David Horowitz and DHFC: A Threat to Students Social Rights

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The major topic of this analysis refers to how the David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC) is a hate group based on how its namesake founder advances arguments for academic freedom by framing them as calls to make free speech an absolute right in the United States. Founded by conservative political analyst David Horowitz in 1988 as the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPS), DHFC had an original goal of establishing a constructive dialogue between liberals and conservatives whose divisive political views prompted questions regarding the legitimacy of governmental institutions in the United States. In 2006, however, Horowitz rebranded his organization into its current name as the Cold War between the United States and Russia finally ended (Battaglia, 2014). When Horowitz initiated the name change, he also believed that Leftist indoctrination on college and university campuses in the United States represented a major threat to national security after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, incited a moral panic. The topic selected here is important for illustrating why DHFC is a hate group and should receive closer attention as the Trump Administration maintains its political authority in the United States. Accordingly, DHFC and its founder maintain that free speech is an absolute right guaranteed by the First Amendment (Battaglia, 2014; Bennett, 2016; Horowitz, 2017; Kahn, 2018; Scott, 2017; Shepard & Culver, 2018). By couching the arguments for ending political correctness in terms of ending academic freedom, the hate group status of DHFC entails that this conservative and anti-intellectual organization has members who deliberately ignore the historical struggles associated with enacting civil rights laws.

As such, the method selected for this analysis involves reviewing the legal and historical literature on free speech issues in relation to academic freedom. DHFC insists that its status is apolitical. However, its leader has a historical track record of making claims that both Leftists and Muslims aim to eliminate free speech rights by arguing from political correctness (Horowitz, 2017; Mondon & Winter, 2016; Shepard & Culver, 2018). Based on the presentation of facts, this analysis maintains that DHFC is a hate group by definition and that future studies should involve researchers addressing the relationship between the imminence standard and its implications for regulating hate speech at all levels of government

Overview of the General Topic

The legal research considered relevant to analyzing the impacts of the David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC) emphasizes a critique of hate speech legislation and zero-tolerance policies on college/university campuses. Concerning the primary aims of DHFC, the strong emphasis placed on academic freedom resonates with a so-called outrage culture in which self-identified Leftists air public grievances in calling out conservative political leaders for allowing sexist, racist, and homophobic language to influence social discourse (Shepard & Culver, 2018). Along these lines, Bennett (2016) noted how state-level differences in hate speech legislation will have varied implications for defining which utterances constitute legitimate offenses to the perceived safety of college and university students.

If the intent of conservative speech utterances is to cause marginalized groups harm, hate speech legislation may not apply in states that conform to the First Amendment yet do not have any legal mechanisms in place to protect marginalized groups such as racial, sexual, and gender minorities. Even if conservative speech causes only psychological, and not physical, harm, the reaction among college and university students is to propose isolationist policies effectively banning individuals like David Horowitz or his cohorts from speaking on culturally relevant topics (Bennett, 2016; Shepard & Culver, 2018). Moreover, the assumption that DHFC is definitively a hate group suggests that its founder encourages the further marginalization of minority communities by any means necessary, even if such means include resorting to violence for political purposes (Mondon & Winter, 2017). On this note, the research literature indicates that DHFC may constitute a terrorist group insomuch as its founder perceives secular and liberal ideas as threatening to his personal and psychological safety.

Along the previous lines, Kahn (2018) suggested that any proposals by college and university students to end hate speech on campus environs are usually the result of coddling from parents who believe uncritically in civil rights and social justice. Accordingly, the Civil Rights era that helped institute Title IX legislation that banned discrimination against women and racial minorities also led to the creation of safe spaces in which Leftists could express their opinions comfortably without feeling marginalized or in harm’s way. Since the end of the Civil Rights era, many college and universities in the United States have administrative faculty members who recommend that non-tenured instructors provide students with trigger warnings if any instructional material intends to elicit strong psychological reactions. Trigger warnings may easily apply to political conservatives as much as they occupy a special place for Leftists who might feel victimized simply for being themselves. Yet, the suggestion that college and university campuses should act exclusively as safe spaces for young and idealistic Leftists contradicts what members of DHFC believe is appropriate for preserving the constitutional legacy of free speech in the United States.

For Battaglia (2014), the aims of DHFC are to promote academic freedom and ensure that all students do not succumb to perceptions of Leftist indoctrination. By this logic, DHFC offers a political agenda that restores intellectual integrity and promotes critical thinking without fear of offending students or who believe that political correctness and social justice will secure a utopian future. DHFC also believes that campaigns call for promoting academic freedom should call attention to how Leftists neither use logic nor critical thinking to subvert the prevailing systems of power. However, the research by Scott (2017) illustrated how members of DHFC believe that the arguments for promoting academic freedom on college and university campuses will counter the totalitarian logic of the political Left. Even Horowitz believes, himself, that every Leftist who finds their political voice on college or university campuses has totalitarian tendencies (p. 5). While Horowitz also believes that racism and sexism are serious issues worth critiquing in the socio-political landscape, he believes wholeheartedly that the lines distinguishing free speech from academic freedom have been blurred. Accordingly, Horowitz and his followers believe that most Leftists today are equally “eggheads” and “snowflakes” who wither when rational arguments rooted in scientific or historical rigor challenge their politically isolationist views (p. 5). In this research context, DHFC is not a hate group only to the extent that its members do not publicly declare that all marginalized population groups should receive unfair treatment. Instead, DHFC is an active organization that aims to promote intellectual equality in claiming to bridge gaps between divergent political perspectives.

If DHFC promotes hate speech as some of the research literature implies, the primary cause of discrimination and violence against marginalized populations resides in how members of this politically conservative organization may interpret the messages of its founder as condoning a destructive end to Leftist views that effectively shut down alternative, and perhaps more convincing, perspectives grounded in critical thinking. Promoting academic freedom, DHFC recognizes that this serious issue leaves the door open to ask many questions about the role of higher education (Shepard & Culer, 2018). To the extent that academic freedom is a pretext for upholding the constitutional legacy of free speech rights in the United States, the research literature suggests further that DHFC has members who feel marginalized because of their politically conservative views (Kahn, 2018).

However, the relationship between DHFC and its mission of promoting academic freedom appears faulty at best. If DHFC really is, by definition, a hate group, its deliberate targeting of the Left suggests that marginalization is inevitable and that no laws should determine what constitutes offensive language (Scott, 2017). Despite how college and university campuses have safe spaces available for students from almost every possible background, the research suggests that DHFC does not act out of hate in wanting to establish a politically balanced learning environment (Kahn, 2017). Insofar as the founder of DHFC believes that colleges and universities in the United States coddle students into believing that only Leftist political views are acceptable, the research information evaluated in the next section provides a backdrop for explaining why defining this conservative organization as an outright hate group establishes a neutrality bias promulgated by corporate media outlets.

Overview of the Specific Topic

When David Horowitz, a conservative political strategist, founded DHFC as the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC) in 1988, he intended to establish a constructive dialogue between liberals and conservatives whose divisive political views prompted questions regarding the legitimacy of governmental institutions in the United States. In 2006, however, Horowitz rebranded his organization into its current name as the Cold War between the United States and Russia finally ended (Battaglia, 2014). When Horowitz initiated the name change, he also believed that Leftist indoctrination represented a major threat to national security after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, incited a moral panic. For Horowitz (2017), the uniquely American concept of freedom was under attack and that a cultural war with Muslims was in the works. More recently, however, the election of President Donald Trump fostered a new era of political conservatism in which Leftists would become the targets of campaigns defining them as national security threats similar in status to Muslims.

In one of his recently published books, Horowitz (2017) argued that the policy frameworks established by former President Barack Obama caused major political and cultural divisions requiring a new leader to build bridges. Leftists were, thus, the new political enemies while Muslims and immigrants remained national security threats and President Trump aimed to build bridges by also erecting real walls. Meanwhile, Horowitz believes that many of the newer cultural divisions in the United States have longstanding historical roots in Civil War-era politics. Despite the allegations that Trump repeatedly engaged in sexual harassment, Horowitz defended the Presidential candidate by characterizing Leftists who supported Hillary Clinton as extremist kooks. To advance his argument further, Horowitz argued that Hillary Clinton was fully exonerated for illegally deleting e-mails transmitted on a government server and for keeping secret her political ties to lobbyists who supported political campaigns for Senate and President. Yet, the arguments espoused by Horowitz have only limited credibility with regard to how legal scholars define DHFC as a hate group.

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By defining Muslims and Leftists as equally damaging threats to national security in the United States, Horowitz believed that rebranding his political organization would, as President Trump would argue, make America great again (Mondon & Winter, 2017). However, DHFC promotes Islamophobia insofar as its founder advances a cultural narrative in which the proposals to institute hate speech legislation violate the First Amendment (Bennett, 2016). Extended to the environs of college and university campuses, the arguments advanced by DHFC aim to correct the errant mechanisms of hate speech legislation. Yet, the arguments advanced by Horowitz and members of DHFC indicate a rebellion from having grown up with Jewish parents who supported Stalinist views. Horowitz’s parents indoctrinated him into believing that Stalinism was the most politically correct ideology known in human history and would not allow him to watch entertainment other than Soviet propaganda films (Horowitz, 2017). As Jewish-American of Russian descent, the young Horowitz believed that Stalinism was both regressive and regressive.

While it remains empirically true that Stalin purged political dissidents who did not tow the Community Party line, Horowitz (2017) pointed out, nevertheless, that terms like “political correctness” date back to when Mao Tse-tung led China. Horowitz noted further that any Chinese citizen who dissented from Communist views would risk exclusion and extermination. Extended into the present, the arguments presented by Horowitz suggest that Leftists on college and university campuses aim to advance similar ideas. With consideration for the fact that Horowitz is of Russian Jewish descent, his arguments are superficially legitimate only to the extent that his cultural identity guides how he and members of DHFC think. Interestingly, the research by Scott (2017, p. 5) presents DHFC as belonging to an anti-intellectual movement defined as “Alt-Right” by political scholars and social justice activists. Horowitz believes that his Alt-Right position will advance free speech as an absolute right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet, the founder of DHFC aims to blur the distinction between academic freedom and freedom of speech by denigrating Leftist political ideas as inherently violent. By unconsciously relying on his Russian Jewish-American identity, Horowitz believes that the political Left will launch a pogrom that will purge all conservative views from the socio-political landscape. However, corporate media in the United States frame the arguments advanced by Horowitz and DHFC as politically neutral (Battaglia, 2014). For Horowitz and his ilk, academic freedom must remain neutral as much as free speech is an inalienable right. Horowitz, therefore, maintains the belief that Leftists only want to institute political correctness as a way of life by labeling conservatives and Republicans as cultural martyrs.

Battaglia (2014) suggested further that DHFC is a conservative political organization whose members are intellectual philistines who harbor an unconscious desire to espouse a Leftist ideology. Yet, Horowitz believes that political correctness on college and university campuses does promotes neither fairness nor democracy. For Horowitz, college and university students who espouse Leftist political views are reactionary in not knowing how to think critically. Rhetorically, however, the founder of DHFC presents his conservative arguments as logical responses to totalitarianism and divisiveness. As part of the Alt-Right movement, Horowitz maintains the belief that Leftists secretly harbor fascistic tendencies in allowing only one viewpoint to inform their political and intellectual endeavors of social justice. Because of this, arguing that DHFC is not a hate group reinforces a neutrality bias engendered by corporate media outlets who, ironically enough, aim to totalize political opinion. As explained in the next section, the impetus of DHFC is to ensure that, regardless of their political and ideological views, all Americans hold steadfastly to constitutional values and not rely on their feelings or perceptions to guide their behaviors.

Analysis

For Horowitz (2019), DHFC advances the argument that legislative proposals to ban hate speech on college and university campuses will eliminate dissent. Horowitz maintains that college and universities in the United States are Leftist silos where students and faculty members refuse to have their ideas challenged. Yet, Horowitz seems to have the right notion in mind when suggesting that the empirical reality of Leftist ideology does not align directly with historical processes. As the founder of DHFC might argue, hate speech is nebulous by definition and targets only one specific culturally embedded group for political purposes. However, the criticisms of DHFC as a hate group are legitimate insomuch as Horowitz defines Leftists and Muslims as threats to free speech and national security. By association, members of DHFC conflate Leftists and Muslims as terrorists who will stop at nothing short of violence to achieve their political aims. Conversely, DHFC is a hate group to the extent that its founder, despite being born into a Russian Jewish family, wants American to react with violence as much as it aligns with their sincerely held conservative patriotism.

Put differently, DHFC encourages its members to engage in identity politics while its founder acts ironically in proclaiming that only Leftists on college and university campuses do precisely the same thing. While Horowitz believes that all Leftists are eggheads and snowflakes offended by everything, he often resorts to arguing that conservatives are morally superior. Along with relatively well-known Alt-Right cohorts–who include Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, Charles Murray, and Anne Coulter–the founder of DHFC assumes moral superiority by defining all Leftists as moral degenerates who believe that feminism will save American society from its own destruction (Scott, 2017). However, the founder of DHFC uses sexist language by stereotyping Leftists as a scourge of radical feminists who lack humor and must have their sexuality reawakened (p. 5).

In this context, the Alt-Right conservative organization has followers who are not only anti-intellectual but who also espouse an American exceptionalist philosophy. DHFC also has members who insist that any ordinates, statutes, and laws banning hate speech represent an elitist plot to destroy American values. The irony worth noting here is that Horowitz aligns himself with the objectivist views of Ayn Rand, the infamous novelist and conservative intellectual who emigrated to the United States a political refugee from the former Soviet Union, in arguing that American values are exceptional in allowing all individuals to speak their mind without risking persecution or death. To the chagrin of Horowitz, the Randian philosophy of Objectivism does not necessarily advance free speech as an absolute right. Instead, Horowitz believes that academic elites with no real-world knowledge of American society can understand how political conservatives might feel victimized and oppressed by Leftists who, by sheer will of force, want all individuals to live freely without fearing persecution or death.

As the proud founder of DHFC who unwittingly practices his own identity politics, Horowitz also believes that the threats to academic freedom come from professors who teach ethnic studies, cultural studies, and gender studies (Battaglia, 2014). What Horowitz completely ignores, however, is that Title IX legislation gradually provided the space for women, racial minorities, and cultural minorities to acquire historical knowledge about identity development. If Horowitz is serious regarding his intent to abolish political correctness on college and university campuses in the United States, he would need to call upon Congress to propose federal legislation that would eradicate all legal rights gained within over the past five decades.

In effect, the founder of DHFC wants to eliminate all legal protections by insisting that free speech laws should have no limits. Eliminating all criminal sanctions against hate speech would mean that no one is culpable engaging in political acts of violence motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and even ableism (Shepard & Culver, 2018). Doing so would also institute a might-makes-right philosophy in which justice is only achievable through violence. Students and faculty members on college and university campuses would, in turn, have no legal recourse in protesting the violence pitted against them out of fear that members of Alt-Right organizations like DHFC will foment repression. Here is where the arguments espoused by Horowitz implode under their own weight in positing that free speech should remain absolute but only for a select group of individuals called upon to wage violence on political correctness by unwittingly reinforcing the social problems mistakenly caused by Leftists. Granted, not all Leftists have their arguments grounded in sound logic and critical thinking. Yet, that should not grant a license for DHFC to encourage violent politically-motivated attacks when its founder argues against political correctness but also uses this term to his detriment.

In legal terms, DHFC aims to follow an imminence standard as its leader believes that free speech should represent an absolute given regardless of whether it incites violence or not. For Bennett (2016), the imminence standard supports the necessity of hate speech legislation by accounting for potential social harms. Unfortunately, Horowitz and his DHFC cohorts believe that Leftists and Muslims pose such a threat that violence is necessary to stop these groups from mandating political correctness. Insofar as the imminence standard represents a foundational element of free speech, the ostensible and direct harms caused by DHFC indicate that hate speech is indeed constitutionally protected if any only if it does not incite violence. However, the fact that Horowitz and his followers believe that violence might be necessary to rein in Leftists and Muslims, DHFC is a hate group regardless of any claims that this Alt-Right organization lacks political motives.

Summary and Conclusions

In sum, the major topic of this analysis referred to how the David Horowitz Freedom Center is a hate group by definition based on how its namesake founder advances arguments for academic freedom by framing them as calls to make free speech an absolute right in the United States. This specific topic is highly important for explaining how conservative and so-called Alt-Right organizations leaders who refuse to acknowledge their political orientation yet call for the political repression of opinions considered disagreeable or offensive to public discourse. However, free speech is not an absolute right and the majority of Leftists do not pose serious threats of violence whereas radical Muslims might (Bennett, 2016). Although radical Muslims present the risk of violence by using fundamentalist religious arguments to advance political objectives, the arguments posited by Horowitz implode under their own weight by implying that Leftists want to strip away academic freedom by relying exclusively on perceptions of psychological safety and by disavowing conservative opinions as having legitimacy. While Horowitz is, to some extent, correct in arguing that conservative political opinions fulfill the rights to free speech in the United States, he frequently practices identity politics as a means to achieving political ends much like those promoted by radical Muslims.

The major findings of this paper analysis highlight how DHFC aims to exploit the limitations of First Amendment free speech protections in removing the imminence standard that informs hate speech laws. Despite how Horowitz and DHFC believe that Leftists symbolize the scourge of free speech on college and university campuses in the United States, the arguments from political correctness are equally ironic and fallacious to such an extent that threats of violence come mostly from individuals who lack critical thinking skills (Battaglia, 2014; Mondon & Winter, 2017; Scott, 2017). By couching the central arguments in terms of academic freedom, DHFC is a hate group based on how its member believe that violence committed for political reasons will secure justice without the need for Leftists or governments to institute regulations against hate speech.

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