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Mike Siegel: Freedom of Speech, The Charlottesville Test

I May Disagree With What You Say But Will Defend Your Right To Say It

Mike Siegel
August 14, 2017 - 11:42 am
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What happened over the weekend in Virginia was a true test of how far we are willing to go to protect free speech

You may remember the Neo-Nazi March in Chicago at a time when the hateful bigots wanted to march in Skokie. The reason for this was because there were holocaust survivors there and the haters wanted to stick it to those survivors of the horrors perpetrated by Hitler and his barbaric followers.

The ACLU fought for the right of these Nazi sympathizers to march in Skokie. Jewish attorneys in the ACLU despised the message of Frank Collin and hos neo-Nazis but defended his First Amendment right to March in Skokie despite the horror it would bring back to holocaust survivors in that community. In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that the right of the neo-Nazis extended to Skokie, but at that time in 1978, Collin called off the march. The point here is that despite the heinous message of the neo-Nazis, the Court understood that free speech must be protected and only limited on public issues in the most egregious circumstances. The argument protected Collin in spite of the fact that residents of Skokie would be forced to face the horror of Nazi symbolism again. The Court reasoned that they could pull their shades and close their blinds and ignore this despicable group.

Here we have a much different story. There were left-wing anarchists, ideologues and who knows what other external individuals and groups who came to Charlottesville to overtly and physically disrupt the reprehensible White Nationalists and its intended march.

The rest is history. The violence carried out by all sides was inexcusable. There were several deaths including two state troopers who dies in a helicopter crash due to this violence and their being on duty working in the copter.

It has long been my belief that the Left and the anarchists have no interest in having the kind of responsible spirited debate that the Founders intended on public issues. We already understand that the detestable message of the White Nationalists must be rejected. But, it must be rejected by non-violent verbal and non-verbal discourse and not by violence.

Outside agitators from all sides in this chaotic event came to this community for the express purpose of violent disruption of the march and the violence by the Ku Klux Klan was predictable in response but totally unacceptable.

This was the perfect storm of groups making trouble for its own sake. Instead of having their own protest rally in assertive but peaceful form, the anti-protesters decided to interfere physically. This led to chaos, destruction, injury and death. That is not the forum within which the First Amendment can function.

Let us hope this will be a heavy lesson learned for the future, and it will as soon as the radicals on all sides reach the conclusion that violence will not accomplish meaningful change they are seeking.

With regard to the criticism of the President’s statements on this issue, the more than 40 Democrats in Congress who protested that he should condemn the far-right radicals begs the question.

Do these Democrats justify the violence from the anti-protesters? Do they believe that the answer to the White Nationalist rally is to physically disrupt it because we will not accept this speech as being protect by the First Amendment?

The President was correct in his public statements when he condemned “all sides” in this melee who resorted to violence instead of protected free speech.

What those Democrats need to understand is that the First Amendment is not there to protect speech with which we disagree. It is there to protect speech with which we vehemently and perhaps justifiably disagree. It is the old cliché that comes into play here. “I disagree vehemently with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

We have too many people in this country who use the First Amendment as a convenience. Students at the University of California at Berkeley, Middlebury College and other campuses flagrantly use violence to stop speech with which they disagree.

I did not see these 40+ Democrats signing a protest letter about these radical, criminal students who stopped speeches because they disagreed with the speaker.

Democrats will lose again on this issue. Fairness seems to be an alien term to the Democrat left-wing members of Congress. We should reject this one-sided, unfair and irresponsible view of these Democrats. They are wrong, are violating the intent of the Founders regarding free speech and show the President to be a statesman on this issue.

Either we are going to protect freedom of speech in this country or we will fail to survive as the great democracy we have shown ourselves to be.

When I had the choice to make about whether to have Richard Butler, head of Aryan Nations and the most dangerous neo-Nazi at the time, appear on my talk programs I reflected about the consequence of each decision. It ultimately became a no-brainer. I chose to have him appear on a number of my programs because I believed it would be better to let him expose himself for who he was than to suppress him underground. This, in spite of the fact, that each time I had him on the air he said I would be in Israel if here were in charge because I am a Jew.

When I had David Duke on the air with me in a studio in New York, I vilified him for his views and at the end of the interview, he asked me to walk him downstairs in midtown Manhattan where he was getting a taxi so I could protect him from any protesters. Does that sound like a man of courage? I am reaffirmed in my belief that having Butler and Duke on the air showed them for the hateful bigots they are. That is the power of freedom of speech.

The choice is now ours. Let the debate begin.

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