Lacy MacAuley

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a home for my pen, projects, and passions

Letting Nazis Speak is Not a Free Speech Issue

We resist fascists precisely because we’ve listened, we’ve heard them, and we believe their threats

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When famous Nazi Richard Spencer starts building momentum for violating our rights, it is our duty to shut him down.

Do you believe in free speech? Me too. Do you protest when a right-wing thinker starts building momentum in order to violate your rights? I hope you do. After the right-wing media personality Milo Yiannopoulos was effectively shut down when he tried to speak in Berkeley, there’s been a lot of discussion on protection freedom of speech.

But there is a big difference between respecting the right-wing’s right to voice a point of view and letting them build momentum for their policies of hate — policies that actually will significantly harm immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women, the differently-abled, the queer community, the poor, and anyone living on the margins. They are attacking our right to exist. They have been heard for long enough, and now they are poised to do much more than just talk. Now, it is time to shut them down.

A new bill introduced this week in the Tennessee legislature, Tennessee’s so-called “Milo Bill,” would protect free speech and give students “the broadest possible latitude” to express themselves. That’s a good thing. Protection of freedom is what we need right now.

But don’t be confused. It is our right and duty to protest fascism. It is about stopping their momentum with our own momentum. It’s beyond freedom of speech. We resist fascists precisely because we’ve listened, we’ve heard them, and we believe them.

We heard and believed right-wing author Mike Cernovich when he said he supports a Muslim Ban, when he championed misogyny and rape culture, and all the times he insulted feminism. That’s why I and others with the DC Antifascist Coalition organized a protest at Cernovich’s event, the “Deploraball” in downtown Washington DC to celebrate the evening before Donald Trump’s Inauguration. Inside the event, Breitbart contributors, personal friends of Steve Bannon, misogynists, haters, and white supremacists brushed shoulders and held speeches. Outside, participants from all walks of life spontaneously burned pro-Trump paraphernalia, an American flag, and cardboard. The first person to start the fire, setting a red Trump hat ablaze, was reportedly the 11-year-old son of none other than comedian Drew Carey, Connor, who said, “Screw our president.”

We heard Cernovich, and we viewed threats like his as credible. The tuxedoed class at the “Deploraball,” they are coming for our rights. So we called a protest to put the attendees on notice. Everyday people, including 11-year-old Connor, responded by flooding into the streets with expressions of protest and rage. Yes, many of them wore the black masks of the antifascist, anarchist movement. No, we were not trying to silence anyone. We were protesting to defend our rights, to protect what we love, to celebrate diversity, and move toward a world based on love and inclusion, not policies of fear and exclusion. Inside the event venue, they were exercising their freedom of speech, but outside, we were building our own momentum, of protecting the people and communities that we love. Just eight days later, Steve Bannon’s Muslim Ban was signed as an Executive Order by Trump, and we protested again in a nationwide show of inclusion that helped turn the tide and overturn the ban.

When the right-wing comes for our right to exist, this is a bigger issue than their freedom of speech. This is about protecting our friends, neighbors, communities, family members, and ourselves.

We heard and believed Yiannopoulos when he said that he wanted to roll back rights for the LGBTQ community, including the rights of trans people, even though he is openly gay himself (while he makes undignified comments about lesbians and trans people and openly says that he is a self-loathing gay man). That’s why the transgender community of Berkeley, as well as antifascists, anarchists, and others, came out recently to protest Yiannopoulos, expressing the rage of the oppressed and getting his whole event shut down.

It turns out that Yiannopoulos, ever the troll, had actually intended to use his platform to publicly name undocumented students. He had already done similar stunts, including the time he had publicly singled out a trans student at University of Wisconsin to attack her with cruel laughter. The fact that protest actually protected undocumented students from being targeted is a clear example of the kind of support we need for each other. Protest protected these students. We all need to have each other’s backs in these dangerous times.

We heard and believed famous Nazi Richard Spencer, the head of a white supremacist organization called the National Policy Institute, when he’s said that he wants to make America white again. Spencer is now most famous for getting punched, and being the Nazi who sparked an “Okay to Punch a Nazi?” dialog in recent contemporary conversation. He supports a moratorium on all immigration from non-white or non-Europeans countries, called for a whites-only homeland, and has expressed support for forced sterilization for non-white people. He famously led a group in Nazi salutes, exclaiming “Hail Trump!” at a conference he organized in November 2016. That was the day after he yelled to a crowd, “Let’s party like it’s 1933,” referring to the year that Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and immediately began suspending civil rights in the country.

While Spencer’s group was inside giving Nazi salutes in November, I was outside with about 500 fellow protesters. The DC Antifascist Coalition, of which I am a member, had organized two fun and feisty protests outside their gathering. Had we tried to shut down the event? Yes, absolutely. We had effectively rallied support across our city to get the restaurant Hamilton, across the street from the conference venue, to cancel their reservation for their event the evening before. This caused the white supremacists to scramble to a Maggiano’s restaurant on the outskirts of town to hold their event. (Maggiano’s later apologized for playing host and made a $10,000 donation to the Anti-Defamation League.) Their other weekend event went forward as planned, but we’d put a significant ripple in their plans.

Did I feel guilty about our getting the event reservation canceled, and possibly impacting the Nazis’ freedom of speech? The answer is no. Yes, freedom of speech is important. But these white supremacists, white men who have held the reigns of power in our imperialist, racist, colonialist society for centuries, they have had their chance to be heard. We’ve been hearing them loud and clear for long enough.

White supremacists don’t need to be heard any longer. They are gaining power, and they need to be stopped.

Just because the policies they advocate wage their violence and oppression through pen and paper, through signing laws that the police enforce with their guns, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous than an attacker with a loaded weapon. Right-wingers who build momentum for genocide, like Spencer does, should not expect that they can saunter into our cities, our universities, and our events, and not be resisted. What they are proposing is insidious, and we feel the danger.

After all, there will be no freedom for most of us if Cernovich, Yiannopoulos, or Spencer have their way. There will be an authoritarian capitalist government which protects a sexist, anti-queer, racist hierarchy. Incidentally, that is just the kind of world that Trump seems to be pursuing. They have no qualms in calling for deportations, de-funding women’s health care, calling for whites-only institutions, allowing sexual predators to go free, and enacting more laws that make the criminal justice system even more biased against black people, the poor, and the marginalized.

What is the worst that will happen to these right-wingers if we prevail? They will go back to their privileged lives of comfort and obscurity, and continue to hate the fact they they cannot dominate us. What will happen to us if they prevail? Unbearable pain and oppression.

With the stroke of a pen, they would gladly make life a living hell for most of us.

Do we just wait politely while full-scale Nazis like Spencer rise in prominence and proclaim that they would like to give our country back to “white men”? Do we allow them to build an authoritarian society, and wait patiently, just because they are using “speech” to do so? Do we repeat the actions of the “good Germans” who claimed the moral high ground while staying quiet, allowing Hitler to rise to a place where he committed atrocities, violated the rights of people in multiple countries, and murdered people? Do we ask our transgender friends and neighbors to sit calmly by as Yiannopoulos and others support enacting harmful policy that puts people back in the shadows? Do we accept Cernovich’s sexist policy? No, we resist them and we try to shut them down.

Mike Cernovich, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Richard Spencer represent the most extreme elements of the dangerous shift toward fascism and authoritarianism, and you may notice that these three right-wing speakers I am focusing on are all white men. Two are from rich, upper-class backgrounds and one is from a privileged Christian conservative family. Their voices have been privileged, celebrated, and amplified since before they were even born. All their lives, they have been heard.

We are not going to support their bully pulpit any longer. When they try to convene people around their agenda of oppression, we will resist them.

It’s not because we dislike free speech. It’s because we know exactly what they are saying, and they are trying to drum up support for policies that harm us. They’re dangerous. Therefore, resistance is a form of self-protection.

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