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Speech limits

Do not grant domestic terrorists permits to gather publicly and incite violence

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Ann-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of New America, writes "The oldest and simplest justification for government is as a protection of its citizens from violence," not just from foreign foes, but from each other. Our government does this by creating law and order. State and local government leaders tried to get the permit for the Unite the Right rally revoked before the Charlottesville disaster. The rally's organizer, white supremacist Jason Kessler, was represented by the ACLU in court and won out, as a federal judge denied this attempt. The judge's denial was on the basis of the right to free speech. As a result, a state of emergency was declared and the rally turned into chaos, ending with three people dead, at least 34 people physically injured, and eight people arrested. Because of these events and our current social climate, for safety reasons, I believe government officials should have a right to deny hate groups from assembling publicly.

Basically, terrorism can be defined as any unjustifiable act(s) of violence or threat of violence on a person or group of persons based on their political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual identity. Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm ... ." The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the following groups as hate groups: the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, racist skin-heads, Christian Identity, neo-Confederate, black separatists, anti-LGBT, and anti-Muslim. History and current events have shown that hate groups and individuals involved with them are terrorists because of their use of power, fear, intimidation, threats, violence, murder, and genocide. The hate groups and individuals in the U.S. are domestic terrorists. They mirror ISIS. Does our government grant rally permits to members of ISIS?

Some of the current exceptions to U.S. citizens' right to free speech are:

1. Incitement: Advocacy of the use of force is unprotected when it is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce action, in other words, if these activities create a clear and present danger.

2. Fighting words and offensive speech: Speech that tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace by provoking a fight when the words are personally abusive and when addressed to the ordinary citizen is, as a matter of common knowledge, inheritably likely to provoke a violent reaction and is thus likely to be seen as a direct personal insult. This includes threats of violence that are directed at a person or group that has the intent of placing the target at risk of bodily harm or death.

It is crystal clear, from the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, with the violent words/chants, torches, weapons, hate symbols, and aggressive actions, that it should have fit both of these categories. The participants' words and actions were personally abusive to anyone in proximity. The rally did result in clear and present danger and created violent reactions.

It is unbelievable to me that we can restrict an individual's ability to yell "fire" in a theater but not deny a rally from organizations that not just incite lawless action but have terrorized, tortured, and killed thousands and millions of innocent men, women, and children. These groups and individuals can keep their beliefs and spew forth their excrement of hate all they want, but keep it amongst themselves, behind closed doors. Let them wallow in it! Just keep that filth out of our public places. If anyone believes they are being treated unfairly or discriminated against, they can join the crowd, make their case, and fight for their rights in a civilized manner like the rest of us.

This danger to our public safety is rising. These hate groups have always been in our midst. Now, with the availability of the internet, the events of 9/11, the election of President Barack Obama, news organization like Breitbart, and individuals like Ann Coulter who are promoting white nationalism, there is a resurgence of them. Since the campaign of Donald Trump, who appears to be emboldening many of these groups as their numbers, crimes and public displays of hate are increasing. Funding to track these groups has decreased under this administration. They are coming out more in public. Wherever there are rallies, counterprotesters will continue to show up, not just to promote love and inclusion, but also out of fear of what can happen if nothing is done (ignoring may result in dire consequences) and as a matter of defense. Protesters, including the Antifa, are not only defending themselves and others, they are defending the rights of all of humanity. Sometimes this defense turns violent. Violence can cause a violent reaction, even from the most reasonable of persons. It is justifiable. So we need to do all we can to prevent the hellish future of open and violent civil warfare.

I was moved by the events in Boston, and although it gives us hope, I think it gives us a false sense of security. These hate groups will continue to organize and terrorize. Not all communities will have the open space, population (should we expect 40,000 counterprotesters at each rally?), resources (police, training, money), and planning that Boston had to prevent a disaster like what occurred in Charlottesville. Also, the prevention of pandemonium should not be on the shoulders of the police. It is asking too much of them and placing them in unnecessary danger. Communities can only do so much reactively. We need to be more proactive, and we need our government's help.

The ACLU is supposed to protect citizens from unnecessary government intrusion. In these times, with the rise of these hate groups, more government involvement is needed. The executive director of the ACLU, Anthony Romero, is currently reviewing whether the ACLU should represent members of hate groups who carry loaded guns to rallies. I don't think this goes far enough by any measure. Romero told the Los Angeles Times, "We believe that even odious hate speech, with which we vehemently disagree, garners the protection of the First Amendment when expressed non-violently." These hate groups are violent by definition. They are domestic terrorists. There is no other side to this coin. The ACLU should stop representing them.

As we all continue to work toward the acceptance and non-discrimination of others, we need to also take immediate action to respond to these times of open hatred, bigotry, and civil unrest. The worst parts of history can easily and quickly repeat themselves. In these times, denying hate groups the right to hold public rallies is one of these important actions. These terrorists do not deserve the right to free speech. Δ

Kathy Riedmann is a proud, socially liberal Democrat. Send comments toclanham@newtimesslo.comor be proud enough of your opinions to write a letter to editor and send it toletters@newtimesslo.com.

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