Morgan Umphreys couldn’t believe her good fortune when she saw Ben Shapiro at a Starbucks on Watt Avenue in Sacramento last week.
The Sac State junior tried to snag tickets for Shapiro’s appearance at UC Berkeley last month, but they were sold out. In the birthplace of the free speech movement, protesters had tried to block his appearance. But Shapiro speaks to Umphreys, and millions of others.
Would he mind taking a photo? “Very exciting,” she said, her hand to heart. She deeply she appreciates that Shapiro sticks to facts without emotion and advocates for the “greater good” on his podcasts and videos.
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Umphreys was the second Sac State coed to ask for a photo, as did a middle-aged man, one of Shapiro’s 842,000 Twitter followers. The conservative writer, commentator and #NeverTrumper gladly obliged.
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Shapiro said. Such is a burden of being a celebrity of the right, one he happily shoulders.
Shapiro, 33, is a UCLA-Harvard Law School grad who is building a new media empire. His Daily Wire website gets 80 million views a month, no doubt pleasing his funders, the Texas oil billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks. His podcasts and videos attract 750,000 a day or more.
He is whip smart and quick, not the sort of person you’d want to face in a debate unprepared on a cable show, as Piers Morgan discovered when he invited Shapiro on after the Sandy Hook slaughter in 2012. The episode has more than 6 million views on YouTube. It was not a good night for Morgan.
“We fly under the radar, get big readership and make money. I’m OK with that,” he said.
Shapiro was in Sacramento from his home in L.A. to visit his in-laws, who live here. He and his wife, a doctor, and their two toddlers were planning to spend the Sukkot holiday weekend with the folks.
The timing was convenient: Sen. John Moorlach, vice chairman of the California Senate Judiciary Committee, invited him to testify as the committee delves into the rise of white supremacy. It’s a worthy undertaking, and Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, would have had some insights, given the vicious anti-Semitism he has been enduring, and his experience with the alt-right.
Alas, Senate Democrats, who control the committee, had other plans, and gave him two minutes during the public comment period at the end of the three-plus-hour hearing last week. No matter. He got his points across, including ones about attempts by the far-left to silence dissident voices.
Shapiro worked briefly for a law firm in Century City, hated it, dabbled in radio, and became an editor at Breitbart, shortly before Andrew Breitbart died in 2012. He stayed on as Steve Bannon took control the site. Bannon, said Shapiro, can be charming but is abusive and was “very interested in using Breitbart for his own ambition.”
Shapiro quit Breitbart in March 2016 when Corey R. Lewandowski, then Donald Trump’s campaign manager, grabbed Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and Breitbart failed to properly defend her. Breitbart, Shapiro said at the time, had become Trump’s “personal Pravda.”
That’s when anti-Semitic vitriol got especially bad. The Anti-Defamation League issued a report last October titled “Anti-Semitic targeting of journalists during the 2016 presidential campaign.” Ten journalists, all of them Jewish, received 83 percent of the 19,253 anti-Semitic tweets, the report said. Shapiro endured the worst. It went over the top when his son was born last year.
“Notably, Ben Shapiro, the former Breitbart reporter at the forefront of the so-called #NeverTrump movement, was targeted by more than 7,400 anti-Semitic Tweets,” the report said.
Shapiro’s Daily Wire was having a particularly busy run last week, given the Las Vegas shooting and Shapiro’s podcast assault on Jimmy Kimmel over the late night comic’s emotional monologue on gun violence.
“I don’t know why our so-called leaders continue to allow this to happen,” Kimmel said after Stephen Paddock killed 58 concertgoers. “Or maybe a better question is: Why do we continue to let them allow it to happen?”
Shapiro lit in the following morning: “A late-night talk show host who used to host ‘The Man Show’ with women bouncing on trampolines? He’s now the great arbiter of what constitutes morality in politics and if you disagree with him, your thoughts and prayers are insufficient.”
Shapiro interspersed his lecture with words from his sponsors, one of which is defendmyfamilynow.com and its “Complete concealed carry and home defense” manual. A man has to eat.
He remains a critic of Trump and Bannon and his crew, including the contemptible Milo Yiannopoulos: “Bannon’s attempt to paint himself as the face of Trumpism is bound to fail because Trumpism doesn’t exist separate from Trump. Trumpism isn’t a philosophy.” What is it? “A cult of personality.”
Yes, he can be provocative. He believes homosexual sex is a sin and opposes same sex marriage, but is a libertarian who doesn’t care what you do so long as it doesn’t affect him. He believes transgender people have a mental disorder and is critical of Black Lives Matter. Lots of people hold such views. It’s called free speech.
Last month, when Shapiro spoke at UC Berkeley to 700 people, UC spent $600,000 on security. What has become of us when protesters would prompt the University of California to spend such a sum for free speech? What were Senate Democrats thinking when they denied him a seat at the table to talk about the rise of white supremacy?
I don’t want a selfie with Shapiro. But sometimes it’s tough to be a liberal.