We all remember last August, when white supremacist groups held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the pretext of protesting the removal of a Civil War statue of Robert E. Lee. At least, that was what we were told was the purpose of the rally. One of the organizers let it slip that the real purpose of the rally was to unify far-right hate groups including white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK. The rally ended in tragedy when 19 people were injured and a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered by James Alex Fields, who drove his car viciously into a crowd.
Well, guess what, folks? The primary event organizer, one Jason Kessler, wants to do it again this year – he wants to hold an “anniversary celebration”. Interestingly, other white supremacist groups are not on board with the idea. Last November, Kessler applied to the city of Charlottesville, but his request was denied, citing “danger to public safety”. Kessler, of course, wasn’t about to take that lying down, so in March he filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming it was denying his 1st Amendment rights. Legal experts say it will fall on the city to prove that police would be unable to adequately protect protesters and citizens.
Why are other white supremacist groups on the bandwagon with Kessler’s idea? Both Richard Spencer and neo-Nazi Mike Peinovich say they will not attend if Kessler holds his rally. Their stated reason is they fear attacks by “antifa thugs”. But the reality, it seems, is that the entire “alt-right”, the collective term for white supremacist, nationalist and other such groups have been in a state of flux. After the August Charlottesville disaster …
“Web companies finally started taking action against the white supremacy that had been allowed to fester on their platforms. The Daily Stormer, for instance, was dropped by domain provider GoDaddy for inciting violence in the wake of the rally, and has since bounced around the internet looking for a permanent home. Spencer’s fundraising efforts have collapsed, his legal counsel deserted him and, this week, he even had his credit card declined when he tried to buy a $4.25 shot of bourbon.” – ThinkProgress, 11 May 2018
Kessler, however, is undaunted by the lack of support from the other groups and claims that …
“I do have a backup plan, for people who have been asking, and that is going to be in front of the White House. If Charlottesville denies our permit for any reason, it’s not safe, we’re going to get in vans and we’re going to go to Lafayette Park in front of the White House.”
Somehow, it sounds like a lot of hot air to me, BUT … it brings me to a point. Is it, perhaps, time for some tweaks and adjustments to the U.S. Constitution? The document was written and ratified in 1787, more than 230 years ago, and it has served quite well ever since. But times change, and as we have seen in other areas, sometimes the document needs to be adjusted to reflect those changes.
The freedom of speech that is guaranteed in the 1st Amendment was never intended to be a mechanism for violence against the innocent, but today it is used just so. I have alluded to this before, but largely stay away from the suggestion to ‘amend the amendment’, for it is a slippery slope and there is the fear that we might actually put restrictions on the very sorts of speech that should … must … be protected in order to maintain our free republic. And it’s a sad shame that we need to even consider restricting the right to free speech … a shame that we, as human beings, do not have the good sense to temper our speech in the interest of respect, dignity and common sense. But, welcome to the 21st century.
Other nations have found ways to limit speech that infringes on the rights of others, that incites violence, without sacrificing the right to speak out when government is making poor decisions, or abusing its power. The UK and many other European nations have laws against
- Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior intending or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or cause a breach of the peace.
Sending any article which is indecent or grossly offensive with an intent to cause distress or anxiety.
Incitement, incitement to racial hatred, incitement to religious hatred, incitement to terrorism including encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications, glorifying terrorism, collection or possession of a document or record containing information likely to be of use to a terrorist.
Treason including advocating for the abolition of the monarchy or compassing or imagining the death of the monarch.
How, I ask you, could anybody argue against any of those exceptions to freedom of speech? In a nutshell, the concept is that you have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to express your opinion, but you do not have a right to try to rile people to the point of violence and you do not have the right to cause people, with your speech, to feel intimidated or distressed. It’s just common sense! As a number of readers have expressed in the past, and as I have also said, “your rights end when they infringe upon anothers”. I feel similarly about religious freedom: you have the right to believe as you wish, to practice whatever religion you choose or none at all, but you do not have the right to attempt to force others to abide by your beliefs.
By definition, freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment. Voicing one’s opinion can certainly be done in a manner that does not incite violence. It can be done without raised voices, without wearing hooded robes, without guns, and without KKK symbols and swastikas. I would never wish to place limits on voicing one’s opinions … as long as it is done calmly and respectfully. Over the past 3 years, I have blocked three readers from this blog because they could not manage to comment without using slurs and vulgarity, without being disrespectful. The same rules ought to apply in a public venue, I should think.
If Jason Kessler and his band of white supremacist thugs are allowed to hold another rally in August, I hope that a few common sense precautions are taken, such as a “no firearms beyond this point” rule, a “no motorized vehicles beyond this point” rule, and automatic arrest for anyone who hurls racial epithets or attempts a show of physical force. Also, KKK hoods and Nazi symbols need to be banned.
If we ever plan to work toward healing the great divide in this nation, we must first learn to treat each other with respect. If we do not want any adjustment to the 1st Amendment, then we must all learn to police ourselves, to curtail our speech when needed. We need to think before we speak, especially in public. If we cannot or will not do that, then I fully support an ‘amendment to the amendment’, for the current level of hate in this country simply cannot continue.