OPINION: The First Amendment does not falter at hatred

The afternoon of violence in Charlottesville, North Carolina and the subsequent media fallout present a difficult philosophical question for our generation:

When does freedom of speech falter?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t, no matter how abhorrent the speech is to modern American values. But, as of now, some critics are drawing the line for the First Amendment at hate. 

“The so-called ‘alt-right,’ or the white nationalists, have no place in America, and they don’t deserve a place on our political spectrum,” said Diana Ratcliff, cousin of victim Heather Heyer who was ran down by a white supremacist during the Aug. 12 Charlottesville protest, in an article she wrote for CNN. 

It is a hard sentiment to disagree with, considering hatred and bigotry are so vile, but as the public cries for the removal of the cancer that is the Ku Klux Klan and other white-power groups, it strikes the heart of American democracy, and serves to entrench the messiah complex of white-supremacists. 

That complex is mired in their twisted values, and what they perceive as an attack on white America. 

“For one thing, it means that we’re showing to this parasitic class of anti-white vermin that this is our country. This country was built by our forefathers, sustained by us, it’s going to remain our country,” white-supremacist writer Robert Ray said Aug. 12 in a Vice interview.

It is the rhetoric that echoes throughout the white-power movement, they are supposed defenders of white America; Christ-like figures in a war against multiculturalism.

The violence in Charlottesville is inexcusable, and the death of Heather Heyer tragic, but at what point do we pull out crosses and let members of the white power movement crucify themselves in the name of bigotry?

If we remove their ability to speak, if we remove their ability to march, they win. If we physically attack them, if we strip them of their voice, we prove them right.

Racism and bigotry are endemic within our society. This is not a resurgence of white-supremacy, it is a festering sore underneath the fragile skin of the United States.

In 2015, the Arkansas League of the South held an event against the “genocidal attack of the Southern people and their symbols,” and the “deliberate cultural and ethnic cleansing of White, Christian Southerners,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. 

It is the same reason those misguided souls marched on Charlottesville.

They are inherently wrong, but the only way to prove that is allowing them their rights as American citizens to voice their opinion without fear of violence. Donald Trump was not wrong in his assertion that violence came from “many sides” of the Charlottesville protest. 

The anti-fascist group “Antifa” partake in violence regularly at protests, and they may not have been aggressors in Charlottesville, but they certainly weren’t pacifists. Violence from the alt-left is just as detrimental to our fundamental values as violence from the alt-right.

If we are willing to forsake the rights of another American for the comfort of our conscience, we have forsaken the rights of us all. 

As Evelyn Beatrice Hall once wrote:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

 

Garrett Ammesmaki is a News Editor at The Collegian and can be reached at [email protected]