- James Preston Allen
Your Second Amendment Ends at My First Amendment Rights’ Nose
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
I have a long standing, if not ingrained interest in free speech. This fundamental right is essential to the very enterprise of running a newspaper. One might call it enlightened self-interest.
Armed with the First Amendment, the Fourth Estate — as we the media are often referred — have a very long tradition of defending this right. It is foundational to what we believe our liberties are built upon.
Today, the idea of free speech is being challenged in ways that most of us thought were settled back in the days of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s on UC Berkeley’s campus. Instead, this issue has resurfaced at Berkeley but not by leftists. It was started by far-right white nationalists.
The far-right, who some call fascists and who are supported by the KKK and other white nationalist groups, have shown up to support speakers such as controversial right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart and right-wing columnist Ann Coulter — both of whom were invited to speak on campus by the Berkeley Republican Student organization.
Some might consider this provocation, but in the follow-up clashes between the right and the left — with the left far outnumbering the right — the mainstream media has been drawn into a strange dilemma over free speech, one making the white nationalists the victims and protectors of free speech.
What is unseen by many is the ramping up of hate-speech since No. 45 was elected president. It can be found on the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, or in the mass emailed newsletter sent by Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of FedUp PAC and conservativeHQ.com.
One Viguerie newsletter called for an investigation, “into the real circumstances causing the death of three people, including two state police officers killed in” Charlottesville, N.C. on Aug. 12. The article went to praise No. 45 for his response to Charlottesville, saying “President Trump was right that there was violence from both sides. However, Virginia Democrats in control of the investigation and the fake news media are already whitewashing the violence of left-wing extremists.”
This of course does not admit to the provocation by organizers of the Charlottesville protest, including armed KKK members and other white supremacists who marched around a church carrying torches the night before the August confrontation. The right to free speech has certain restraints and responsibilities, like not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater or “there’s a bomb at LAX.” But is bringing a noted racist onto a famously liberal UC campus comparable to these actions? The far right argues it is not. Yet, it is certainly a provocation — a staged conflict organized with the understanding that there would be a response, maybe even provoking violence. This is not sophisticated strategy; it is just common sense.
Imagine what would happen if a redneck entered a bar with a mostly African American clientele in South Central Los Angeles and started yelling “nigger” or a Trump supporter went to a Muslim mosque screaming some blasphemy about Allah and burning the Koran. It’s common sense that in these two scenarios, free speech wouldn’t fare well. The speaker may have the right to say it, but it would be highly ill-advised. Go ahead and do it if you must, but be prepared to either run like hell or take your lumps, for these fightin’ words have limited protection.
This, in the end, is about the protection of civil discourse versus speech intended to bully, denigrate or intimidate. The American mainstream media is only attracted to reporting on the violent consequences without deconstructing the causes. What we are witnessing is just the tip of the hate speech fulcrum, propelled by social media and hidden in digital media and networks we don’t monitor. It is rising up and will consume this nation in a false narrative of protecting free speech via the white hood of racism at the expense of protecting the liberty of free speech.
Have the anti-fascists or antifa, as they are called, gone too far in response to these provocations, or are they just being used to confuse the media and the public over free speech and protests? All I can say is that your free speech and second amendment rights stop at the tip of my nose. Every citizen has the right to self-defense.
In America today, the far right — its promotion of fake news, its attacks on the “liberal media,” global warming and DACA immigrants — is weaponizing speech to create conflict. The aim of weaponizing speech in this way is to reframe both long-settled disputes and the current debate: free speech vs. hate speech.
For example, the anti-government group in Oregon known as the Patriot Prayer group planned a rally in Portland this past month, but at the last minute moved it just across the river to Vancouver, Wash. The move didn’t prevent the far-right protesters and white nationalists from clashing with counter protesters. In a report on the incident demonstration, “One right-wing extremist drove his truck alongside counter protesters and began engaging them before putting his truck in reverse and driving straight toward the crowd.” This didn’t hit the national news because no one was killed.
In the end, far-right ideologues like Viguerie spew weekly missives such as the following:
Left-wing activists are vandalizing statues of American Founders such as Thomas Jefferson. Former Vice President Joe Biden writes, this is a “battle for the soul of this nation.” The left is using Charlottesville as an excuse for left-wing violence and to advance their political agenda. We need an independent investigation to prevent the [liberal] whitewash.
His out-of-context quotation from Biden is amusing because Joe absolutely is right: this is a battle for the soul of our nation. The question is whether we will be misled by the very people we trust to protect free speech or by those who would use the First Amendment to denigrate the rights of us all.