I saw a really great meme on Facebook this morning. It had a banner headline that read, "Trump supporters be like:" Under that were three images—ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem, a gathering of pink-cat-hatted Women's March protestors, and a trio of Starbucks' so-called "war on Christmas" red holiday cups—with the words "That's offensive!" under each. Across the bottom was a final image of the tiki-torch-carrying, Nazi-saluting White Nationalists gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, under which it read, "Oh this? Freedom of speech, man!"
That's the problem with free speech: We're all for it until someone says something we don't like.
Last week New Times included an insert paid for by the Missionaries Fellowship of Los Angeles, with a headline that read, "The Christian View of Law and Order." The double-sided advertisement began by claiming there is an "escalation of attacks and killings of American police officers," which turns out to be historically wrong. While this past year saw a 20 percent increase in criminal police deaths over the previous year, such deaths have dropped precipitously from their peak of more than 100 per year in the early '80s to our current average of around 50 annually. Obviously zero would be best; also, zero deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police, amirite?
Setting aside the insert's initial histrionics, it goes on to argue that it's un-Christian to "rant" about police brutality, that police are ordained by God to use force against "criminals," and that "Black folk need to realize they are being used as pawns by a highly educated but sinister and demonic group of people, mainly within the Democratic Party."
Some readers didn't like this. We didn't like it, either. They were offended by its content. It's definitely offensive. They thought we were wrong to include it. We've been having an intense discussion about that in the newsroom. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Charlottesville domestic terrorist attack, people are arguing over the limits of free speech.
Turns out: Child pornography is not protected. Words meant to incite violence are not protected. Words that would reasonably lead to injury—"Fire!" in a crowded theater—are not protected. That's pretty much it. Otherwise, anything goes.
You might not like it that the Missionaries Fellowship of Los Angeles wrote that the Democratic Party is "anti-Christ, anti-American, and anti-life," but that's, like, their opinion, man. They have the right to espouse it just as American Nazis have the right to tell people that they demand "an America in which white people are the sole masters of our own destiny."
And I'm allowed to say: I think that thought is a pile of garbage just like they are.
Without free speech, women wouldn't have the right to vote, minorities wouldn't have civil rights, the LGBTQ community would still be closeted. If you support the free speech that led these groups to speak up for and acquire their rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, you must also support the rights of people with whom you disagree to express their hateful, racist, ignorant messages.
Squelching one group's free speech is a slippery slope to squelching yours.
"Protecting" people from hateful messages by squelching free speech does nothing to change the fact that bigoted scumbags hold such beliefs. When we allow these hateful messages to be exposed, we also allow the sunshine of truth and power of tolerance to shine upon them.
When counter-protestors gathered in Charlottesville to demonstrate their resistance to a white power message, they were showing fellow Americans and the world that this small percentage of racists does not represent the United States of America. We're not going to change racist thinking by letting it fester in the shadows; let the haters speak. Then, let them hear our response. If you don't like the Missionaries Fellowship of Los Angeles' message, write a letter to the editor or stand on a street corner and say it. Organize a movement. Don't demand silence.
Charlottesville proves the haters are emboldened. Instead of wearing white hoods, they wore white polo shirts and carried tiki torches like they were a fraternity heading to a luau, except they were chanting racist slogans and Sieg Heiling (Hail Victory!) down the street. Now, they're getting doxxed online—having their identities revealed and being publically shamed. They're learning the ramifications of free speech. Go America!
Meanwhile, President Trump was dishing out blame for the violence to "many sides." It's also free speech to argue that the president's suggestion that racist and antifa (anti-fascist) messages are somehow equal is false. Trump's rhetoric shows that he sympathizes with racists or, at the very least, understands that they're one part of his base that he doesn't want to alienate. Everyone else, apparently, doesn't matter.
Look, America is at a crossroads. Fascism is a very real threat. One of the first things fascists do when they take power is squelch free speech and free press.
If liberals try to fight fascism with fascist techniques like curtailing their opponents' free speech, America has already lost.
Trump can take his "Fake news!" and shove it! Δ
The Shredder thinks racists are losers. Sad. Send ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.