Free speech must be defended, but not Julien Blanc’s incitement to violence against women

The American “pick-up artist”, who has been denied entry into the UK by the Home Office, directly promotes violence against women, and therefore forfeits the right to freely spread his ideas.

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Pick-up artist Julien Blanc has been denied permission to enter the UK, where he planned to run a series of seminars sharing his “seduction” techniques. For some commenters, Blanc’s case is a free speech issue: unpleasant as his rhetoric is (and everyone seems to agree that his unstinting use of the word “bitch” and crass insistence that anyone with “a fat girlfriend” has failed at life is unpleasant), the government has no business limiting his ability to promulgate. But the issue with Blanc is not one of speech, but of acts. The line where freedom of expression runs out should be a hard and clear one: free speech ends where direct incitement to personal violence begins, and Blanc crosses that line with ease.

In his videos, he prescribes techniques such as “the choke opener” and “just grabbing girls’ heads … head on the dick” for men approaching women – in other words, he instructs his audience to commit acts of violence on women. On his website, he promises to teach his subscribers “how to overcome every single objection she might have when you’re pulling her to sooth her mind, and fuck you the same night”. It’s a prospectus (he calls it the “Pimp Method”) where consent is not even up for discussion.  “There is no such thing as rejection because it’s never over,” he says in one video. There is a word for refusing to accept “no” as an answer to your sexual proposition: the word is rape.

In the UK every year, approximately 85,000 women are raped and 400,000 are sexually assaulted. As few as one in 100 of these crimes may result in a conviction for the rapist. In this context of systemic sexual violence against women, Blanc’s seminars are essentially recruiting rallies for perpetrators. In with all the pseudoscientific flannel about “game” and “zones” and “vibing”, the only reliable principles a follower can learn from Blanc are those of coercion. That’s why it made sense for him to post a picture of the Duluth model (a chart describing different forms of intimate partner abuse) with the caption “may as well be a checklist #howtomakeherstay”.

Clearly, campaigns to deny Blanc access to venues and even the country are no-platforming of the highest order, but Blanc unambiguously merits the tactic. His “coaching” is in fact a series of directions to commit various forms of assault against women, and he has published videos of himself putting his “advice” into action on unsuspecting women. In law, an individual can be refused entry to the UK if “admitting the person may lead to a breach of UK law or public order” or “admitting the person may lead to an offence being committed by someone else”. Given the instructional content of his seminars, and the existence of footage showing Blanc assaulting women in Japan, the legal case for turning Blanc back at the border is clear. More importantly, the moral case for no-platforming him is solid. No-platform was originally a strategy of resistance to fascist speakers whose rhetoric was liable to inspire violence from their followers – and Blanc’s rhetoric amounts to an instructional course on sexual assault.

In an article for the Guardian, Dorian Lynskey positions Blanc as a victim of censorship from a “hashtag hate campaign” along with Dapper Laughs, Stephen Colbert and the installation Exhibit B, and suggests that the appropriate response in all cases would be protest and critique rather than no-platforming. “I worry that Blanc will turn a state ban to his advantage,” writes Lynskey. But it is hard to see why a martyred Blanc is a more dangerous figure than the man who tells his followers to choke women, and it is difficult for a woman to win a debate when her opponent is arm-barring her across the neck. The contentious and provoking deserve protection. But there is no requirement to tolerate speech that unambiguously directs violence, and there is no free speech defence for Julian Blanc.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.