CAFE NOIR » Tales of an atheist, anarchist, wannabe filmmaker of sorts, and father of three lovable little beasties

Non-violent activism at its best. And let’s please not suppress speech.

What a frightful mess. I wish I had profound insights to offer, but I do have two points of reflection for now:

1) One of the best responses I’ve seen so far has been that of identifying as many of the marchers as possible (though this must be done with utmost care to identify the correct people!). This strikes me as non-violent activism at its best, forcing many of the marchers to face steep social costs (in some cases already: losing their jobs, being shunned by their families) and causing many other marchers to fear these potential social costs as well, and thus shy away from the movement. Views so extreme as theirs are, thankfully, still quite fringe, and social pressures pushing back at them are strong. See, for example, the following article from the Independent:

Charlottesville white supremacists ‘terrified’ of being exposed online

2) One of the most dangerous and incredibly counter-productive responses on offer by some is that of sanctioning state censorship. Even in vile fringe cases like this. Do we really want to pave the path for the Trump administration, et al, toward the suppression of speech? I think this Glenn Greenwald piece is well worth reading and deeply considering:

The misguided attacks on ACLU for defending neo-Nazis’ free speech rights in Charlottesville

Greenwald’s entire piece is excellent, and there’s one excerpt in particular I’d like to highlight and leave you with. I’ve heard several times in the past few days that to even have an abstract discussion about the rights of neo-Nazis is itself an act of violence, coming from a place privileged remove, while marginalized people are facing imminent threats. I understand that sentiment, but Greenwald points out that actually the opposite is true (emphasis added):

The ACLU is primarily a legal organization. That means they defend people’s rights in court, under principles of law. One of the governing tools of courts is precedent: the application of prior rulings to current cases. If the ACLU allows the state to suppress the free speech rights of white nationalists or neo-Nazi groups — by refusing to defend such groups when the state tries to censor them or by allowing them to have inadequate representation — then the ACLU’s ability to defend the free speech rights of groups and people that you like will be severely compromised.

It’s easy to be dismissive of this serious aspect of the debate if you’re some white American or non-Muslim American whose free speech is very unlikely to be depicted as “material support for terrorism” or otherwise criminalized. But if you’re someone who cares about the free speech attacks on radical leftists, Muslims, and other marginalized groups, and tries to defend those rights in court, then you’re going to be genuinely afraid of allowing anti-free speech precedents to become entrenched that will then be used against you when it’s time to defend free speech rights. The ACLU is not defending white supremacist groups but instead is defending a principle — one that it must defend if it is going to be successful in defending free speech rights for people you support.

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