The mainstream media enjoys grousing about supposed threats to the First Amendment under President Donald Trump. But few are bothering to stand up for the basic right of freedom of speech in the wake of violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia between white supremacists and left-wing “anti-fascist” rioters.
The death toll was three, after a horrific attack — possibly an act of domestic terror — by an apparent right-wing extremist who drove his car into the “Antifa” crowd, killing one and injuring many more. Two state police officers monitoring the protests also died in a helicopter crash nearby.
The white supremacists had gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, one of many historic markers of the old South that have been targeted since a racially-motivated mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. But the protesters did more than defend the statue. They also used the event to broadcast their hatred of Jews, among other minorities, and to elevate their otherwise marginal national profile.
As repulsive as the white supremacists and their messages were, they had the same First Amendment rights as all other Americans do. (I grew up in Skokie, Illinois, where neo-Nazis were once granted the right to march through the largest community of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel, so free speech has always been a particularly potent principle for me.) The “anti-fascist” protesters arrived with the intent of shutting down free speech — through force.
When that happens, Americans should unite in condemning the violent assault on the First Amendment. We should not let those who would shut down free speech succeed, either by silencing the offensive speech or by using the fact of violence to rally public opinion against the targeted group. Otherwise, such violence will continue to be used.
Trump has been criticized for not condemning the white supremacists in his initial response to the clashes in Charlottesville. But Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution. His first duty was to uphold freedom of speech — not to indulge the “anti-fascists,” or the media who protect them by failing to report their violent tactics and totalitarian mindset. Therefore he correctly, and strongly, condemned the violence on “many sides.”
The fact that Trump’s measured, appropriate response became a pretext for more media outrage, and nationwide protest, is further proof that the media have abandoned their own supposed principles in the service of a political agenda. They want to bring down President Trump, and negate the 2016 election, First Amendment be damned.