It takes a special kind of stupid to make Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon sympathetic characters, but that’s what protesters at the University of California at Berkeley are about to do. Coulter and Bannon are planning to join right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannapolous at “Free Speech Week” the last week in September. Left-wing groups, who shut down an event featuring Yiannapolous with destructive protests in February, plan to protest the event. They also plan to protest conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tomorrow evening.

“I’m expecting a riot,” said one College Republican. He means he’s hoping for a riot. And so are Bannon and Coulter. They get to become champions of free speech while the protesters play into the hands of conservatives who brand them as authoritarian and anti-democratic. Democrats and progressive organizations should get in front of the debate and welcome the right-wingers to Berkeley. Shutting down speakers never works in the long run. It just makes people even as vile as Yiannapolous victims of extremism.

The right is baiting the left and the left is taking it, hook, line and sinker. The protesters are sure that they’re stopping fascism. They’re not. They’re empowering it.

When middle America sees violent protests stopping speakers in public forums, they’re going to side with the speakers, regardless of their point of view. People with sticks wearing black ski masks evoke memories of rioters, not freedom fighters. Instead of speaking to a few dozen conservative students at the university, Bannon and Coulter will gain a national stage when TV reporters ask for their take on the rioters. It’s a huge win for the right-wing extremists who appear civil and mainstream compared to the destructive protesters

Instead of organizing and putting people in the polls, the left is quickly becoming a protest movement where protest is an end in itself and property destruction and violence are often by-products. Marching is a lot easier than door-knocking and phone banking. If they really want to become an effective movement, they should take a page out of the TEA Party and put their efforts into electoral politics. Many of the complaints they have come from GOP victories in local, state and federal elections since 2010. Shutting down public events isn’t going to slow right-wing momentum. Shutting them down at the ballot box will.