by William Skink
Protecting free speech is supposed to include speech we find repugnant. If it doesn’t, then shutting down all manner of expression will become easier.
Some efforts to shut down speech are not going to be effective. Take getting individuals who showed up at the Unite The Right rally fired from their jobs. What is that going to accomplish?
Dan Brooks took this up with a post that asks the questions Should we get white nationalists fired from their jobs? I commend Dan for eschewing the emotional reactions I am seeing everywhere on social media by actually using his brain to think through this ethical quagmire. And it is a an ethical quagmire.
Before getting to Brooks and his parsing of what constitutes being a Nazi who deservedly should get punched in the face and what is merely asshole white nationalism, this attempt by a GOP Congressman to punish a bank employee for her activism is worth noting:
The most powerful congressman in New Jersey, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, wrote a fundraising letter in March to a board member of a local bank, warning him that a member of an activist group opposing the Republican worked at his bank.
The employee was questioned and criticized for her involvement in NJ 11th for Change, a group that formed after the election of Donald Trump and has been pressuring Frelinghuysen to meet with constituents in his district and oppose the Trump agenda.
“Needless to say, that did cause some issues at work that were difficult to overcome,” said Saily Avelenda of West Caldwell, New Jersey, who was a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at the bank before she resigned. She says the pressure she received over her political involvement was one of several reasons she decided to leave.
Is this ok? I doubt anyone celebrating white supremacists getting fired would think this scenario is acceptable. It’s too bad they don’t seem to understand how their righteous efforts to shut down speech they don’t agree with will make it easier for anyone to shutdown speech they don’t agree with.
When I received a threatening letter at work, it was clear the anonymous author of the letter intended to negatively impact my employment. Did my opinions change? No. Was I more resolved than ever to continue expressing my opinions? Hell yes.
Getting back to Brooks’ piece, his conclusion is a little problematic because it still includes calls to violence for those real Nazis. I suggest reading the whole article because his conclusion probably deserves the full context of his argument, which ends with this:
I am trying to ask what we are willing to do to the people for whom we have almost no sympathy at all. We should punch Nazis, but maybe we should refrain from punching people who merely resemble Nazis. Otherwise, the mechanisms of our disagreements might overpower their content. If you had a button on your desk that electrocuted anyone you disagreed with, you could solve the Nazi problem real quick. Maybe, though, you would generate a new problem entirely.
Brooks is trying to remind us that slopes can be slippery. He’s hedging his argument with a casual reference to violence–we should punch Nazis. How about shooting them in the streets?
Former Missoula Councilman, Jason Wiener, recently posed a simple question (with a link to what happened in Virginia). The question he asked is What is the solution to this? Of the first three comments, two referenced violence:
Pete Youngstrom: When did shooting nazis in the street become a bad thing?
Heath Carey: Perhaps it’s time to give the “tree of liberty” its due manure.
It’s not surprising that some people are going to think more violence is the solution. It used to seem like the right had that market cornered, and while the death count still heavily leans toward the lethality of right-wing extremists, I’m worried there is increasing acceptance across the political spectrum that violence is an inevitable means of enacting political change.
The main reason I have a hard time taking all the moral righteousness over this violent rally in Virginia seriously is because there was 8 years of violent neoliberal foreign policy that American Supremacists who supported the Obama regime seemed to find more than acceptable.
The American-backed coup in Ukraine is a perfect example. One violent consequence of enacting a coup in Ukraine was empowering very real Nazis. This reality was brutally exposed in May of 2014 when this happened:
As much as the coup regime in Ukraine and its supporters want to project an image of Western moderation, there is a “Dr. Strangelove” element that can’t stop the Nazism from popping up from time to time, like when the Peter Sellers character in the classic movie can’t keep his right arm from making a “Heil Hitler” salute.
This brutal Nazism surfaced again on Friday when right-wing toughs in Odessa attacked an encampment of ethnic Russian protesters driving them into a trade union building which was then set on fire with Molotov cocktails. As the building was engulfed in flames, some people who tried to flee were chased and beaten, while those trapped inside heard the Ukrainian nationalists liken them to black-and-red-striped potato beetles called Colorados, because those colors are used in pro-Russian ribbons.
As the fire worsened, those dying inside were serenaded with the taunting singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The building also was spray-painted with Swastika-like symbols and graffiti reading “Galician SS,” a reference to the Ukrainian nationalist army that fought alongside the German Nazi SS in World War II, killing Russians on the eastern front.
The death by fire of dozens of people in Odessa recalled a World War II incident in 1944 when elements of a Galician SS police regiment took part in the massacre of the Polish village of Huta Pieniacka, which had been a refuge for Jews and was protected by Russian and Polish partisans. Attacked by a mixed force of Ukrainian police and German soldiers on Feb. 28, hundreds of townspeople were massacred, including many locked in barns that were set ablaze.
After the violence last weekend, I saw lots of claims that THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE. I don’t agree. I think a country that willfully ignores its own history (who financed Hitler? who helped Nazi scientists get jobs in America?), and ignores or downplays its own imperial crimes, will inevitably be comprised of citizens who see violence as a solution to their problems.
The extreme right used to dominate in this area. Not anymore. The political consensus of pursuing a violent foreign policy across the globe is increasingly being reflected by a political consensus at home that violence against political opponents is inevitable.