By Nancy Thorner and Ed Ingold -
There is a phrase widely attributed to Voltaire (c1770), but more likely from a book by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, published in 1906. “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Regardless of the assignation, it speaks to the heart of the First Amendment, and President Trump’s dilemma. If one listens carefully to the new Left, the Constitution was wrong, consistent with a new defining phrase, “I detest what you say, and your right to say it."
We are still trying to decipher why Charlottesville weighs so heavily in the news. On Tuesday, August 15, when Trump spoke about his response to the Charlottesville, Virginia violence in the lobby of Trump Towers, the Big Three Networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) couldn't get enough of Trump as he went to battle with the press. Their evening news broadcasts later that day, which commanded a 77% coverage of Trump, reflected their obsession over the words Trump first used in responding initially to the Virginia mayhem.
To our best estimate, the cause is a conflation of several related but separate issues:
- The racist message the marchers sought to promote
- The right to peaceably assemble in support of that message
- Minor acts of violence between the protesters and counter-protesters
- Deadly violence perpetrated by one of the White Supremacists' participants
First Amendment Protection
The first two items are protected by the First Amendment. Hate speech, however vile, is protected speech according to the Supreme Court. The right to express your views now publicly is also well-established, as long as they don’t include explicit threats or a call to violence.
It was inevitable that the Left would equate Constitutionally protected “hate speech” with Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous admonition that “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” is not protected by the First Amendment. This is a false analogy for reasons cited below.
Shouting “Fire!” in a theater presents an imminent danger to those who respond in panic. Hateful but legal speech which offends is not an imminent danger, and a subsequent confrontation is totally voluntary on the part of the counter-protesters.
Violence is prosecutable and largely preventable through actions of the government. The extreme Left opposes practically anything espoused by the Right, or even lack of “politically correctness” as defined by their narcissistic logic. As long as the Left justifies or ignores violence on the part of anarchists, the conflicts will escalate with predictable results. Tolerance for mob action is like tickling a sleeping bear - exhilarating at first, but quickly gets out of hand.
Heat of the Moment Violence Justified?
Another legal fiction not yet cited is the use of so-called “fighting words,” wherein violence in the “heat of the moment” is justified. This argument has rarely been successfully used, and then only to lower the charge by one notch. That said, you can’t call it a “heat of the moment” event if you travel miles to the protest based on news reports and social media.
The President had the temerity to say that the counter-protesters contributed to the violence, which is factually correct. They baited and sniped at the Supremacists at every opportunity, especially when the cameras were rolling, then ran back behind the protective line of policemen. They threw rocks, bottles filled with urine, and used pepper spray from behind the line of sanctuary.
While the Supremacists declare a hate for a broad list of minorities, the counter-protesters are ecumenical haters - government, capitalism, and anyone who disagrees with them. Their reaction is the same, whether facing White Supremacists or common folks who support the President. Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap is sufficient to arouse their ire.
Trump Criticized for Acknowledging Sincerity of Both Sides
The President was also criticized for acknowledging the sincerity of some on both sides. It is possible, though not auspicious, that some were there to protest removal of Lee’s statue out of a sense of tradition and historical value. It is also likely that the majority of the counter-protesters objected to the Supremacists’ message, but in a peaceful manner. Throwing invectives is not the same as throwing punches, rocks or bottles.
The potential crisis was that both sides arrived at the scene armed, not only with rocks and bottles, but with clubs and firearms. It is a minor miracle that no gunfire erupted. In a bizarre sense, the homicidal attack with a vehicle seemed to break the tension as the groups were dispersing. Perhaps a sense of mortality descended on both sides. If violators are not prosecuted, the situation will remain volatile and potentially deadly in future encounters.
The White Supremacists have a clear, if indefensible message which is abhorrent to the vast majority of the country. The activists among the counter-protesters, including ANTIFA, have no stated message, but somehow claim plausible moral high ground over those they oppose. Despite the consensus of the Left and [delete “of”] the news media, saying the counter-protesters share the blame for violence is the same as supporting views of the violent right.
Republican Critics of Trump are Despicable and Pitiful
Critics of President Trump will not be satisfied unless he speaks out against both the content of the message and the right to deliver it in public. Although he has done the first, he refuses to condemn the protest itself, and even has the temerity to accuse the counter-protesters of contributing to the violence. The catch is, if the President were to declare hate speech were illegal, he would be attacked on the grounds of denying settled Constitutional rights.
But it is Republican critics who are most deplorable and clueless with their condemnation of Trump. Mitch McConnell joined John Kasich in Republican attacks on Trump saying 'there are no good neo-Nazis' after Ohio governor called president 'pathetic' – and BOTH George Bushes weighed in as well as lawmakers including Sen.Marco Rubio, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Mitt Romney also joined the chorus of Trump condemnation with his tweet in support for Antifa: "One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry."
"There is an effort to do whatever is necessary to take this president down and they have painted, the media has painted, the liberals have painted, a false narrative that the president is a racist and anytime he tries to break out of that box, liberals aren't going to allow him to do it."
Two other national religious leaders likewise came out in their unwavering support of Trump.
- Franklin Graham wrote on his Facebook page: “Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville, VA.
- Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeted: "Finally a leader in the White House. Jobs returning, North Korea backing down, bold truthful statement about Charlottesville tragedy. So proud of Donald Trump.”
Those responsible for running down people with an automobile should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, not only the driver but those who had prior knowledge of or assisted the crime. Attorney General Sessions made this abundantly clear. Nor should the participants who sprayed the marchers with makeshift flame throwers and pepper spray, threw rocks and bottles, or the first punch. The defining principle should be prosecution on the basis of deeds, not ideas. That is the American way.
By far the most significant casualty in the aftermath of Charlottesville is, as usual, the objective truth.