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Free Speech and Nazis

Like many of us, I’ve been struggling to process what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend, and what’s been happening in this country for a while now. The racism and hatred and violence didn’t magically appear out of nowhere. It’s been building up for a long time…in fact, much of it has always been there. It’s just boiling over into the open right now, making it harder (but obviously not impossible) to look away and pretend it’s not happening.

Part of the argument I’ve seen centers around free speech and the First Amendment. Free speech is a right, an important one, and rights apply to everyone. Even people you dislike and disagree with.

But freedom of speech in this country is not and has never been limitless. From the U.S. Federal Courts, here are a few examples of actions not legally protected by freedom of speech:

  • Students making an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.
  • Making/distributing obscene materials.
  • Inciting actions that would harm others (e.g., Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.)

Now, here are some of the “alt-right” protesters who gathered in Charlottesville.

Nazi flag Nazi armband  Nazi salutes Hitler quote on shirt Nazi salute

These people here? The ones wearing swastikas, waving Nazi flags, marching in T-shirts with Adolf Hitler quotes, and throwing Nazi salutes?

This isn’t protest. This is a threat.

The message here is not, “I don’t want you to take down a statue.” It’s “I believe in ethnic cleansing, in the murder of millions of Jews, Romani, and other non-white people. I believe people with disabilities should be forcibly sterilized or put to death. I believe non-heterosexuals should be imprisoned and killed.”

These people are pledging allegiance to a movement of mass murder. We know what the Nazis stood for. We know what they did. When people stand up in 2017 and proclaim themselves Nazis, we know what they’re saying. We know what they’re promising.

I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t believe freedom of speech protects the incitement of violence. I don’t believe it protects threats of genocide.

Maybe you don’t personally feel threatened by this. In many ways, neither do I. I’m a straight white man, unlikely to be a primary target of these hateful people.

Now imagine you’re Jewish. Imagine you’re black. Imagine you’re gay. Imagine you’re Romani. Imagine your ancestors were among the millions of people murdered by Nazis. Now look at those photos and tell me you’re not looking at a very real threat.

“But not all of the ‘Unite the Right’ marchers were openly wearing Nazi symbols!”

You’re right, and if you’ll read a little more carefully, you’ll see I never claimed otherwise. But they marched alongside Nazis. They chanted “Jews will not replace us!” alongside Nazis. They stood side-by-side with Nazis.

“Isn’t it so convenient for you to exclude speech you don’t like from the free speech umbrella? Free speech is an absolute right, and the true test is whether we’ll stand up for speech we disagree with!”

As established earlier, legally speaking, free speech is not an absolute right. Ethically–well, do you believe people have the absolute right to harass others? To threaten? To leak private information? To incite violence and murder? I don’t. Which means ethically, free speech isn’t an absolute right either.

I struggled with this. But in the end, I look at the photos and videos from Charlottesville, and I see deliberate intimidation. I see the threat and promise of violence. I see people proclaiming their loyalty to an enemy our country went to war against.

I see no reason to tolerate or accept that enemy.

Nor do I have any respect for those who knowingly collaborate with them.

Even the Joker hates Nazis

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Deborah Blake
Aug. 18th, 2017 01:35 am (UTC)
As a Jew, and a woman, and a human being, I find the fact that this is taking place now, in our country, terrifying and sad. So, so sad.
Aug. 18th, 2017 03:59 am (UTC)
0. I am Jewish. So much so, that I used to be a Hillel president. That said:

1a. Yes, I do feel personally threatened by these people. However, I do not perceive it as an immediate threat. I believe residents of the neighborhood where the demonstration took place have reason to consider this an immediate personal threat and seek the protection of the law. I am aghast at the lack of such protection at the demonstration. There ought to have been a cordon of police officers along the route of the march, in full riot gear, extra patrols, National Guard called out, etc.

1b. I do not consider that I deserve or should receive protection from a non-immediate threat. Had this demonstration taken place on an uninhabited island I would consider it victimless and thus not a crime.

1c. I am aware that American law considers some victimless acts to be crime. I believe this to be wrong and hope that this will change within my lifetime.

2. "As established earlier, legally speaking, free speech is not an absolute right."
This is a bad argument, because there exists such a thing as bad laws. Legally speaking a few decades ago I would not have had the right to live in the house I now occupy.

3a."Ethically–well, do you believe people have the absolute right to harass others?"
No, because there is a clear specific victim to whom immediate harm is being caused.
3b."To threaten? " No, see above.
3c. "To leak private information?"
Yes, with certain exceptions resulting from a trusted relationship, into which we should not go here/now.
3d."To incite violence and murder?"
Yes, as long as there is not a specific victim. That is "kill all Jews" is ok. "Kill Joseph Deershovitz at 111 Main St" is not.

4. "I don’t. Which means ethically, free speech isn’t an absolute right either."
True, ethics are not absolute. Yours differ from mine and both of ours differ from most of the Republicans out there (yay).

5. " I see people proclaiming their loyalty to an enemy our country went to war against."
Bad argument. The war is over, and the enemy no longer exists. We don't put people to jail for wanting to become British citizens anymore, either, and we shouldn't.

Does all of this mean you should not fight Nazis? No. You should, and I should. Can we disagree about whether it's better to fight their words or their actions? Yes, I think it's ok for us to disagree. But please - don't fight their words in the name of the Jews ("Now imagine you’re Jewish. Imagine you’re black. Imagine you’re gay. Imagine you’re Romani. Imagine your ancestors were among the millions of people murdered by Nazis. Now look at those photos and tell me you’re not looking at a very real threat.") Do it in your own name, because you personally believe that a threat to one citizen threatens all.

Edited at 2017-08-18 04:01 am (UTC)
Aug. 18th, 2017 10:21 am (UTC)
3d. I'd look at this a little differently, and ask if it's a *credible* threat. The Joseph Deershovitz example is credible because it's giving details you wouldn't need for any other reason but to target that individual. The "Kill all Jews" threat, in this case, is credible because it's coming from a group with a proven history of trying to act on it.
Aug. 18th, 2017 02:55 pm (UTC)
This is a good point. I tend (habit :) )to look at the likelihood that my death will result, whereas from the political/activism point of view we need likelihood that any death will result - a higher probability. This also makes 5 a better argument.

Edited at 2017-08-18 02:56 pm (UTC)
Aug. 18th, 2017 04:46 pm (UTC)
I'm Jewish, and I wrote this post.
Aug. 18th, 2017 08:52 pm (UTC)
I fully support your right to shun anyone, and your right to tell anyone that they are horrible people. I do not agree with your opinion on the ease of losing the rights and privileges of American citizenship, but I'm sure we can mutually rejoice in our right to disagree on this subject.
Aug. 18th, 2017 09:28 pm (UTC)
I refer only to their moral claim on those rights and privileges. I have no dispute with their legal rights.
Aug. 18th, 2017 10:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, I read your post and comments carefully, and noted that point. I do not believe (this is my ethics showing through, which may be different from your, equally legitimate, ethics) that individual morality can or should affect one's rights.
Aug. 18th, 2017 05:22 pm (UTC)
Lies about ww2
The truth is that in ww2 the good did not win;
we are going through revision of history inevitably; you can resist it but truth will prevail.
Aug. 18th, 2017 06:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Lies about ww2
I'm not 100% sure, but between the comment and the profile, this looks like a Russian spambot.
Aug. 18th, 2017 08:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Lies about ww2
Russian spambots do not post anything against Russian laws and would never say the good did not win in WWII - for them Russia won, and Russia is good. I think this may be a real live racist.
Aug. 19th, 2017 03:30 am (UTC)
That line was more convincing in "The Rocketeer"
I've been seeing comments like this a lot, and I'm never quite sure what is actually being advocated, beyond strenuous disapproval of Nazis, which pretty much everyone but Nazis shares.

Are you saying Nazis are evil and loathsome and should be shunned? Agree.

Are you saying they aren't entitled to be given a platform, and it's perfectly fine for people to name and shame them on social media, for their employers to fire them, and for web hosting services to boot them off their sites? Agree.

Are you saying they should be legally forbidden to march, throw Sieg Heils in public, or chant Nazi slogans? Sorry, disagree.

Your argument that this is not free speech is, legally speaking, wrong. And you are the 975,427th person to misuse the old "fire in a crowded theater" metaphor.

(Popehat, a legal blog, covers this quite thoroughly here.)

(I also find that cartoon really ironic. It kind of reminds me of the post-9/11 Marvel comic that showed Dr. Doom shedding tears for the victims. Uh, right. A megalomaniac who's proven himself willing to kill thousands himself is going to suddenly get teary-eyed over terrorism? And the Joker, a pitiless psychopath who'd probably get a chuckle out of gassing the entire city of Gotham, has moral qualms about Nazis? Yeah, right.)
Aug. 19th, 2017 01:08 pm (UTC)
Re: That line was more convincing in "The Rocketeer"
Haven't seen The Rocketeer, so no idea what you're trying to say there.

Re: fire in a theater, I wonder if the other 975,426 people are getting their information from the same U.S. Government website I linked above...
Aug. 19th, 2017 01:26 pm (UTC)
Re: That line was more convincing in "The Rocketeer"
The "I'm a criminal, but I'm an American criminal" (just before the mobster joins the hero in fighting Nazis) was from The Rocketeer.

I suspect that USCourts web page was done by an intern rather than a lawyer. My link actually explains why - yes, that line was used in Schenck vs. United States, but you might want to be aware of the context in which it was said, and the outcome, and how courts have ruled ever since. Just calling any kind of hate speech or incitement "shouting fire in a crowded theater" is rhetoric with no legal foundation.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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