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The ACLU is Right to Defend Free Speech for Awful People

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K-Sue Park, a housing attorney and the Critical Race Studies fellow at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, has an op-ed in today’s NYT under the headline “The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech.”

The lede is outrageous:

The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of defending the First Amendment rights of groups on both the far left and the far right. This commitment led the organization to successfully sue the city of Charlottesville, Va., last week on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer. The rally ended with a Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring many.

The notion that defending the right to hold a rally makes the ACLU somehow complicit in a psychopath running people over with a car is just nuts. There’s nothing in the organization’s history to suggest that they condone violence.

After the A.C.L.U. was excoriated for its stance, it responded that “preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.” Of course that’s true. The hope is that by successfully defending hate groups, its legal victories will fortify free-speech rights across the board: A rising tide lifts all boats, as it goes.

While admirable in theory, this approach implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression.

That’s simply a nonsensical juxtaposition. Defending the right of groups with unpopular opinions to exercise their fundamental rights goes hand-in-hand with protecting marginalized social groups. The civil rights marchers of the 1960s were afforded the right to protest despite being unpopular. And, when local governments intimidated them for trying to demonstrate, they garnered national sympathy, even from people who didn’t agree with their message, precisely because our First Amendment rights are sacrosanct.

By insisting on a narrow reading of the First Amendment, the organization provides free legal support to hate-based causes. More troubling, the legal gains on which the A.C.L.U. rests its colorblind logic have never secured real freedom or even safety for all.

She’s, of course, right that the ACLU hasn’t successfully leveled the playing field on speech. But that seems a silly standard. We’re moving in that direction. All manner of marginalized groups—blacks, women, the LGBT community, and others—have advanced their cause because we’ve established the principle that localities can’t discriminate on the right to demonstrate on the basis of the content of speech.

For marginalized communities, the power of expression is impoverished for reasons that have little to do with the First Amendment. Numerous other factors in the public sphere chill their voices but amplify others.

Again, this is right insofar as it goes. But how is that the ACLU’s fault?

Most obviously, the power of speech remains proportional to wealth in this country, despite the growth of social media. When the Supreme Court did consider the impact of money on speech in Citizens United, it enabled corporations to translate wealth into direct political power. The A.C.L.U. wrongly supported this devastating ruling on First Amendment grounds.

This strikes me as a red herring in this discussion.

Other forms of structural discrimination and violence also restrict the exercise of speech, such as police intimidation of African-Americans and Latinos. These communities know that most of the systematic harassment and threats that stifle their ability to speak have always occurred privately and diffusely, and in ways that will never end in a lawsuit.

A black kid who gets thrown in jail for possessing a small amount of marijuana will face consequences that will directly affect his ability to have a voice in public life. How does the A.C.L.U.’s conception of free speech address that?

Since they’re largely unrelated issues, it doesn’t. But, as it turns out, the ACLU is on Park’s side on this issue and fighting to change our laws to remove the disparate impact.

The A.C.L.U. has demonstrated that it knows how to think about other rights in a broader context. It vigorously defends the consideration of race in university admissions, for example, even as conservative challengers insist on a colorblind notion of the right to equal protection. When it wants to approach an issue with sensitivity toward context, the A.C.L.U. can distinguish between actual racism and spurious claims of “reverse racism.”

So . . . . they’re on her side in this one, too.

The government’s power is not the only thing that can degrade freedom of expression, which Justice Benjamin Cardozo once described as “the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.” The question the organization should ask itself is: Could prioritizing First Amendment rights make the distribution of power in this country even more unequal and further silence the communities most burdened by histories of censorship?

She answers her own question here: the ACLU prioritizes free speech for exactly the reasons Cardozo did. But it’s a rather robust and well-funded operation. It’s doing multiple things.

This is a vital question because a well-funded machinery ready to harass journalists and academics has arisen in the space beyond First Amendment litigation. If you challenge hateful speech, gird yourself for death threats and for your family to be harassed.

Left-wing academics across the country face this kind of speech suppression, yet they do not benefit from a strong, uniform legal response. Several black professors have been threatened with lynching, shooting or rape for denouncing white supremacy.

This is a strong starting point. Park is absolutely right that harassment, particularly in the anonymity of the online space, is a threat to free speech. And an absolutist conception of free speech would protect said harassment, ironically harming the central purpose of said freedom in defense of a narrow conception of it.  Oddly, though, she doesn’t point to the ACLU doing that or otherwise suggest how the ACLU should combat this situation before moving on to the next point.

Government suppression takes more subtle forms, too. Some of the protesters at President Trump’s inauguration are facing felony riot charges and decades in prison. (The A.C.L.U. is defending only a handful of those 200-plus protesters.) States are considering laws that forgive motorists who drive into protesters. And police arrive with tanks and full weaponry at anti-racist protests but not at white supremacist rallies.

The danger that communities face because of their speech isn’t equal. The A.C.L.U.’s decision to offer legal support to a right-wing cause, then a left-wing cause, won’t make it so. Rather, it perpetuates a misguided theory that all radical views are equal. And it fuels right-wing free-speech hypocrisy. Perhaps most painful, it also redistributes some of the substantial funds the organization has received to fight white supremacy toward defending that cause.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Rioting is and should be illegal; it’s not a form of free expression. It would be odd, indeed, for the ACLU to defend violence.

Yes, police should act equally in like protests. But what is the ACLU supposed to do about it? Aside from the campaign it’s been waging for years against police militarization?

She’s right in her implicit argument that all radical views aren’t equal. But who gets to decide which ones deserve protection? While I happen to think that, say, Black Lives Matter has a worthier message than the assorted alt-right groups, the notion that they have unequal rights to present their views is dangerous.

The A.C.L.U. needs a more contextual, creative advocacy when it comes to how it defends the freedom of speech. The group should imagine a holistic picture of how speech rights are under attack right now, not focus on only First Amendment case law. It must research how new threats to speech are connected to one another and to right-wing power. Acknowledging how criminal laws, voting laws, immigration laws, education laws and laws governing corporations can also curb expression would help it develop better policy positions.

First, as noted earlier, the ACLU is actually fighting on all these fronts and has been doing so for years. Second, picking and choosing which free speech cases to weigh in on in the manner Park advocates would weaken the ACLU, turning it from a principled advocate for the equal protection of the laws into yet another partisan/ideological interest group.

Sometimes standing on the wrong side of history in defense of a cause you think is right is still just standing on the wrong side of history.

Well, sure. The ACLU leadership rather obviously thought the KKK was on the wrong side of history when it wanted to march through a community of Holocaust survivors in the 1970s. And they surely think the neo-Nazis and KKK are on the wrong side of history today. But a major way that history advances in a democracy is through freedom of expression, particularly for unpopular groups. Even aside from the violence, the mere words and symbols used by those groups over the weekend set back their cause and shined a light on the fact that far less extreme groups—and, indeed, the president of the United States himself—have aided and abetted their detestable cause.  That’s very much a good thing.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. teve tory says:

    I’ve been a dues-paying member of the ACLU since 2002 and they are a very principled organization. I 100% support them in this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    But what is the ACLU supposed to do about it?

    Isn’t it obvious? The ACLU should only defend the speech of people who agree with K-Sue Park.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  3. KM says:

    Nazis has all the rights the Constitution affords. Being free of criticism and scorn is not one of them. I support their right to vent their spleen with the understanding that we get the right to vent right back. A common thread in the alt-right’s post-Charlottesville narrative is that the counter-protesters were illegitimate due to not having a permit and thus rendered their point moot. Counter-protests are just as legit as the original protest – both are exercising their right to tell the other to piss off.

    The ACLU gets a lot of flak for “liberalness”, mostly because defending the free speech of unpopular groups typically meant defending people conservatives didn’t like (gays, minorities, immigrants, etc). Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, the same vigorous defense should still be offered. You may need a few showers afterwards but doing one’s duty never promised to be a pleasant experience.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Long time member of the ACLU. Just want to say that nice people don’t need their speech protected by the ACLU because nice people say nice unobjectionable things. It’s the A-holes of the world that say things that piss people off, and it is their free speech that needs defending. People like Thomas Paine. He was an a-hole who went around intentionally p*ss*ng people off.

    Elijah Parish Lovejoy was another a-hole telling people things they didn’t want to hear.

    Frederick Douglass, another. a-hole speaking uncomfortable truths.

    In my own small way I too am an asshole going around p*ss*ng people off here in the hills and hollers with a truck that leaves absolutely no doubt where I stand on the issues of the day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    Throughout our history, the voices our society has wanted to silence have often been, in hindsight, morally upright–religious leaders, pacifists, civil rights leaders, LGBT rights advocates, etc.

    It is a testament to the gains we have made a society that the voices we now want to silence are undoubtedly evil.

    The next time we as a society want to silence a message, it is doubtful it will be such a morally black-and-white issue as this one.

    That’s why Free Speech has to be an unbending principle, not a guideline we apply situationally.

    The shortsightedness of Park and other critics* of the ACLU’s free speech position is remarkable. We have a white supremacist megalomaniac controlling the most powerful position in our government, and they want to weaken our protections. Do they think Trump et al won’t use weakened protections to their advantage?

    *We have had surprisingly little blowback on this. There has been enough to prompt a blog post from Anthony, but for the most part our supporters have been with us long enough to know that we always defend the Constitution, even when our client is a big basket full of deplorables.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  6. Kylopod says:

    @KM:

    The ACLU gets a lot of flak for “liberalness”

    Who can forget the first George Bush’s charge that Dukakis was a “card-carrying member of the ACLU,” as if they were commies? It’s pretty ironic when you consider that their most famous position was standing up for the free speech rights of Nazis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    That’s why Free Speech has to be an unbending principle, not a guideline we apply situationally.

    The shortsightedness of Park and other critics* of the ACLU’s free speech position is remarkable. We have a white supremacist megalomaniac controlling the most powerful position in our government, and they want to weaken our protections. Do they think Trump et al won’t use weakened protections to their advantage?

    Dead on, exactly as I feel about this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. grumpy realist says:

    Good Lord. How did this woman pass her Constitutional Law questions on the Bar?

    (Actually, I think that the area people should really be inspecting more closely is the regulation of speech in cyberspace. I’d start treating online rape and murder threats with far more legal seriousness, for instance. Trolls who send such For The Lulz need to be firmly squelched. Maybe after a few of the little punks end up in the slammer for a few years with a criminal history attached they’ll start being more responsible.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. MarkedMan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: so – what’s on your truck?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. MarkedMan says:

    Park doesn’t seem to be aware of why the ACLU exists. It’s not there to promote liberal (or conservative) causes. It’s not there to champion downtrodden people. Inasmuch as they promote those things it is only as a side effect of their single minded efforts to defend everyone’s civil liberties.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Modulo Myself says:

    You can have free speech absolutism in many ways. We seem to be having it in a way which says free speech is great and it has no effect on anybody because it is not consensual. And there’ s a weird logic to that, which taken literally means that a Nazi publishing Mein Kampf and a Nazi buying a network and calling it Fox are the same thing. And that’s just not the case. The only people who would believe this, I think, are those who conceive of free speech as a way to manipulate others who are hostile to you. And that’s the way Americans approach speech, and the natural outcome of that is Fox, Koch-backed propaganda about climate change or whatever, and Trump, and beneath that, a substrata of insane alienated men who are into the confederacy and hating women.

    I support the right for Pasolini’s Salo to not be censored, just as I think Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom should not be censored. Salo is, in its way, a beautiful film and 120 Days of Sodom is pretty fascinating as well. I wouldn’t recommend either without a billion warnings, however. But I think every free speech absolutist should watch Salo and read Sade, because they are both about freedom as an absolute, and how it might be conceived.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  12. Jen says:

    I absolutely, 100% support the ACLU’s protection of free speech.

    The other thing to remember here is that there have been a number of Supreme Court cases over the years that restrict speech that can lead to violence and harm. I tend to think showing up at a protest with weaponry is edging pretty darn close to not falling under “peaceably assemble.”

    So yes, speech for awful people must be protected. However, there’s also a duty to the public that says such protection is not absolute, and cannot go the path of “fighting words.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. Tyrell says:

    When these Nazis and Klan people showed up with weapons and all kinds of body armor they essentially gave up there rights. The police should have let them walk around in an empty parking lot for 20 minutes and sent them packing. That’s all the free speech they should had gotten, if that much. Freedoms also has responsibilities. Too many times we have seen demonstrations and protests degenerate into assaults on police, full scale looting, burning, lewd behavior, blocking traffic, and general mayhem. There should be clear rules for demonstraters and a bond signed that covers damages, injuries, and clean up. When the country’s founders envisioned freedom of speech and assembly they did not envision the behaviors of today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  14. grumpy realist says:

    Idiot bar owner posts Nazi stuff on Facebook page, whines that nobody understands that it was “just a bad joke.”

    As said, these guys have the IQs of Venetian blinds….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Tyrell:

    When these Nazis and Klan people showed up with weapons and all kinds of body armor they essentially gave up there rights.

    While I wouldn’t go that far, I absolutely agree that the right to peaceably assemble does not include the right to do so armed, let alone threaten others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. george says:

    @Tyrell:

    You realize those restrictions would quickly be applied to all groups across the board, not just to Nazi’s? And it would soon become even more difficult to stage a protest of any kind, that the rules would be applied in such a way that even minor inconveniences to the public would be enough to ban a march or protest?

    I’ve noticed many younger people in my community are trying to limit free speech, saying (perhaps understandably) that there should be no freedom to say hurtful or racist things. But the elders have lived long enough to know that such restrictions will be turned around, that limits we put on Nazis will be applied in a different form on us in a year or in ten years.

    But as you say, assembling with weapons is a very different matter. It should be illegal. And is in most places.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. Gustopher says:

    @Jen:

    The other thing to remember here is that there have been a number of Supreme Court cases over the years that restrict speech that can lead to violence and harm. I tend to think showing up at a protest with weaponry is edging pretty darn close to not falling under “peaceably assemble.”

    I think that showing up with weapons is well beyond “peacefully assemble”. It’s a threat.

    When the ACLU decided to protect the free speech rights of the nazis, klansmen and alt-right freaks who showed up in Charlottesville, the ACLU also should have known that they would show up armed. And, the ACLU got involved anyway.

    I don’t love the ACLU. They try to be above the issues of the speech that they want to protect, and believe that restrictions on speech are always wrong. It leads to them defend threatening behavior, incitement and Citizens United.

    The ACLU is right more often than they are wrong, and for years I had signed my cat up as a member (it’s amusing to get junk mail for the cat). And for years my views have slowly shifted from believing the ACLU was always right (often in a “you’re right, but you’re an a^^hole” way), to believing that even when they are wrong it’s important to have someone arguing in that direction, to not being sure whether they’ve done more harm that good lately. And the cat eventually died and that seemed like the right time to let my active support for the ACLU lapse.

    Also, I’ve gotten cantankerous in my old age (much like that cat did), and don’t really want my money going to defending nazis. Nazis can go get some nazi lawyers to defend them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  18. teve tory says:

    @george: Out of the hundreds of liberal friends I have on FB, i’ve seen a tiny handful, like 3 or 4, suggest hate speech be restricted. Usually someone comes along and says “So you’re okay with Jeff Sessions charging his political opponents with federal crimes for protesting?” and the original person goes, “Oh. Right. Nevermind.” 😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. barbintheboonies says:

    The scum Nazis love getting a reaction, it keeps them relevant. The best way to handle them is ignore them. Let the feds keep an eye on them. It is a sign of the times everyone went too far right or too far left. The middle have no media outlet that covers them. We are the ones left without a voice. If we stand up the left or right join in and destroy our words.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  20. Terrye Cravens says:

    Freedom of speech is one thing…freedom to run over people and kill them is something else. Screeching hate speech while you wave torches in people’s faces is something else too. Freedom of speech does not free you from criticism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Gustopher says:

    @Tyrell: Requiring a bond can result in poor people being unable to protest, or be implemented to become a heckler’s veto (“people hate ferret owners, so there’s a greater security risk for the March For Ferrets NYC, and a larger bond is required”)

    There’s a careful balancing act, and it shouldn’t be used to solve the problem of nazi scum failing to f^ck off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. Gustopher says:

    Also, without looking, was “people hate ferret owners, so there’s a greater security risk for the March For Ferrets NYC, and a larger bond is required” an actual policy of Guiliani administration in NYC, or something I just made up?

    He does hate ferrets, ferrets are illegal in NYC, and he has said of ferret owners “they love weasels, there is something mentally wrong with them, and they should get help.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Paul L. says:

    Let us not suck the ACLU’s duck too hard. A number of their employees and management disagree that Hate speech is protected.

    @Tyrell:
    But the masks and weapons for AntiFa are Ok?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  24. James Pearce says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    We have a white supremacist megalomaniac controlling the most powerful position in our government, and they want to weaken our protections. Do they think Trump et al won’t use weakened protections to their advantage?

    No, they do not think. They don’t even listen to people who have thought this through for them.

    (Sorry, @teve tory, but your story was so believable…until the the “Oh nevermind” part.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    I absolutely agree that the right to peaceably assemble does not include the right to do so armed, let alone threaten others.

    The open carry laws give those people the right to bear arms including assault rifles. Their presence is intended as a threat, and it constitutes a threat. All brought to you by the GOP, their idiots on the court, and a Congress bought and paid for by the NRA.

    Intimidating black people is the whole point of open carry. 3% of Americans own 50% of our 300 million firearms. They are not hunters, they are not ‘protecting their family,’ they are nuts awaiting a race war. That’s who the GOP has supported unstintingly, and if and when those open-carry Nazis open fire, the blood will be on Republican hands.

    The entirety of the disaster descending on this country can be laid at the feet of the Republican Party post-Nixon and post-Reagan. The GOP has fed and watered racists, has made sure they can obtain military weapons and ammo, and has used law to suppress minority votes all across this country. The GOP has kept silent until it was too damned late. And even now the vast majority of Republicans are too cowardly to take a stand for freedom.

    This country needs de-Republicanization like Germany needed de-Nazification. Sweet Jesus has your party fwcked up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: Impeach Trump,
    Matthew 6: 5-6,
    and Got Vaseline?
    Still got my Hillary bumper sticker too but I doubt any one out here even knows what it means.

    Getting ready to change the GV, I’m thinking something along the lines of “Not a Nazi” but with a little more punch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: Before Matthew 6 I had Black Lives Matter on it for about 2 years. My wife thought I was gonna get shot. Tho I seriously doubted that I did half expect to lose some glass over it. Nothing ever happened. Even out here people respect Freedom of Speech.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Kylopod says:

    @george: @teve tory: I’ve mentioned this before, but when I told my Holocaust survivor grandparents that I supported the ACLU’s position on the Skokie case, they looked at me like I was insane. Part of it may be their experiences, part of it generational, and part of it that they were European. Keep in mind that in many European countries today you can get a prison sentence of many years for simply advocating a bigoted position–say, claiming that the Holocaust didn’t happen–which would be unthinkable in the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Paul L. says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Terry McAuliffe lied about the weapon caches.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  30. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Did he also lie about those ‘militia’ carrying AR-15s and wearing tactical gear? No? Then my point stands, doesn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell:

    When the country’s founders envisioned freedom of speech and assembly they did not envision the behaviors of today.

    I’m not going to try and figure out what exactly they had in their heads when talking of free speech, but history makes it clear that they were willing to show up at demonstrations* armed and ready to fight.

    * the tea party comes to mind but so does Lexington and Concord, and what was the fracas during which a British soldier killed an American in Boston? The one that led to John Adams defending the soldier?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Gustopher:

    It leads to them defend threatening behavior, incitement and Citizens United.

    No, it doesn’t. The ACLU protested Charlottesville’s attempt to revoke a permit based on view point. They did this on Friday night, and the permit was granted. At that point, no violence had occurred, and indeed most protestors–from both sides–were still arriving.

    On Saturday, the ACLU of Virginia supplied legal observers to the protests, observers (including the ED) who begged the police to intervene when violence started.

    @Paul L.:

    A number of their employees and management disagree that Hate speech is protected.

    The ACLU is an organization of 53 independent affiliates with more than 1,000 employees, and we cover the entire waterfront of civil liberties. Saying that a number of employees disagree with the ACLU’s stance on any given issue is like saying that a number of Google employees secretly like iPhones. No sh!t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  33. MarkedMan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: god help me, I think I’m going to be sorry I asked this, but I’ve seen the “Got Vaseline” one on other cars. What does it mean?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Paul L. says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Or a number of NRA employees secretly support Gun Control.
    Or a number of SPLC/NAACP employees are secretly Racist against Blacks..

    Or they are shameless Political Prostitutes who will repeat anything for a paycheck.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  35. teve tory says:

    @James Pearce:

    (Sorry, @teve tory, but your story was so believable…until the the “Oh nevermind” part.)

    It happened yesterday on a friend’s FB thread, you dumb racist asshole.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  36. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Paul L.:

    That’s the best you can do? *yawn*

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  37. Neil Hudelson says:

    @teve tory:

    Dude. James is a contrarian at heart. He loves to miss the forest for the petty trees–as he did with your post. But nothing he’s ever typed here justify painting him as a racist.

    Same side man, same side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  38. James Pearce says:

    @teve tory: I don’t doubt that it happened, dude. I just doubt the level of circumspection. Maybe amongst Facebook friends, though….

    (PS. I may be a dumb asshole –I mean, I don’t think I am– but I’m not a racist.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  39. teve tory says:

    No, he’s not. Anytime race and privilege come up he’s full of shit and defending racism. And other white people put up with it because it doesn’t affect us directly. And he just called me a liar about something I saw with my own two eyes. I’m done with him. He’s going in the same Always Ignore bucket as JKB, Bob, Jack, and Florack. Too stupid and shitty to deal with anymore.

    This is a good site, and I’m not going to let a tiny handful of bad people change that. I just made the mistake of occasionally reading Pearce, and the mistake is now corrected.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  40. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Speaking from the other side of the pond:

    1) We tried free speech for Nazis and it didn’t work out all that well. There are some viewpoints that have been proven to be without merit to the public discourse.

    2) For some strange reason we have never had a problem identifying Nazis when it came to targeted suppression. No one has ever used these laws to target political opponents. Neither have they caused an increase in viewpoint suppression. Frankly the whole slippery slope argument seems to be largely bunkum.

    3) Re: The Sessions argument. As America is currently finding out constitutional safeguards are only as strong as the civil society supporting them. By the point an anti-Nazi law gets co-opted to suppress other viewpoints these safeguards have been corrupted to a points where the absence of such laws would be no hindrance anyway. People and courts willing to bend a law to this point would have no problem writing their own anti-viewpoint law anyway.

    Cognitive and neuroscience has long proven that nearly all assumptions underlying the American free speech fundamentalism were erroneous and the marketplace of ideas is a very likeable illusion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. grumpy realist says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: Also we have quite a bunch of idiots on this side of the pond who seem to think that Freedom of Speech means a) protection against getting fired from your job b) protection against getting arrested for actions you did during your little “freedum to be a Nazi” runaround c) protection from getting called out as an asshole on social media and d) freedom from, well, any consequences whatsoever.

    Hipster whiners, all of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. george says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’m first nations, we went from 80+ million to 4 million and lost a continent when the Europeans came over – we understand genocide very well.

    And yet we’ve also learned that the government is much better at silencing its critics than anyone else, either directly or indirectly. Allowing hateful speech is hurtful, but allowing the government to decide what can and what cannot be said is far worse, because if you’re on the wrong side of them they can make you disappear as a people.

    People who are asking the gov’t to restrict free speech are assuming they’re always going to control the gov’t. And that’s an unreasonably optimistic view.

    Using social pressure to criticize hateful speech, individuals or companies not allowing it on their premises is a much better option than having the gov’t involved.

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  43. James Pearce says:

    @Neil Hudelson: @teve tory: My totally awesome reply was caught in the spam filter. Can someone with the keys spring it?

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  44. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Using social pressure to criticize hateful speech, individuals or companies not allowing it on their premises is a much better option than having the gov’t involved.

    Yeah. Transferring this duty from people accountable to the public will and limited by constitutional safeguards to private companies accountable only to a small number of the wealthy and easily moved by majority opinion sounds like a safe bet.

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  45. george says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:

    I’m almost certain I put individuals in there, and even before companies. Companies are important to list, because sometimes they do the right thing in terms of such speech (Google for instance recently). But mostly things will change (if they’re to change) because of the voices of all the individuals. Top down change (ie gov’t banning speech) has been tried – in fact gov’ts have aimed for that for a few thousand years. It doesn’t work out the way you think.

    The gov’t has silenced peoples for centuries. We’re now getting the ability (one of the good things of technology) to speak out. Give them the right to decide what speech is hateful is sooner or later, and I’d bet sooner, have them silencing groups like the first nations. You think you can limit them to just limiting the speech of Nazis, but history suggests otherwise.

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  46. Kylopod says:

    @george: I think part of what influences my opinion is my realization that the US is historically and today one of the most Jew-friendly countries in the world, and it also has a better track record of protecting personal beliefs than Europe. It doesn’t fill me with warmth to know that in France, for example, Holocaust denial is a felony, when I know the same country also bans religious dress or the wearing of religious symbols in public schools. I don’t think this is really a slippery-slope argument (which is about predicting what has yet to happen), it’s an observation that governments that show low tolerance for beliefs they don’t like tend not to stop at racist extremism.

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  47. Tyrell says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Neil, what we have saw in the last few years is legitimate peaceful protests that are infiltrated by radical insurgents that turn things in to full scale riots: rock throwing, bombs, looting, burning down the local businesses, injuring police officers, destruction of tax payer property. Now that’s what gets you. So the rioters take off into the night, leaving ruins and people re-thinking free speech. All part of a plan.

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  48. wr says:

    @barbintheboonies: “Let the feds keep an eye on them. ”

    Yes, right, let’s do that. Now who’s in charge of the feds again? Oh, yes, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, a man who wants to restart the 80s drug wars so we can go back to putting more black males in prison. I trust him to regulate the Klan!

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  49. wr says:

    @Tyrell: “what we have saw in the last few years is legitimate peaceful protests that are infiltrated by radical insurgents”

    And when Tyrrell says “the last few years,” the years he means are 1969-1971.

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  50. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    I absolutely agree that the right to peaceably assemble does not include the right to do so armed, let alone threaten others.

    There is an op-ed in NYT today arguing for banning open carry. My initial reaction was that they’d just concealed carry, and I’d rather know who’s packing. On second thought it occurs to me that if someone pulls out a handgun and threatens me with it, he can be charged with assault. If he just stands there with the weapon visible he may well be making an implied threat, but there’s nothing to charge him with. Plus it’s hard to conceal a pretend M-16.

    The police in Charlottesville have been criticized for allowing the militia groups to be there armed. Under current VA law is there actually any way they could have prevented it? A ban on open carry would give them a way. Provision would have to be made for legitimate transport of a weapon, but that seems easy enough. SCOTUS might be a problem, but maybe they’re a bit less absolutist after Charlottesville.

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  51. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @wr: Don’t be so hard on him. He’s trying a new persona: Tyrell the Alzheimer’s patient. It’ll take time for him to get it down.

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  52. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Top down change (ie gov’t banning speech) has been tried – in fact gov’ts have aimed for that for a few thousand years. It doesn’t work out the way you think.

    No they didn’t, because the idea of government banning speech for idealistic reasons instead of pure self-interest has been around for perhaps 250 years at most. Before that, the idea of bans being “misused” to suppress divergent thought makes no sense.

    And as I stated above, we have banned Nazi speech for about a third of that time (~ 70 years) without any ill effects. While history is a dangerous argument, so far it seems to be on the side of Nazi bans being ok.

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  53. Kylopod says:

    @Ebenezer Arvigenius:

    we have banned Nazi speech for about a third of that time (~ 70 years) without any ill effects.

    Who’s “we”? What country are you defending?

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  54. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Who’s “we”? What country are you defending?

    I’m not “defending” anything. I’m merely reporting from prectical experience with such measures as opposed to the theoretical dangers regularly bemoaned in these discussions ;-).

    But I’m from Germany. The situation in Austria and France would be roughly the same AFAIK.

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  55. george says:

    @Kylopod:

    I can understand that. My lack of confidence in the gov’t controlling speech comes from their long history of silencing first nations (or aboriginal or Indian or however you wish to call us), either directly or indirectly.

    Of course, the history in places like Russia, and actually Canada too, is worse. “Wards of the state” sounds much better in theory than in practice – and I’d argue that by giving the gov’t the power to decide what can and cannot be said, you’re volunteering individuals to become wards of the state.

    For instance, I doubt you’d have heard much about the Dakota Pipeline Access protests if the gov’t had the right to decide what was acceptable speech.

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  56. george says:

    @Ebenezer Arvigenius:

    The government thought it was silencing North American indigenous peoples for idealistic reasons (promoting assimilation) … banning our languages in schools and vigorously discouraging their use was done for reasons they thought were helpful. Same for residential schools, taking children away from first nations families to teach them how to be white – the sad thing is that most of the people involved thought they were doing the right thing.

    They were wrong.

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