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Category Archives: Freedom of Speech
Posted: August 25, 2017 at 3:52 am
Recent events in the United States have only reaffirmed the wisdom of this liberal compromise. If there was ever a group whose speech appears to me to be obviously evil and dangerous, it is the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville earlier this month. But the president of the United States is sympathetic to white supremacists; to him, it is the (mythical) alt-left that presents the real threat. If he had the power to suppress freedom of speech, he would use it to silence the people I agree with. It is better for me for no one to possess that power than to entrust it to someone who might regard me as an enemy.
Campus leftists who believe they are serving the cause of goodness and truth by silencing right-wing (or even not-so-right-wing) speakers are living in a fools paradise, because they temporarily inhabit an environment where they are in the majority. When they graduate into Trumps America, they will find that many people, including people in power, think they are the ones who are wrong and dangerous. Then the principle of free speech will become their shield, as it has long shielded dissidents and radicals in America. Without it, politics becomes a war of all against all, and as we have learned since last November, there is no guarantee that the right side will win.
Adam Kirsch is a poet and a critic. His most recent book is The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century.
By Francine Prose
What could free speech possibly mean when a mob is bullying and beating people with whom they dont agree?
Lately, Ive been thinking about The Emperors New Clothes. What a deeply felt and personal story it must have been for Hans Christian Andersen, whose work is full of plucky honest children. Awkward and painfully unable to pick up on basic social cues, he chose, as his fairy-tale hero, the outspoken innocent who delivers an unwelcome truth.
The emperor is naked! Was Andersen also alluding to one role of the writer: to say the thing that everyone knows but fears to say? Even the emperor realizes that the boy is right. No one punishes or contradicts the young truth-teller. But naked or not, no one is owning up. The procession must go on, so the emperor held himself stiffer than ever, and the chamberlain held up the invisible train.
Had the story been set here, we might say that the little boys right to call attention to the emperors nudity was protected by the First Amendment. But doesnt context matter? Wasnt the boy discouraged by his parents from embarrassing their leader? Shouldnt he have waited for a private moment, or asked the chamberlain to explain the emperors intention?
Not according to the United States Supreme Court. On the basis of past decisions, we can imagine that the justices would have decided in favor of the boy. Not only would he be allowed to say what hed observed, but he could have hurled insults racial, religious, sexual, political at the emperor, and still he would have been within his constitutional rights. In order for the boy to exceed the limits of protected free speech, he would have had to exhort the crowd to attack their naked ruler.
Traditionally, the courts have defended the freedom to express the thought that we hate; the law doesnt ban words that wound egos or hurt feelings. Its concerned not with psychological harm but with physical action, injury and risk with real and present danger.
Though when violence does occur, as it did in Charlottesville, we want to be very clear about what constitutes exhortation and incitement. Its regrettable that the phrase free speech should have been co-opted by white supremacists, as if the only kind of free speech worth rallying around is hate speech. And what could free speech possibly mean when a mob is bullying and beating people with whom they dont agree?
Obviously, context is important. Just because youre legally permitted to say what you want doesnt mean its socially or morally acceptable to subject other humans to racist rants. Yet almost daily one can see, on social media, someone doing just that, losing it on a plane or at the checkout counter. I think the ranters are reprehensible, but I dont want to see them locked up unless theyre trying to goad their fellow passengers or shoppers to mob violence.
Democracy depends on the civil, healthy and open exchange of ideas, on the chance to be persuaded by opposing opinions, to reasonably consider variant arguments and explanations. Freedom of speech, free expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press those guarantees have helped keep us from sliding into dictatorship, a fate that has befallen countries with formerly democratic governments and levels of education and prosperity not unlike our own.
We need to be clear about what those protections are, and about why we need them a need that seems to grow more intense each time Donald Trump attacks the press; when the former chief of staff Reince Priebus floated a plan to change libel laws (and by extension the First Amendment) in some vague but ominous way; and each time someone brings an automatic weapon to a free and open political demonstration.
Our democracy may have its flaws, but the alternative the repression that exists right now in so many countries is worse. That is a different fairy tale, less like the work of Andersen than like some modern-day Brothers Grimm. That is the story that ends with the little boy being arrested, jailed and killed for the crime of daring to say out loud what the emperor isnt wearing.
Francine Prose is the author of more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, among them the novel Blue Angel, a National Book Award nominee, and the guide Reading Like a Writer, a New York Times best seller. Her most recent novel is Mister Monkey. Currently a distinguished visiting writer at Bard College, she is the recipient of numerous grants and awards; a contributing editor at Harpers, Saveur and Bomb; a former president of the PEN American Center; and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Posted: at 3:52 am
BERKELEY In recent months, white nationalists and other alt-right groups haveadvanced the argument that UC Berkeley isnt living up to its distinction as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. By canceling events such as a February speech by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, they contend, the school is stepping on their First Amendment right to express themselves.
Carol Christ, Cals new chancellor, is well aware how that argument has gained steam in recent months. Before her tenure, former Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who stepped down this summer, was criticized for addressing free speech issues reactively, not cooperatively.
So now, as a highly publicized, right-wing rally targets the city of Berkeley on Sunday, Christ is looking to regain control of the narrative. She has declared this school term a year of free speech in which the university will recount the origins of its free speech legacy and invite both conservative and liberal speakers to campus.
Free speech is not inexpensive, said Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the university.
But in some ways, thats the cost to the school of reclaiming its reputation as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement.
Free speech scholars say that if Christ succeeds in both fostering meaningful conversations and keeping violence at bay, the schools approach could serve as a model for other colleges grappling with the issue. In recent months, Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and others have come under fire for declining to host right-wing activists and white nationalists, or canceling their talks.
On Wednesday, Christ emailed a letter with the subject line Free speech to the campus community and hosted her first fireside chat with student leaders on the topic.
This is the new reality, said Mogulof. We cant duck and cover. We have to be out there engaged in conversation.
Thats not how the school approached the free-speech issue as recently as last year and its certainly not how the school addressed it in the 1960s. In 1964, Dean of Students Katherine Towle prohibited students from taking positions on off-campus political issues because the university was hoping to minimize student involvement in political demonstrations off campus.
But the announcement backfired spectacularly. Faculty and students, led by a young Mario Savio, protested for months and ultimately won the right to speak openly. In response, most other colleges in the U.S. loosened regulations around political activity by students.
Today, anyone who sits on the famed Mario Savio steps at UC Berkeley for any length of time inevitably hears several languages and sees people from around the world pass by. For Cals leaders and many students, that ethnic and racial diversity has long been a point of pride.
But that diversityand the schools worldwide reputation as a progressive university also make the college a target for white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
In February, while Dirks was still in charge, Berkeley College Republicans invited Yiannopoulos to speak on campus. But tension between his supporters and opponents, not all of them affiliated with the university, erupted into violence that ultimately prompted the school to pull the plug on the event, citing security concerns. In the following months, the school raised similar concerns about having the conservative commentator Ann Coulter on campus.
The Berkeley College Republicans, joined by the Young Americas Foundation, filed a lawsuit alleging the school violated the First Amendment by imposing curfew and venue restrictions on Coulter and other conservative speakers.
Harmeet Dhillon, their lawyer, says it remains to be seen whether Christs tenure will bring an improvement in how the school handles free speech issues.
Christs comments so far mark a welcomefirst step, Dhillon said. However, they cannot address the deep-seated issues at Cal with a sort of fig leaf approach.
Shed like to see the university hire more conservative professors so that conservative students feel more comfortable sharing their views, she said. Were literally years or generations away from that at Cal, she said.
Bettina Aptheker, one of the students who launched the Free Speech Movement at Cal, is now a feminist studies professor at UC Santa Cruz. She is pleased Christ is addressing the issue head-on.
During the McCarthy era in the 1950s, while schools were cracking down on political advocacy, thousands of Americans were accused of and investigated for being communists by some on the right. In essence, Aptheker said, it was the right trying to suppress freedom of speech.
Now, she said, you have the ascendancy of the right again and a kind of hijacking of the free speech issue in a way that makes it seem like the left is trying to suppress freedom of speech which is not true.
Broadly speaking, the argument of Christ and other UC Berkeley leaders is that hate speech is best countered with more measured, thoughtful speech. That may be something Dirks believed but he didnt step forward like Christ to model the idea. Her approach appears to be resonating with professors and free speech scholars.
Youve got to protect the greatest possible range of speech, said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. The answer to really idiotic racist speech is speech explaining why its idiotic and racist.
Former New York City police officer Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, agrees.
Universities have been doing a laudable job of having a diversity of people, but what theyve not been doing a laudable job of is getting a diversity of ideas, he said. This is a test of academia and we are failing.
But not everyone is so sanguine. Zaynab Abdulqadir-Morris, a Cal senior and president of the Associated Students of the University of California, said she wants more students to be comfortable interacting with people who have different views. But shes also concerned about the real threat of violence when rallies and protests happen on or near campus.
And she thinks theres a line between fostering debate and opening the campus to provocateurs like Yiannopoulos.When speech is grounded in hate for another person, she said, its not free speech any more.
In her letter this week, Christ pushed back at that notion, writing: Some constitutionally protected speech attacks the very identity of particular groups of individuals in ways that are deeply hurtful. However, the right response is not the hecklers veto, or what some call platform denial. Call toxic speech out for what it is, dont shout it down, for in shouting it down, you collude in the narrative that universities are not open to all speech.
As a public university, Berkeley officials acknowledge they must balance protecting free speech with preventing the violence that has plagued rallies on campus in the past, or worse, deadly confrontation, as happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a young woman was killed earlier this month.
Ahead of Sundays rally which is on city, not university, property Cal has been in close contact with city officials, Mogulof said. The school is providing information on how to protest safely to students who want to join a counterprotest and also supportive services to students who are anxious about the rally. The school has learned from past protests that it needs to have more police in place for free speech events than it has in the past,Mogulof said.
Aptheker and Orfield point tothe peace that was maintained in Boston recently when thousands of counterprotesters overwhelmed a much smaller free speech rally that some white supremacists had promised to attend.
If its done well, Orfield said, it will create an example for the rest of the country.
Continue reading here:
UC Berkeley tries to reclaim its free speech legacy – The Mercury News
Posted: at 3:52 am
White nationalist Richard Spencer’s free speech fight against Google, Facebook and other tech companies has some unlikely support from the left. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images hide caption
White nationalist Richard Spencer’s free speech fight against Google, Facebook and other tech companies has some unlikely support from the left.
Following the violence in Charlottesville, Va., Silicon Valley tech firms removed far-right groups from search results, cut off their websites and choked their ability to raise money online.
The moves have leaders on the far-right calling for the government to step in and regulate these companies. They have some strange bedfellows in this many liberals also are calling for more regulation of the same companies.
On the far-right is Richard Spencer. He is a white supremacist.
“I would ultimately support a homeland for white people,” Spencer says. “I think that ethnically or racially defined political orders are legitimate.”
After Donald Trump was elected president, Spencer got some press about a speech during which he shouted: “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail Victory!” and members of the audience gave him a Nazi salute.
But, it is the First Amendment that now inspires Spencer, who was a speaker at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
In the wake of the violence that occurred there, the Daily Stormer an online neo-Nazi publication was blocked by a series of major tech companies. Its domain name was taken away by GoDaddy. Google stopped linking to it. Facebook took down links to any article it published. And it can’t use PayPal anymore.
“Getting kicked off Facebook or YouTube or PayPal or whatever, this is effectively losing the ability to speak,” Spencer says. “It is actually a more powerful form of censorship” than it would be if a government were to censor.
Companies like Google and Facebook are not covered by the First Amendment, which applies only to the federal government. But Spencer feels these companies are so large that the government needs to step in just as it did with broadcasting. Spencer says that otherwise, there won’t be freedom of speech.
“These are the free speech platforms in the 21st century,” he says. “So if we’re going to regulate all of these 20th century ways of expressing ourselves, then why are we so loath to regulate the 21st century ones, which are much more relevant and much more vital?”
Spencer has some unlikely allies on this.
Robert McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Illinois, describes himself as a Democratic socialist and has written books about the threat of fascism.
“I think Richard Spencer and I wouldn’t agree on hardly anything,” he says. “But on the issues of whether these companies should be able to control what I can and can’t hear, I think in principle we have to be together on that. All Americans should, across the political spectrum.”
Right now, Google has more than 80 percent of the online search market, according to Net Market Share. Google and Facebook combined have 77 percent of the online ad market, and 79 percent of Americans on the Internet have a Facebook account, according to Pew Research.
“The research shows that if Facebook or Google changes the algorithm just slightly and puts a different type of story in there, it affects the way people think about the world,” McChesney says. “Their internal research demonstrates this.”
Because these are private companies, they don’t have to reveal their algorithms or what changes they make to them.
Currently, many Americans may agree with the choice to censor the Richard Spencers of the world, but McChesney says it might not always affect groups people don’t like.
“What’s to stop them from turning around and saying, ‘Well, we don’t like these people who are advocating gay rights. We don’t like these people who are advocating workers’ rights’?” he says.
That is the question leading both white nationalist Spencer and left-leaning professor McChesney to call for the government to step in.
Continue reading here:
Unlikely Allies Join Fight To Protect Free Speech On The Internet – NPR
Posted: at 3:52 am
73% Say Freedom of Speech Worth Dying For
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Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Americans agree freedom of speech is under assault but strongly insist that they are prepared to defend that freedom even at the cost of their lives if necessary.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that an overwhelming 85% of American Adults think giving people the right to free speech is more important than making sure no one is offended by what others say. Just eight percent (8%) think its more important to make sure no one gets offended. (To see survey question wording,click here.)
This shows little change from past surveying. Eighty-three percent (83%) think it is more important for the United States to guarantee freedom of speech than it is to make sure nothing is done to offend other nations and cultures.
Seventy-three percent (73%) agree with the famous line by the 18th century French author Voltaire: I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it. Only 10% disagree with that statement, but 17% are undecided.
Among Americans who agree with Voltaire, 93% rate freedom of speech as more important than making sure no one is offended. That compares to just 69% of those who disagree with the French author’s maxim.
(Want afree daily e-mail update? If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Facebook.
The national survey of 1,000 American Adults was conducted on August 17 & 20, 2017 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted byPulse Opinion Research, LLC. Seemethodology.
Just 28% of Americans believe they have true freedom of speech today, and most think the country is too politically correct.
There is rare partisan agreement on freedom of speech. Most Americans regardless of political affiliation agree that they would defend someones right to say something even if they dont agree with it, although Democrats are slightly less sure than Republicans and those not affiliated with either major party. The majority across the political spectrum also agree that free speech is more important than making sure no ones offended.
Generally speaking, most adults across the demographic board agree. Blacks (65%) are just slightly less likely than whites (75%) and other minorities (73%) to say theyd defend to the death someones right to free speech if they dont agree with them.
Men are more supportive of the statement that women are.
Voters rate freedom of speech asevenmore important than other basic constitutional rights such as religious freedom, freedom of the press and the right to bear arms.
After conservative pundit Ann Coulter was forced tocancel a planned speech at University of California, Berkeley, in the late spring following protests and threats of violence by some students.44% of Americans said there is less freedom of speech on U.S. college campuses today than there has been in the past. Nearly half (47%) also believe most college administrators and professors are more interested in getting students to agree with certain politically correct points of view rather than in a free exchange of ideas.
In May,just 19% of voters felt that the United States should erase symbols of its past history that are out of line with current sentiments.
Despite calls by some politicians and the media for erasing those connected to slavery from U.S. history, voters strongly believe its better to learn from the past than erase it.
Just 20% of Americans say it is better for owners of social media like Facebook and Twitter to regulate what is posted to make sure some people are not offended.
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The national survey of 1,000 American Adults was conducted on August 17 & 20, 2017 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted byPulse Opinion Research, LLC. Seemethodology.
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73% Say Freedom of Speech Worth Dying For – Rasmussen Reports
Posted: at 3:52 am
by Tom Ciccotta24 Aug 20170
A new poll released by Rasmussen Reports on Wednesday revealed that over 85 percent of American adults believe that the right to free speech is more important than making sure no one is offended by what others say. A mere eight percent said they believe that guarding against personal offense is more important thanprotecting free speech.
73 percent also agreed with the famous line often attributed to Voltaire:I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it. Another 10 percent disagreed with that statement, and 17 percent said they are undecided.
The poll reveals that there is bipartisan agreement with regards to freedom of speech. Despite overwhelming support for speech rights, Democrats are slightly less supportive as a group of protecting speech for those they disagree with than are Republicans.
Additionally, 47 percent of respondents said they believe thatmost college administrators and professors are more interested in getting students to toe a specific political line rather than to participate in a free exchange of ideas.
Big Government, Social Justice, Tech, first amendment, freedom of speech
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Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:44 pm
By Jennifer Delton By Jennifer Delton August 22 at 6:00 AM
Jennifer Delton is the Douglas Family Chair in American culture, history, and literary and interdisciplinary studies at Skidmore College. She is the author of, most recently, ‘Rethinking the 1950s: How Anticommunism and the Cold War Made America Liberal.”
Heres the dilemma college presidents face in the fall: Either uphold free speech on campus and risk violent counterprotests, or ban conservative provocateurs and confirm the freedom of speech crisis on campuses. Either way their institutions legitimacy is undermined.
This impossible dilemma is no accident. It has been part of a strategy, deployed first by conservatives and perfected by the alt-right. The alt-right is a nebulous, still-developing political movement, but we know at least two things about it. One, its most prominent popularizers Stephen K. Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer have all articulated that they seek to destroy liberal cultural hegemony, which they associate with a bipartisan, globalizing, multicultural, corporate elite, and which, they think, is perpetrated in the United States by the mainstream media and on college campuses.
The second thing we know about the alt-right is that its provocateurs seek to bait liberal institutions by weaponizing the concept of free speech, which is an issue that divides the liberal left. It is true that higher education has brought much of this on itself through the extreme policing of speech and tolerance of student protesters who shut down speakers with whom they disagree. But that doesnt diminish the extent to which the alt-right and conservatives are using free speech to attack and destroy colleges and universities, which have long promoted different variations of the internationalist, secular, cosmopolitan, multicultural liberalism that marks the thinking of educated elites of both parties.
As college presidents try to figure out whether the First Amendment protects conservatives right to create political spectacle and instigate violence, it might be useful to recall another time when American liberals were forced to sidestep First Amendment absolutism to combat a political foe: the 1940s, when New Deal liberals purged U.S. communists from American political life.
Thats right, New Deal liberals and unionists including President Harry S. Truman, Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers were staunch anticommunists who effectively shut down the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), forcing communists out of unions, civil rights organizations, jobs and universities.
They did so because communists were a disruptive force that was baiting and dividing the liberal left. Communists were also in a party directed by Moscow just as the Cold War was commencing. Their presence in liberal organizations made liberals vulnerable to Republican and conservative attacks. So those liberals interested in political success (and in preserving the New Deal) drove them out of politics.
What about the First Amendment, you may ask? Well, this was a point of contention that likewise divided the liberal-left community. Liberals had historically supported freedom of speech and assembly; they saw themselves as champions of the First Amendment. To deny communists freedom of speech and assembly to run them out of politics on the basis of their ideas and political connections seemed like the height of hypocrisy. Communists constantly pointed this out, as did those liberals who rejected the anticommunist agenda.
So anticommunist liberals made a series of arguments that justified denying communists these rights on account of their disingenuous intentions and totalitarian ideology. Most famously, liberal activist Arthur Schlesinger Jr. argued that communists hid behind the First Amendment to attack liberal democracy, using it as a shield as they sought to destroy the democratic system that upheld those rights.
Schlesinger understood there werent enough communists in the United States to actually foment revolution. But there were enough to divide progressive forces and thus create an opportunity for conservative Republicans to take power and repeal the New Deal, which he believed would in turn destabilize American capitalism and possibly tilt the balance of international power to the Soviets. Liberals would be chumps to let a principled commitment to freedom of speech undercut the pragmatic goal of political survival, which was the only way to ensure progress in civil rights and social welfare.
Philosopher Sidney Hook hinged his argument about speech on the distinction between the free flow of ideas, which the First Amendment protected, and actions, which it did not. He said liberals had no problem with communists ideas, which they were free to expound upon and disseminate. The problem lay in their organized actions, which involved all sorts of stratagems, maneuvers, and illegal methods, evasions and subterfuges developed by Lenin to subvert democracy.
Historians remain divided about the pros and cons of American communism, but most agree that the party often operated in secret and that it was directed and funded by Moscow. Communists denied this, of course, but the partys activities were the basis of Hooks contention that the CPUSA was a conspiracy, and thus not protected by the First Amendment although its ideas were. Hook didnt think thatthe state should ban the Communist Party (which would be unconstitutional and ineffective), but that private citizens and institutions should shun and expose communists, denying them the opportunity to further their political agenda.
Subsequent liberals (and most of my professors) condemned these anticommunist liberals for opening the door to McCarthyism and Cold War militarism. But given our current political moment and the threat posed by the actions of alt-right provocateurs, Schlesingers and Hooks arguments may bear revisiting. Both worried that liberals commitment to the absoluteness of rights made them unable to confront an enemy that didnt share that commitment. Both understood that the CPUSA, like the alt-right, was engaged in a struggle to destroy the cultural and political legitimacy of western democratic liberalism. And both understood that First Amendment absolutism was a luxury that only a stable, peaceable society could afford. I cant help but think that even William F. Buckley would have agreed with this.
Historical analogies are always imperfect. Nonetheless, it is clear that western liberalism, as well as left-liberalism in the United States, is under attack from people who see the First Amendment as a political weapon and not a sacred principle. Quoting Voltaire is not going to preserve anyones liberties least of all those populations most vulnerable to vicious racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic attacks.
It was one thing to defend the American Nazi Partysright to march in Skokie, Ill. in 1977, when the liberal establishment and mainstream media were still intact and American Nazi Party wasamarginal fringe group. The groupwas offensive, but neither its actions nor its ideas posed a threat to the political or social order, which was stable. The situation is different today, with an erratic PresidentTrump in the White House, elites in disarray and white nationalism on the rise. In this situation, and against this foe, it may be worth remembering that our constitutional rights are not unchanging abstract principles, but, as Hook and Schlesinger argued, always evaluated in terms of their consequences for society at any given historical moment.
At the same time, however, colleges and universities need to recognize that their liberal critics of, say, diversity policies or Title IX excesses are not political foes and should not be subject to censorship or censure. One reason the right has been able to so effectively exploit free speech is because campuses have become places where the free exchange of ideas has been curbed by peer pressure, self-policing and a self-righteous call-out culture, as described by Jonathan Haidt, Jonathan Chait and Mark Lilla. Until university presidents offer real leadership inreconciling the liberal critique of identity politicswith a new generation of diverse students, faculty and staff for whom such politics representprogress, they will be unable to protect their institutions from conservative attacks.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the group that marched in Skokie, Ill., in 1977. It was the American Nazi Party, not the Ku Klux Klan.
Posted: at 11:44 pm
A police officer escorted a participant in Saturdays free speech rally away from the scene as a water bottle was headed in his direction.
If one line captured the essence of Saturdays Boston Common rally and counterprotest, it was a quote halfway through Mark Arsenaults Page 1 story in the Globe:
Excuse me, one man in the counterprotest innocently asked a Globe reporter. Where are the white supremacists?
That was the day in a nutshell. Participants in the Boston Free Speech Rally had been demonized as a troupe of neo-Nazis prepared to reprise the horror that had erupted in Charlottesville. They turned out to be a couple dozen courteous people linked by little more than a commitment to surprise! free speech.
The small group on the Parkman Bandstand threatened no one. One of the rallys organizers, a 23-year-old libertarian named John Medlar, had insisted vigorously that its purpose was not to endorse white supremacy. The rally Im helping to organize is about promoting Free Speech as a COUNTER to political violence, he had posted on Facebook. There are NO WHITE SUPREMACISTS speaking at this rally.
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Indeed, nothing about the tiny rally seemed in any way connected with bigotry or hatred. One of the speakers was Shiva Ayyadurai, an immigrant from India who is seeking the Republican nomination in next years US Senate race. As Ayyadurai spoke, his supporters held signs proclaiming Black Lives Do Matter.
Call them Nazis, white supremacists or free speech advocates whatever label you prefer, they were the hunted and harassed Saturday on Boston Common.
But he and the others who gathered at the Parkman Bandstand had never stood a chance of competing with the rumor that neo-Nazis were coming to Boston. That toxic claim was irresponsibly fueled by Mayor Marty Walsh, who denounced the planned rally Boston does not want you here even though organizers were at pains to stress that they had no connection to Charlottesvilles racial agenda and intended to focus on the importance of free speech.
What happened on Saturday was both impressive and distressing.
A massive counterprotest, 40,000 strong, showed up to denounce a nonexistent cohort of racists. Boston deployed hundreds of police officers, who did an admirable job of maintaining order. Some of the counterprotesters screamed, cursed, or acted like thugs at one point the Boston Police Department warned protesters to refrain from throwing urine, bottles, and other harmful projectiles but most behaved appropriately. Though a few dozen punks were arrested, nobody was seriously hurt.
But free speech took a beating.
The speakers on the Common bandstand were kept from being heard. They were blocked off with a 225-foot buffer zone, segregated beyond earshot. Police barred anyone from approaching to hear what the rally speakers had to say. Reporters were excluded, too.
Result? The free-speech rally took place in a virtual cone of silence. Participants spoke essentially to themselves for about 50 minutes, the Globe reported. If any of them said anything provocative, the massive crowd did not hear it.
Even some of the rallys own would-be attendees were kept from the bandstand. Yet when Police Commissioner Bill Evans was asked at a press conference Saturday afternoon whether it was right to treat them that way, he was unapologetic. You know what, he said, if they didnt get in, thats a good thing, because their message isnt what we want to hear.
No, Commissioner Evans. It was not a good thing that people with a right to speak were effectively silenced by the operations of the police. The ralliers did nothing wrong. They followed the citys rules. They absorbed the slanders flung at them by the mayor and others. They didnt try to shut their critics down, and they werent the ones hurling urine, bottles, and other harmful projectiles.
All they were guilty of was attempting to defend the importance of free speech. For that, they were unjustly smeared as Nazis and their own freedom of speech was mauled.
Boston was kept safe on Saturday. For that, city authorities deserve great credit and thanks. But in the course of preventing a riot, those authorities rode roughshod over the free-speech rights of a small, disfavored minority. That is never a good thing, whatever the police commissioner may think.
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A free-speech rally, minus the free speech – The Boston Globe
Posted: at 11:44 pm
The First Amendment has been getting a workout lately, from white supremacist rallies and counter-protests to attempts to censor or block opposing viewpoints on college campuses.
The First Amendment is a broad guarantee of free and open discourse; its easier to list what isnt protected under the Bill of Rights than what is.
Unprotected speech includes obscenity, fighting words (those that inflict injury or are likely to incite an immediate breach of the peace), defamation (including libel and slander), child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats and solicitation to commit a crime. The nonprofit Newseum Institute notes that some experts also would add treason, if committed verbally, to that list.
Noticeably absent from the list is hate speech which the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled is protected, no matter how unpopular or bigoted, and speech that others find offensive or rude.
The First Amendment puts a great deal of responsibility for protecting free speech in the hands of the American people, counting on them to understand its importance and cherish it.
But when there are neo-Nazis and white supremacists holding rallies and issuing hateful, bigoted comments, it can be difficult for people to understand that protection of this is just as important as protecting words of peace, tolerance and brotherhood. For if one of these can be silenced, so can the other.
In recent years, there has been a troubling number of well-intentioned people wanting to silence speech they found hurtful or hateful or, on a lesser level, just obnoxious.
Some object to far-right speakers on college campuses, some object to far-left demonstrators. Some Register-Guard readers have objected to conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, others have said they would be willing to give up Goldberg if liberal columnist Paul Krugman also disappeared. (Editors note: We intend to continue publishing both.)
Banning, or censoring, other viewpoints is not the way to unite what seems to be an increasingly divided country. In the instances of true hate speech neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others of their ilk those who object have other options.
They, too, have the right to free speech, to stand up and peacefully protest. And they have the right to ignore hate groups: While their speech is protected, people do not have to provide these groups with a venue or an audience. Depriving hate groups of attention is to deprive them of oxygen, making them less newsworthy and less likely to garner attention.
As for speech and viewpoints that the hearer simply disagrees with, rather than attempting to silence or block it, a better option is to listen. Listen to the concerns, listen to the fears and frustration, listen to the hopes and the proposals. People of good will can have different views when it comes to the causes and cures for social and economic ills. But they also can find common ground in their concerns or experiences and that can be the start of bridging the divide between people. That is what free speech is meant to do.
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Freedom of speech is for all – The Register-Guard
Posted: at 11:44 pm
Generally speaking, anyone can say anything online. But, lately, things have started to get complicated. Last week, after neo-Nazis and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, the neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer disappeared from the Internet. GoDaddy, the registrar of the sites domain, had discontinued its service. The Daily Stormer switched its domain to Google, which promptly shut it down as well. The site is now back up, on the dark Web, with its publisher pleading victimhood on social media. (I am being unpersoned.) What happened to the Daily Stormer wasnt a violation of the First Amendmentprivate companies are allowed to stifle speechbut it enraged people on the right, many of whom were already deeply skeptical of the puppet masters in Silicon Valley. Before any of this happened, a pro-Trump activist named Jack Posobiec was organizing a multicity March on Google, calling the company an anti-free-speech monopoly. (Last week, Posobiec announced that the march had been postponed, citing threats from the alt-left.)
Jack Conte is not an alt-right activisthes a bald, bearded musician from San Franciscobut he, too, once resented the titans of Silicon Valley. A few years ago, Conte was trying to make a living on YouTube. His music videosfunk covers of pop songs, homemade robots playing percussion padsoften went viral. I made a video that took many, many hours and cost me thousands of dollars, Conte said. My fans loved it. It got more than a million views. And I made a hundred and fifty bucks from it. I realized, Clearly, there is a problem with how stuff on the Internetwhat we now call content, what used to be called artgets monetized. Conte co-founded his own tech company, Patreon, a Web site that allows artists and activists to get paid directly by fans and supporters. A creator posts a description of what she intends to makea comic strip, a podcastand patrons sign up to fund it, each chipping in a few dollars a month. Patreon takes a five-per-cent cut. The company now has about eighty employees and a hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar valuationbig enough that many Web denizens consider Conte a new kind of puppet master.
Last month, Lauren Southern, a right-wing activist and pundit who was earning a few thousand dollars a month on Patreon, received an e-mail from the companys Trust and Safety team. Here at Patreon we believe in freedom of speech, it read. When ideas cross into action, though, we sometimes must take a closer look. Southern, a videogenic Canadian in her early twenties, whose book was blurbed by Ann Coulter, was known for videos like White Privilege Is a Dangerous Myth. Her Patreon page now reads This page has been removed.
Southern had participated in an anti-immigration action in the Mediterranean Sea, in which a motorboat tried to prevent a ship from bringing refugees to Europe. In an apologetic YouTube video, Conte insisted that Southern had been banned not for her politics but for her risky behavior. I didnt expect to convince everyone, and thats O.K., he said.
Predictably, Southerns fans were not pleased. Youre an idiot and a beta cuck, one commented. Some called for lawsuits. Others linked to a copycat site called Hatreon. (Motto: A platform for creators, absent thought policing.) Southern set up her own site, patreonsucks.com. Big liberal silicon valley companies want me to become a friendly little vlogger that spouts all the right lines, she wrote. I wont let that happen. She made a YouTube video directing followers to her new site, adding, As for Patreon, you guys can suck my balls.
Then came Charlottesville. Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Unite the Right rally, had a Patreon page (three backers, generating thirty-three dollars a month). It was swiftly removed for violating Patreons rule against affiliations with known hate groups. Meanwhile, another Patreon user, the progressive activist Logan Smith, began sharing photos of the torch-wielding mob on his Twitter handle @YesYoureRacist. He urged people to help him identify the participants: Ill make them famous. Online vigilantes complied, and several marchers lost their jobs. A few people were incorrectly identified, causing nonparticipants to receive death threats. Doxingpublishing someones private information onlineis against Patreons rules. Smith claims that his activism wasnt doxing. If these people are so proud of their beliefs, then they shouldnt have a problem with their communities knowing their names, he said last week.
Patreon disagreed, and Smiths page was removed. It doesnt matter who the victim is, Conte said. It could be a convicted murderer. If someone is releasing private information that an individual doesnt want to be made public, then thats doxing. And we dont allow it. (One person tweeted at Patreon, He is identifying nazis and you are stopping him at the request of nazis .) Conte went on, Weve been getting it from all sidesof course. I get it. Taking away someones income is a hugely onerous thing, and we dont take it lightly. He sighed. Weve dealt with a huge range of stuff in the past few years, a wider variety than I ever would have imagined. But the fact that were talking about swastika flags right now? It just makes me sad.