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.
There 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.
The 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.