Take a look at the picture above. What do you see?
If you answered “A vicious mob hell-bent on stripping away the First Amendment rights of a bunch of neo-Nazis (who are totally bad, but they do have rights),” I’d like you to keep reading. On the other hand, if you answered “A crowd of thousands of people exercising their right to free speech and peaceful assembly,” congratulations: you can stop reading now (not really – you’re stuck here).
In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, it has become increasingly clear that the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and ethno-nationalists are far outnumbered by decent people who value inclusion and equality for all in America. For every hundred-strong “protest” staged by sad-sack idiots casting about wildly for any source of blame for their problems (aside from, of course, themselves), there are ten times as many individuals who are ready and willing to oppose the hateful, narrow-minded and racist beliefs of the former.
This is a positive thing; at least, it should be.
But because the American public loves to pinball recklessly from one fight to the next, in defiance of all logic, a new narrative has emerged: The Left is suppressing free speech. It’s a clever bit of reframing on the part of the crowd of racists who have (rightfully) been told to shut up, aided by the all-too-willing conservative stooges at Fox News: anybody who protests a gathering of “free speech patriots” is trampling on their First Amendment rights. I think it’s time we addressed this absurd notion.
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“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That is the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in its entirety. (It’s actually much shorter than I thought it would be.) Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say “White supremacists must be allowed to gather unopposed wherever they desire”; nowhere does it say that “Those who oppose the views of neo-Nazis are hereby ordered to watch quietly as they march down the street chanting ‘Jews Will Not Replace Us’.”
Put more simply, the First Amendment merely states that the government does not have the right to suppress, impose limitations upon, or otherwise attempt to curtail the expression of the beliefs of private citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment that hinders one’s ability to express their racist views; by the same token, however, there is no guarantee of protection from whatever consequences arise as a result of the expression of those views.
It amazes me that these so-called “Patriots,” who act as though they emerged from the womb holding a dog-eared copy of the Constitution smeared with afterbirth, are unable to draw a distinction between the government saying “You can’t say this” and another person saying “You can say this, but I’m going to call you an asshole for saying it.” It is a willful misinterpretation of the First Amendment; it is a pose. It’s nothing more than a clumsy effort on the part of white supremacists to paint themselves as the victim, an attempt to engender sympathy by mewling about the loss of their precious “rights.”
The inherent belief held by most white supremacists is that their voices are the only ones that matter, that they should be in charge and everyone else should fall in line because this is America, and it’s a white Christian nation. And yet, in the face of opposition, these “patriots” do not fight for what they believe is their God-given right to control this country; instead, they wither. They paint themselves as the downtrodden minority.
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When white supremacists organize a “free speech rally” in Boston, they have every right to do so. Nobody is stopping them; in fact, the city of Boston issued them a permit, effectively affirming their right to free speech and peaceful assembly.
But that right extends in both directions. When counter-protesters show up to tell white supremacists that their views are unwelcome, that they’re on the wrong side of history, they are afforded that right under the First Amendment. Free speech does not belong to one group and not another; just because you’re outnumbered doesn’t mean you’re being “silenced.” It means you’re part of a diminishing group of morons, and the rest of us are tired of letting you spew your vitriol unchecked.
It is impossible to argue that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are free to express their opinions and then, in the same breath, claim that those there to oppose them shouldn’t be allowed to express their opinions. Just because one side is outnumbered doesn’t mean that free speech is being suppressed; it means that one side is (thankfully) in the minority in this country.
If you want to stage a rally, feel free, but the days of hateful invective going unchecked are over. There are two options. First, you can accept that the First Amendment applies to everyone, and that if Group A has the right to march on a quiet college town waving Nazi flags and “Heil Hitler”ing all over the place, then Group B has the right to show up and tell Group A that they’re human garbage.
Maybe that doesn’t seem fair to you. Maybe you think that it’s positively criminal that you can’t carry your Nazi flag around town while you cosplay like G.I. Joe and intimidate into silence those who might oppose you. Maybe you believe that America needs you to warn good, God-fearing white Christians about the threats facing the master race. Maybe you just want to call someone a nigger before retreating behind your shield of “Free Speech.”
That’s the beauty of America: you can do those things. The corollary, of course, is that other people are free to criticize you for them. If you want to call for black genocide, that’s your right as an American. But if you only want to do it in such a way that you’re never held accountable, you’re shit out of luck.
That’s the American way.