in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution . or if two or more persons go in disguise . with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured - They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both . "

It is not only criminal thugs trying to stop Yiannopolous. UC Berkeley charged College Republicans additional costs of security associated with bullies who would inevitably attack the event. In doing so, the state charged victims for a crime that would likely be perpetrated against them on a basis of content. If they were to raise the cost to something the organization could not afford, it would be prima facie prior restraint in direct violation of the First Amendment.

Despite charging Republicans for extra security, the police presence was underwhelming. In Boulder and Colorado Springs, cops in riot gear formed a human barrier to keep the peace. They did their jobs, defending civil rights.

In Berkeley, they stood back and gave rioters free rein despite demanding money to ensure the peace.

Violent riots have become increasingly common since an election that tormented the left. These hoodlums do not represent the majority of Trump opponents, who use peaceable means to express their objections. Mainstream Democrats should resoundingly denounce the likes of what erupted in Berkeley. Don't let criminal rioters commandeer the brand of mainstream liberalism, and a Democratic Party that stands for free speech and academic freedom.

The gazette editorial board

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