Speech we hate is still protected
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, the Left has recast conservative speech as that most reviled of epithets: “hate speech.” Terms such as “neo-Nazi,” “white supremacist,” and “alt-right” are being blended into “right-wing” and even “conservative,” depriving them of all meaning. The liberal media is all-too-eager to throw about “conservative” and “alt-right” as indistinguishable synonyms.
These lazy smear tactics have real consequences. In late August, the city of San Francisco shut down a Patriot Prayer rally after the left-wing group By Any Means Necessary — which has been involved in numerous violent confrontations nationwide — vowed to disrupt the event. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee defended his decision to shut down the rally, claiming it would hurt residents. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went so far as to condemn the rally as a “white supremacist” event.
But they forgot to do their research. Patriot Prayer is organized by Joey Gibson, a Japanese-American who publicly “disavows racism and hatred.” Gibson later spoke in nearby Pacifica with a handful of supporters, including several African-Americans.
In other words, San Francisco’s mayor chose to use armed police at taxpayers’ expense to prevent a Japanese-American from holding a peaceable protest because violent thugs threatened to wage war. In the Left’s eyes, being a “patriot” is synonymous with Nazism.
This is no isolated incident. In Boston, violence broke out between Free Speech Rally-goers and thousands of counter-protestors. Although the Boston Free Speech Coalition — the rally’s organizer — is “publicly opposed to the white supremacist message,” Antifa protestors still targeted event attendees with makeshift weapons. More recently, black-clad Antifa supporters armed with homemade shields confronted a gathering of President Trump supporters in Berkeley. They infamously beat a father and son with flagpoles before the two managed to escape.
From Charlottesville to Boston to Berkeley, Democratic officials directed police not to preserve order and defend speech, but allow violent attacks against ideas they oppose.
Nazism is evil. Fascism is evil. And so is Antifa, a violent movement that strikes at the core ideals of American freedom. But the Left is trivializing true evil by falsely labeling political opinions with which they disagree as hate speech.
The larger question remains: How do we address hate in its truest form?
The answer is not to suppress it so hate festers in the dark, but to expose it to the sunlight where hate will whither and die. That is the power of the First Amendment, and why all speech — even hate speech we may find repulsive — is still protected speech. And protect it, we must. The freedoms of speech and association are not applied on a case-by-case basis, saved for when it’s popular to do so. They are applied universally to all speech and all association — even and especially the most vile speech from the worst collections of humanity. In Justice Samuel Alito’s words: “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’ ”
I can revile every sentence the white supremacists in Charlottesville peaceably assembled to say, and I do. I can detest everything about the antagonistic Antifa rhetoric infiltrating our politics, and I do. But they all have the constitutional right to peaceably assemble and speak their minds. That’s the point. That’s democracy.
But, in using violence to suppress speech and failing to protect people engaged in peaceable — if deplorable — assembly, the Democratic-Antifa coalition is shredding our most important freedom.
No matter how begrudgingly, we must stand for freedom even when — especially when — we hate the speakers assembled.
Dan Backer is founding attorney of political.law based in Alexandria, Virginia.