The ACLU has succumbed to the heckler’s veto. #Sad [video]
The ACLU has succumbed to the heckler’s veto. #Sad [video]
A few weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, the ACLU won its case. It convinced a judge to uphold the original permit the city issued to white supremacist groups to hold a rally downtown in a park called Emancipation, formerly named Lee Park. The rally was to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. A counter-protest was planned by various groups of the Left: AntiFa, Black Lives Matter, and others. Through negligence or intent, law enforcement was unable to maintain control of the event, which spiraled into violence and death. The ACLU was criticized by the governor of Virginia and others because of its involvement in securing the rally site. The reasoning was that had the ACLU not defended the free speech rights of the white supremacists none of this would have happened. That’s some unfair Monday morning quarterbacking, but unfortunately, the ACLU, the supposed last bastion of protection for civil liberties, has caved to the heckler’s veto.
A member of the ACLU of Virginia’s board, Waldo Jaquith, tweeted Saturday that he was quitting his post. “What’s legal and what’s right are sometimes different. I won’t be a fig leaf for Nazis.”
“We need the ACLU,” he added. “We need it *so much*. But we also need it to change, just a tiny bit: don’t defend Nazis to allow them to kill people.”
Employees have received death threats and funding is threatened. Seems like those things would be all in a day’s work for the organization.
On the heels of Charlottesville, other preplanned rallies have come to the attention of the public. The ACLU of California put out the following statement indicating it would not defend the right of the white supremacists to have their rally because, the ACLU implies, they plan to incite violence. The National ACLU concurred with every word of the statement.
“Our country’s greatest strengths are the diversity of its people and the principles of equal dignity and inclusion that unite us all. There are troubling events planned in our state in the coming weeks. This is an incredibly painful and difficult time for millions of Californians. For those who are wondering where we stand – the ACLU of California fully supports the freedom of speech and expression, as well as the freedom to peacefully assemble. We review each request for help on a case-by-case basis, but take the clear position that the First Amendment does not protect people who incite or engage in violence. If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution. The First Amendment should never be used as a shield or sword to justify violence.”
We agree with every word in the statement from our colleagues in California. The First Amendment absolutely does not protect white supremacists seeking to incite or engage in violence. We condemn the views of white supremacists, and fight against them every day. At the same time, we believe that even odious hate speech, with which we vehemently disagree, garners the protection of the First Amendment when expressed non-violently. We make decisions on whom we’ll represent and in what context on a case-by-case basis. The horrible events in Charlottesville last weekend will certainly inform those decisions going forward.
This is a veiled, but not a principled, position. The ACLU presupposes intent and dismisses the protections of the Second Amendment (but that’s for another day). Making a statement that equates without justification an automatic characterization of violence with certain speech is anathema to what the ACLU used to stand for.
Mr. Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director, said in an interview this week that the group would remain committed to its free speech advocacy. “This is not a new juncture for the A.C.L.U.,” he said. “We have a longstanding history of defending the rights of groups we detest and with whom we fundamentally disagree.”
That led at least a few people to say the A.C.L.U. bore some responsibility for the resulting violence. “If we hadn’t intervened, the event would have been held a mile away, far from downtown, and three people would be alive,” Mr. Jaquith, the Virginia board member, posted on Twitter.
Mr. Romero rejected that view. He placed some of the responsibility for the violence on local authorities, saying they had taken a hands-off approach to policing the event, even as it devolved into violence.
“I want to be clear, the violence of this weekend was not caused by our defense of the First Amendment,” he said, noting that a federal judge had sided with the A.C.L.U.
Mr. Romero expressed concern that, after Charlottesville, local authorities around the country would be tempted to stop extremist groups from holding rallies. “It would be a very sorry day for our democracy if government officials insisted on denying any and all protests under the guise that violence might erupt,” Mr. Romero said.
On the face of the statement, it appears in line with the law. It is true, incitement to violence is not protected speech. However, speech espousing racist points of view is, actually, protected. It doesn’t matter that violence may occur after the speech – that is completely separate from the speech and the responsibility for that rests solely on the perpetrators of the violence, not those who simply have hateful opinions. ACLU, do your job.
The horrible events in Charlottesville last weekend will certainly inform those decisions going forward.
As horrible as this is going to sound, the events in Charlottesville, including the death, should have nothing to do with the decisions of the ACLU going forward – unless – there was some specific incitement to violence. Was the driver of the car instructed to plow into the crowd? Were the protestors ordered to engage in physical assault – and not through self defense but through proactive measures? And did the ACLU know this was planned? If so, then yes define representation. But simply knowing the speech would be racist or hateful does not satisfy the criteria of engaging in violence or inciting violence. It is imperative that we maintain this distinction.
“The First Amendment should never be used as a shield or a sword to justify violence.”
This is exactly the line the ACLU must walk on every single free speech case ever. The ACLU doesn’t defend speech that everyone likes – its cases are solely composed of facts that range from offensive to reprehensible. The First Amendment protects all speech, including hate speech, which always has the potential to rile people up. It cannot be true that this idea of potential mayhem has never occurred to the lawyers there. They face these questions every day – in fact, the ACLU has been instrumental in crafting the law on these issues. It is the coward’s way out to now abdicate their responsibility to help continue to protect this civil liberty for all Americans. Shame on you, ACLU.
If a group declares it will be inciting violence the ACLU should decline to represent them. This is not controversial – violence is not protected speech. However, if there is only the potential for violence, which in these cases there surely is always a potential, the ACLU must stand with the side of free speech. It cannot be allowed to equate ugly speech with violence, and only protect the kind of speech it likes. The old-timers know this.
David A. Goldberger, a former A.C.L.U. lawyer who represented the neo-Nazis in the Skokie case, said that Charlottesville would quite likely pose a test for the group, not unlike the Skokie case four decades ago.
As future cases involving the free speech rights of white supremacists surface, it remains to be seen how the events in Charlottesville may affect the A.C.L.U.’s response.
“The death may make people have second thoughts — I surely hope not.” Mr. Goldberger said. “This is a real crossroads for the A.C.L.U., and I think it’s going to choose the right road.”
Let’s hope those who have been given the privilege of protecting free speech gain some perspective before our right to free speech has been completely undermined and all diverse thoughts have been driven from the public square. I fear that time is not too far off.