The murder of Heather Heyer at an American “white pride” even in Charlottesville sent shivers down the spine of many who, witnessing the horrendous events that transpired there, realized the horrible polarization that exists today in American politics. Although there is no question that the pathetic scum that paraded around with tiki torches is not exactly representative of any mainstream political ideology, the fact that they were out in public, feeling empowered by the authoritarian idiot that currently occupies the White House, is certainly a cause for concern.
As it happens with every tragedy, however, people wasted no time in trying to exploit the tragic events for their own purposes. From Republicans slowly abandoning “the Trump train” now that they see him as a possible hindrance to their own electoral efforts, to Democrats who see this as a pathway to impeachment, people feign sympathy and moral outrage in order to further their own political ends.
To add fuel to the fire benefits many, and so it is no surprise that both the media and the politicians wasted no time in developing a series of ideological dogmas, promising fire and brimstone to anybody who would dare to depart from them. Recently we saw it when people started to sharpen their pitchforks as Trump dared to suggest that the people parading in Charlottesville had a permit, and therefore had the right to protest without being attacked by counter-protesters. He was right.
As much as those feigning moral outrage would like to pretend otherwise, the right to free speech doesn’t pick sides. We don’t protect only those views that we find pleasant and enjoyable, but also, and especially, those we find repugnant. This is why, for example, the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed, in Snyder v. Phelps, the right of the Westboro Baptist Church (of “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” fame) to spread their poisonous message, or why in Texas v. Johnson the Court saw burning the American flag as worthy of 1st Amendment protection. It is not because we like these ideas that we need to support them, but instead because we believe that the only way to secure freedom is to ensure everyone has that freedom.
Despite these considerations, the media is not only fanning the flames of those who want censorship, but actually lionizing those who have expressed their desire to violently attack demonstrators from what they call “the far right,” or celebrating those who decided to give themselves the right to prevent others from exercising their rights. Salon’s Dahlia Lithwick, for example, explains how her, and a group of other similarly-minded idiots, were trying to prevent the far-right protesters from reaching their already-approved meeting point, and was surprised to see that they were carrying batons, or that they would actually forcefully try to break the barrier that had been formed in front of them. She even adds the photo of one of her comrades pepper-spraying an “alt-right” protester, in what I’m sure she sees as a heroic move that will be recorded in the annals of history. Similarly, in a now-deleted tweet, Noisey editor Kim Kelly praised the fact that many of her so-called “comrades” were armed. She explained how the sight of “armed comrades” made her feel more at ease. She even wrote a self-fellating op-ed for Al-Jazeera that, to be frank, left me wondering whether patting herself on the back so much might cause permanent damage.
But let’s take a moment here to step back and rethink this. When we know that counterprotesters were armed and determined to prevent the alt-right protesters from reaching their destination, how can violence be a surprise? How can people be surprised that there were fights between protesters and counterprotesters, when that is quite literally the only possible outcome of group A trying to physically prevent group B from reaching their lawfully-permitted destination. When you have people like Kim Kelly, who picture themselves as violent rebels (as long as they are in a group of armed thugs, of course), announcing violence against the alt-right, how can any of us be surprised that violence erupts? What kind of environment did they think that they would create as they let the world know that they were going to bravely, and violently, prevent the lawful protest of the alt-right morons? Did they believe that the KKK was going to turn back and leave? If you tell the world that tomorrow you’re planning to kick someone’s ass, well, don’t be surprised if the next day they meet you ready for a fight.
All of this is not, of course, to justify or explain away the murder of Heathen Heyer, or to somehow blame her (or the other victims of James Fields) for what happened to her. While there were certainly fights and skirmishes at the site of the protest, hers was simply a cold-blooded murder. The problem is that it is being used to move the country towards censorship and repression.
As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the protests have been used to justify attacks against the ACLU, which defended the right of the “alt-righters” to demonstrate. Forgetting that the ACLU has also protected the rights of Black Lives Matters, as well as other minority-organizations, many are actually arguing that free speech shouldn’t be free, and that strong government control is important, while others salivate at the idea of implementing Germany’s atrocious speech laws in America. They crave for a State-monopoly on expression, speech and ideas. And that’s the wrong way to go. As Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s Executive Director explained.
“There is another practical reason that we have defended the free speech rights of Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Today, as much as ever, the forces of white supremacy and the forces for equality and justice are locked in fierce battles, not only in Washington but in state houses and city councils around the country. Some government decision-makers are deeply opposed to the speech we support. We simply never want government to be in a position to favor or disfavor particular viewpoints. And the fact is, government officials — from the local to the national — are more apt to suppress the speech of individuals or groups who disagree with government positions. Many of the landmark First Amendment cases, such as NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware and New York Times v. Sullivan, have been fought by African-American civil rights activists. Preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.”
Freedom only works when we are all free, and able to express ourselves. I do not know any person, organization or government agency that I would give the right to decide my ideas for me; no person that I’d give the right to decide what books I can read, or what opinions I can hold. Considering how many of those who are today berating the alt-right consider themselves “revolutionaries,” it is concerning to see how many of them, as the first step towards their pathetic little Utopia, are willing to surrender their right to think differently. Defending free speech doesn’t mean that you agree with the speech that you are protecting; it only means, quite simply, that you understand that once you take other people’s speech, it will only be a matter of time before your own is taken away too.