Last night I travelled to attend the long-planned Yaron Brook vs Sargon of Akkad event. This event ultimately did not occur in its planned form. Well done to the KCL Libertarians and Ayn Rand Centre for working hard to ensure something did go ahead. It is not yet clear if anyone saw it though.
For days the event has suffered terribly from a variety of late changes of venue and from having conditions imposed. Additional security, an independent observer and “Safe Space Marshals” were required to ensure the event could go ahead. This caused a few silly logistical impediments meaning that before anything else occurred the organisers and attendees had all had a difficult time, yet many had travelled for hours to attend. I ended up having beers with a Scot and a chap from Coventry.
At 1600 on the day of the event, just 2.5 hours before doors opened the University imposed a further condition. The 200 non-student attendees, by far the majority, would be excluded from the event in order to “maintain a Safe Space”. This language is used as code for speech policing, although in hindsight may possibly refer to genuine safety (I look forward to more details emerging from KCL Libertarians). The result was more than 100 bored and disappointed young people hanging around in the KCL Strand campus lobby waiting for the live stream to start and wondering which pub to go watch it in, and hoping for a last minute change of policy.
The reason for the hopefulness was that the advertised protest against the event, which had attracted 147 sign-ups on Facebook had apparently failed to occur. There were exactly two protesters visible outside – protesting the change to lecturer pensions (they said). With the protest a damp-squib we all felt the University should be able to welcome us in. I spoke to the head of security who was in the lobby by the desk, and I put this to him. His response was that a decision had been made by the University (i.e. not by the head of security) and it was not not going to be altered. I went back to my group to share the news.
While standing with the group of Libertarian Home regulars I heard that the event was now subject to one further restriction: it was banned from being taped. This meant that nobody present in the lobby was going to be able to see the content of the speakers debate. News from inside was dribbling out only very slowly through Meetup and private channels so it took time but, despondent, people eventually began to leave. There was still no sign at all of a protest, or that security were expecting much to happen.
Then it did happen.
About twelve people, dressed in black, ran determinedly towards the security barrier. With everyone else milling around confused, the way these guys moved was a dead give away. They were up to no good. Sure enough the lead figures leapt the barrier and began being wrestled by up to 5 security guards, including the rapidly redeployed head of security. A shower of sparks announced the ignition of a purple smoke bomb. One, perhaps two at the most. While security wrestled the trespassers and the smoke slowly rose to the ceiling there were chants of “fuck antifa” and “left wing lies people die”. I fumbled for my camera and, while snapping the action took it upon myself to scold the ticket holders for using harsh language. The fire alarm went off. A few of the ticket holders seemed to switch chants, which speaks volumes about the quality of this crowd – they were willing to engage brains.
The trespassers, however, had no such manners. Reconstructing what happened next from videos, it seems that the trespassers got to the door of the lecture hall and were held there for a time perhaps only a couple of seconds. I suspect they switched direction to another door and just walked in, but I don’t know. They then started yelping nonsensically, perhaps in Russian and started pushing people around. The students inside were having none of it. Between the guests and the security, they were wrestled to the floor, their numbers thinned and they were cornered.
Some were escorted past me through reception and were kicked out. Most never made it through reception. A police officer later told me that the rest had legged it out the back way and over Waterloo Bridge. One sad-act was spotted hanging around outside for while and then it was all over, except that everyone now had to work their way to the pub.
There is a lot exaggeration on Twitter. Even the Washington Examiner says “Violent protests also erupted outside the event hall, which led the college to bar all non-student ticket holders from attending the event”, implying the events were quite protracted. They have messed up the timeline in a way that amplifies the Antifa’s effect. There was only one small group that tried to get in, gave us all some verbal and then sloped off. I’d be surprised in six made it to the hall and they did not stay long. The real damage was done by the smoke bomb which caused an immediate evacuation. In a large building, any issue which stops the fire alarm system from working to detect a new fire is deemed a cause for evacuation. As soon as that smoke bomb went off, Antifa had sealed the deal.
What is truly scary is that, for most of us, the event was effectively cancelled hours before any of this occurred. There were 147 clicks on a Facebook event that never took place. There was one threatening tweet. That was all it really took. Those tweets and clicks are what really stopped the show. We need to be able to talk to each other and should not be stopped by threats. Nor should we be stopped by what happened afterwards. The current situation is not a situation that society can tolerate. The solution to this cannot be more private violence, this is the proper domain of the state and of the police.
Yaron Brook did a live stream from his hotel last night and mentioned a possible protest within the building:
Obviously I was restricted to the foyer and he was locked in the green room under guard. Our perspectives don’t match on whether there was a protest. I find it very odd that I was speaking to the silver haired head of security and put it to him that we should go in because there was no protest. He did not correct that point.
I believe this gentleman was taken to hospital which is a shame because he seemed like a good guy.