12 August 2017 — 2001 mdt
Free speech is the biggest loser in Charlottesville
As a constitutional principle, the right to exercise free speech is not contingent upon the content of that speech (note 1). Richard Spencer, and the white supremacist groups that gathered in Charlottesville, VA, last night and today, needed and obtained parade permits, but they did not need Virginia’s blessing of their message to obtain those permits. Their message of white supremacy is, of course, abhorrent, but that’s beside the point.
Unfortunately, some who disagree with the white supremacists’ message also disagree that the white supremacists have, or should have, the right to free speech. These self-appointed, self-righteous, deciders of what speech the rest of us should be able to hear, the black clad, Antifa thugs, came to Charlottesville determined to deny the white supremacists their rights. “Tensions began to escalate Friday night,” reported the Washington Post,
as hundreds of white nationalists marched through the campus of the University of Virginia, chanting “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!”
They were met by counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, who founded the university. One counterprotester apparently deployed a chemical spray, which sent about a dozen rally goers seeking medical assistance.
Today, events spiraled out of control. An automobile crashed into a crowd, killing a woman and injuring at least 19 others. There were more clashes between the supremacists and the Antifas, with more injuries. Virginia’s authorities declared a state of emergency, revoking permission for the rallies.
Elected leaders in Virginia and elsewhere urged peace, blasting the white supremacist views on display in Charlottesville as ugly. U.S. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called their display “repugnant.”
But evidently no elected official blasted the Antifas for raising a ruckus that resulted in a heckler’s veto that silenced the white supremacists, and deprived citizens of their right to choose the speech to which they wish to listen. A heckler’s veto is a defeat for free speech, and a tacit admission that the exercisers of that veto lack confidence in the power of their counter-message.
Now, thanks to the Antifas’ reckless and antidemocratic tactics, and to the inability, and possible unwillingness, of Virginia’s authorities to keep the situation under control, Spencer and his fellow bigots have become free speech martyrs.
Today’s deadly events need not have occurred.
The white supremacists should have been allowed to march, to rally, to speak, to howl at the moon and bay at the sun. We must trust that in the marketplace of ideas, their loathsome message will be rejected by good and decent Americans.
Note 1. There are some exceptions, such as crying fire in a crowded theatre, but those exceptions do not apply here.