Guest editorial: PCHS incident representative of efforts to stifle conservative voices
F. Joseph Feely III’s response to the sentencing of the perpetrator of the bear spray attack on Park City High School students is well written and exactly correct.
The violent attack was on April 1 — but there was nothing funny about this April Fool’s Day assault. The intended target was the PCHS chapter of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA. The scheduled speaker was Will Witt from Prager University, a nonprofit whose videos promote all-American, conservative views.
Prior to pleading guilty to one felony and several misdemeanors, the troubled young man admitted to juvenile court Judge Elizabeth Knight that he committed the attack with “the intention to disrupt a meeting,” adding “I didn’t feel as though it was a very safe thing for a lot of our students to really have in our school, so I decided I wanted to disrupt it.” Apparently, the irony escaped him.
More ironically, Witt’s message was “Bridge the Divide,” finding common ground between right and left — civil discourse in a world rife with incivility.
The attacker‘s actions were reckless as well as feckless — I was with a parent when she received word of the attack. Her son was wheezing, vomiting and scared. Imagine the horror if this were your child!
One of the perpetrator’s victims, Jonathan Mount, did plan to attend Witt’s event. I invite you to read Jonathan’s inspiring response published in The Park Record.
The perpetrator not only committed premeditated mayhem, he also compromised two of the most important rights granted by the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights — freedom of speech and of the people to assemble peaceably.
As a young adolescent, I was a big city newspaper carrier. The paper’s masthead boasted this quote attributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Robust debate is the lifeblood of our republic, and the PCHS student attacker attempted to chill it. Luckily, he failed. At the last minute, student organizers and parents found a new venue to host the event.
There are extremists on all sides. Sadly, extremism on the left has become mainstream. Under the cover of political correctness, there is a national epidemic of attacks stifling conservative speech — the “heckler’s veto.” Some, like this one here in Park City, have been violent.
According to Business Insider, “…Barack Obama, Clarence Thomas, and Michael Bloomberg all warned about political correctness gone awry and the dangers of limiting free speech…” Condoleezza Rice, Ben Shapiro, George Will, Jordan Peterson, and numerous other right-leaning luminaries have been de-platformed from U.S. colleges and universities.
Conservative Hayden Williams was coldcocked at UC Berkeley on Feb. 19 while recruiting for a Turning Point event. On April 11 on University of Missouri-Kansas City’s campus, Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles was showered with a colorful aromatic liquid (fortunately non-toxic). Violence against speech has now stained Park City.
Young people’s mistakes ought not haunt them throughout their lives. My own misspent youth was littered with missteps. Thanks to appropriate accountabilities, I found success in career and life. Dan Millman, author of “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” wrote, “Lessons repeat themselves until we learn them.”
Will the intended lesson be learned with this slap on the wrist? Or will it encourage an encore or copycat attacks?
Concerned parents have reached out to the Park City School District with the intent to leverage this incident as the teachable moment it deserves to be. We look forward to collaborating and framing an appropriate response to educate our students and help keep them safe.
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A group of Old Town residents say in a letter to the editor that Park City is better off leaving land on Marsac Avenue as open space than developing it into affordable housing.