Free to Hate?

Should freedom of speech extend to racist hate speech?  I advocate for freedom of the press and free speech for all, however I am profoundly disturbed by certain elements that seem to be coming out from under the rocks to take advantage of, and to abuse those freedoms and I cannot help but be concerned for our future.

spence-2.jpgThere is a man named Richard B. Spencer.  Some may have heard of him, especially in recent weeks, as he has been in the news of late.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Spencer advocates for a white homeland for a “dispossessed white race” and calls for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to halt the “deconstruction” of European culture.  If this were simply the viewpoint of a single person, it might be harmless enough, though the ‘European culture’ belongs to the Europeans, and the ‘American culture’ is something entirely different altogether.  However, this view is becoming more widespread and I find it alarming.

Spencer is not alone in his views, but as he has come onto my radar more than once in the days since Donald Trump won the electoral vote on November 8th, it is he upon whom I turn my reflection today.  Spencer is considered a leader in white supremacist circles, and thus has influence over those who may feel disenfranchised in today’s environment.  He is not uneducated, having received a B.A. with High Distinction in English Literature and Music from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Chicago.  In 2007, Spencer was actually fired from The American Conservative for being too radical!  That, in itself, speaks volumes.

Spencer rejects traditional conservatism because he says its adherents “can’t or won’t represent explicitly white interests.”  In a recent interview for Time magazine, Spencer said that he rejected white supremacy and slavery of nonwhites, preferring to establish America as a white ethno-state.  What does that mean, exactly?  In a nutshell, it means that Spencer and those who think like him want the U.S. to become a nation defined only by white citizens of European ancestry.  It is a term that is synonymous with the ethnic cleansing proposed by Adolph Hitler’s ‘final solution’.  Now, if that doesn’t make you fear for the future of the U.S., then you have nerves of steel or else you just don’t care.

spence-3The most recent episode involving Spencer and his gang of, for lack of a better word, Nazis, took place earlier this month when Spencer and a group of about 200 white nationalists met in Washington to celebrate the election of Trump and plan for their future.  One attendee referred to it as a ‘victory party’.  And there were chants of “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” And there were raised arms in a ‘salute’ more than slightly reminiscent of the Nazi salute.  Mr. Trump, under pressure from advisors, disavowed the white nationalists, but they have not disavowed him.  They see him as their saviour, their ally, as the one who is going to ‘make America white again’.

During the aforementioned meeting of Spencer’s organization, the National Policy Institute (despite the name, this is not a governmental institute), Spencer gave a speech where he referred to the mainstream media as “Lügenpresse.” Translated from the German it means “lying press”. The Nazis used the word to attack their critics in the press.  “America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”  The audience responded with more cheers and more salutes. A short (3:06 min) video clip is available, courtesy of The Atlantic, and I include the link here  in case you wish to see it.  I did not, as I have no stomach for it.

Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, coupled with his ‘America First’ foreign policy speech has emboldened Spencer’s group and others like it, and Trump’s disavowal of the alt-right and white supremacists has gone largely unnoticed and unremarked.  It is a case of too little, too late, and there is potential for a surge in these movements.  Trump’s selection of racist, anti-Semite Steve Bannon for his chief political advisor has further played into the hands of the white supremacists and given them further hope that future policies will align with their ‘cause’.

Jared Taylor, the founder of the white nationalist publication American Renaissance, says that “In the long run, people like Bannon and Trump will be open to the clarity of our ideas.” And Spencer himself claims, “I think moving forward the alt-right as an intellectual vanguard can complete Trump. We can be the ones who are out front, who are thinking about things that he hasn’t grasped yet.”

My fears are two-fold.  First is that Trump and his hand-picked advisors such as Bannon, lean toward racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic already.  The alt-right movement has plans to place members and like-thinkers in key positions and to run for congressional seats in 2018.  The movement is currently not widely supported by the majority of U.S. citizens, but a year-and-a-half ago, neither was Donald Trump.  Trump started out being viewed as a joke, with most saying he could never be president, and look what happened. But the more immediate fear is that the hate movement, which we have seen evidence of in the past weeks, is gaining momentum and the voice with which the likes of Richard Spence speak, will only encourage more haters to act upon heretofore suppressed feelings and beliefs, effectively turning our society into one comparable to Germany in the 1930s.

When I ask the question ‘should freedom of speech extend to racist, anti-Semitic hate speech?’ I have all of this in mind.  I am conflicted.  I never thought I would seriously consider that we should curtail any of our constitutional freedoms, but when we abuse those freedoms, then perhaps it is time to re-think things.  When people are chanting ‘Hail Trump’ in the same voice that was once used to chant ‘Heil Hitler’, and when the Nazi stiff-arm salute becomes acceptable in the U.S., I just don’t know any more. I am picturing 1930s Germany, recalling books and articles I have read about how Hitler was able to exterminate six million Jewish people with little resistance, and I am frightened, not for myself, but for loved ones, and most of all, for the nation I hold dear, despite its faults.  Think about it.

19 thoughts on “Free to Hate?

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  3. Note to Readers: I appreciate the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments on this post! I like it when we can have discussions of this nature. I remain conflicted … perhaps always will. As Hugh mentioned, certain hate speech may be viewed as ‘inciting to riot’, and I find that unacceptable in a society. In Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic, there are boundaries to freedom of speech that make it illegal to perform a Nazi salute or form groups with the word Nazi in them. Those countries are ever-conscious of their history and make every effort to keep that history from repeating itself. Are we in the U.S. blind to that, so unwilling to give up an ounce of our freedoms for the greater good? I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I think it is important that we continue to ask the questions and have meaningful, yet respectful discourse on the subject. Thanks to all for your contributions!


  4. Jill, our rights for freedom of speech have to tolerate the rights of bigots to shout at the top of their lungs the hate speech that has become more common with this President-elect. I like M. Oniker’s reference that it is out in the open more, so we can shine a spotlight on it.

    With that said, I have reiterated countless times, political incorrectness does not give someone the right to be an asshole or lie. People can be civil with their opinions, even when more candid. So, when hate speech is used, we are well within our rights to call it out.

    Getting back to the song from “South Pacific, ” the line goes “you have to be carefully taught by the time you are seven or eight, to hate the people your parents hate.” Our younger adults and teens understand this better than many of us older folks, who have carried taught bigotry with us in our handbags. So, it is imperative, for each of us to say “that is not right” or “I disagree with that position,” when we hear hate speech.

    It is not easy, though. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like what you wrote. I differ, though, about having the right to be an asshole or lie. We do have that right (again, within legalities). What the a-holes don’t like, though, is that while they have the right to state horrible, idiotic things, everyone else has the right to point and say, “That’s a horrible, idiotic thing to say, and here’s why…” (as you said in your comment). While they do have a right; it would be nice if they didn’t exercise it so darned often. You’re right, it isn’t easy, and there *are* gray areas. It is illegal to incite riots, but it is not illegal to speak or write hateful things that don’t spell out violence.

      Liked by 2 people

      • All good points. I do find that people who want the right to say anything, often find it difficult when the tables are turned. Our President elect can dish it, but he cannot take it having the thinnest of skins.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that the hate is easier to fight out in the open … BUT … I fear the ‘bandwagon effect’. I believe that is how Trump went from being viewed as a clown to being elected to the highest office in the land. I remain conflicted on this issue. I had forgotten about that line from South Pacific! You are right … this whole thing is not easy, but the one thing I know is I will keep speaking out against bigotry in its many forms as long as my fingers can still dance across the keyboard and as long as my voice still works. Sometimes I may do it while wiping away tears, but I will still do it.

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  5. The problem, as you well know, is where to draw the line. Free speech is essential to a democracy and I have been critical of the universities that have refused to allow certain speakers to speak on campus because they are regarded by the faculty as unacceptable. Universities are a place where all ideas should be shared, no matter how inflammatory. But the sort of thing you mention borders on inciting a riot and this should be curtailed. It is not free speech, because it is not about sharing ideas — it is about encouraging people to hurt other people (or worse). I suppose that’s where I would draw the line.

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  6. I only read the first part and end of your comment but I know that avoiding political things is not a good practice. When you practice head-in-the-sand behavior as this you run the risk of harm to yourself and others. It is akin to yelling fire! in a crowed movie theatre, but fighting with shadow flames is a good point though

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    • You’re right, you didn’t read what I wrote elsewhere. If you are saying I’m practicing head-in-the-sand-behavior, then you are speaking of things you don’t know. I was polite to the author and did not cast aspersions. It would be nice to be treated in kind. Concept.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Perhaps it should also be said that I was speaking with a familiarity to the author, as I know her outside of the blogs. I realize that isn’t common knowledge and wasn’t translated in my response. Based upon the other comments made below, though, it doesn’t sound like my comments to Jill were off-base. Sorry, “Entry” that you were offended by my honesty in responding.

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  7. I’m going to do a couple of things that aren’t great practices. I’m going to comment on your post without having read it through. I mentioned on my blog today why and how I’m avoiding political things. I do scan headlines and intro-post blurbs that I get in my email. So, I read the first and last paragraphs. Whew, all that being declared: Freedom of speech is freedom of speech (except the the legal bit about yelling “fire” in a crowded theater). We can’t cherry pick it, even when the words are hateful. That’s one of those slippery slopes to avoid. Also, I would prefer to have the hate speech out in the open, where it can be monitored and ridiculed. This stuff didn’t just appear with the recent election. People were whispering it all along. I think that was more dangerous. It is certainly one reason why some people were so surprised by its emergence. You can fight what you can see (and hear) much easier than you can tilt at shadows.

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