The line where freedom of expression runs out should be generously set, but also hard and clear: free speech ends where direct incitement to personal violence begins. That’s a line that pick-up artist Julien Blanc passes 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, and Blanc’s seminars are essentially recruiting rallies for violence against women. In 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 Blanc 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”. There is a lot that is objectionable about Blanc – his unstinting use of the word “bitch”, his crass insistence that anyone with “a fat girlfriend” has failed at life – but it’s the specific incitement to violence that is the critical issue here.
Campaigns to deny Blanc access to venues and even access to the country are, clearly, no-platforming of the highest order, but Blanc unambiguously passes the test for justifiable no-platforming because his “coaching” is in fact a series of directions to commit various forms of assault against 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 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 is 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 would be a more dangerous figure than the man who tells his followers to choke women, and it is in any case 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. There is no free speech defence for Julian Blanc.