Participants in a free speech rally were attacked by Antifa counter-protesters near the Twitter headquarters in downtown San Francisco Saturday.
One of the organizers of the rally, Philip Anderson, a young, black, Trump supporter had his front teeth punched out and landed in the hospital.
Philip Anderson, a free speech rally leader, punched by counter protester and pushed back into barricaded area at UN Plaza in SF. Rally has not started yet. #ProudBoys #SanFrancisco pic.twitter.com/NcNopIyDAX
— Denis Ivan Perez (@dpi_19) October 17, 2020
Before he was taken to the hospital, Anderson spoke to the crowd for close to 15 minutes during which time Antifa counter-protesters threw water bottles and glass bottles over police barricades.
“You knocked my tooth out but you’re saying ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Anderson said, while Antifa supporters tried to drown out his voice. “I love America and I love this country, but I want free speech.”
Police sustained injuries from Antifa protesters who assaulted them with pepper spray and other caustic chemicals. A number of other conservative demonstrators were also taken to the hospital for injuries they sustained at the rally.
The group, called Team Save America, was demonstrating against Twitter’s policies of suppressing conservative speech, particularly the tech giant’s recent shut out of users who tried to retweet a New York Post story that negatively reflected on Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
As the rally progressed, the pro-free speech demonstrators were significantly outnumbered by the Antifa protesters who tried to overrun the barrier that had been put up by police to separate the groups. The Antifa supporters were eventually met by a line of riot police.
So it is that in 2020 — in America — we have arrived at the point where supposed “anti-fascists” are now advocating against free speech and willing to bash heads (literally) to get their way.
Speaking about Antifa, former white supremacist Arno Michaelis remarked, “You have the Far Left in there going, ‘I’m going to smash the Nazis.’ Side note: Stalin and Mao were anti-fascists when they started. They were the street agitators. And they went on to commit atrocities. So this idea that just because you are an ‘anti-fascist’ that you are some kind of good guy has been completely, historically proved wrong.”
It is almost incomprehensible to the average American, who considers the right to free speech not only the bedrock of American democracy but what distinguishes us from all other so-called democracies. Americans also view free speech as the basic foundation upon which the social contract of the American government is built. That “contract” includes values like respect to one’s fellow human being as the shared belief that rights such as free speech are ultimately not given by any government but by rather by a Higher Source (as implied in the constitution).
But it’s not just the street thugs that are advocating curtailment of this “inalienable” right. In a tome published in The New York Times magazine, staff writer Emily Bazelon lays out the more high-brow reasoning for this ever-more popular opinion emanating from the Far Left.
Her piece is titled, “The Power of Free Speech in an Age of Disinformation.” Ironically, the online version on The New York Times’ site showed up with a pop-up warning that the article was disputed by third-party fact-checkers (see graphic above).
Bazelon lays out her challenge to the inalienable right to free speech by first citing experts.
“Increasingly,” she writes, “scholars of constitutional law, as well as social scientists, are beginning to question the way we have come to think about the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. They think our formulations are simplistic — and especially inadequate for our era.”
These experts (who always remain unnamed) show up throughout the long article — an article in which Bazelon mainly cites cases of modern-day court filings and their resolutions – one after the other – in a logically indiscernible way.
Yet, in between the cases, Bazelon’s voice comes through, and we find out why she thinks the American freedom of speech laws are flawed.
“Censorship of external critics by the government remains a serious threat under authoritarian regimes,” she writes, giving a voice to her would-be critics. “But in the United States and other democracies, there is a different kind of threat, which may be doing more damage to the discourse about politics, news and science. It encompasses the mass distortion of truth and overwhelming waves of speech from extremists that smear and distract.”
Although she writes that her concern over these distortions “spans the ideological spectrum,” she supports this claim by citing “truths” like the efficacy of mask-wearing (disputed by data from the Scandinavian countries as well as respected scientists), the lack of evidence of voter fraud (disputed by historical evidence) and that the massive forest fires in California last month were caused by global warming (disputed by California’s own governor, who cited lack of forest management as one of the causes).
Each of these “truths,” she claims, is under assault by what she calls the “spread of viral disinformation.”
This, in itself, should cause us to pause and contemplate the effects of shutting down public discourse: the lack of exposure to a variety of ideas and opinions (the latter being the most professed category of “truths” by ideologues).
Yet, Bazelon charges that the goal of this “disinformation” is to “prevent the actual battle from being fought.”
“The spewing of falsehoods isn’t meant to win any battle of ideas. Its goal is to prevent the actual battle from being fought, by causing us to simply give up,” she writes.
She then seems to contradict herself by citing a number of examples to support the “marketplace of ideas” to discern truth from falsehood. She mentions a seminal 1919 ruling by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who invoked the First Amendment to support an “anarchist group” who were distributing leaflets calling for workers to strike at munitions factories. “The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas,” Holmes wrote.
She also quotes John Stuart Mill, a “chief influencer” of Holmes, who also argued against the censorship of ideas. Knowledge, Mill contended, arises from “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
Then Bazelon then tells us why, in our world, this just doesn’t work:
“It’s a fundamentally optimistic vision: Good ideas win. The better argument will prove persuasive. There’s a countertradition, however. It’s alert to the ways in which demagogic leaders or movements can use propaganda, an older term that can be synonymous with disinformation. A crude authoritarian censors free speech. A clever one invokes it to play a trick, twisting facts to turn a mob on a subordinated group and, in the end, silence as well as endanger its members … In other words, good ideas do not necessarily triumph in the marketplace of ideas.”
Again, we have Bazelon’s subjective judgment on what constitutes a good or bad idea, sounding a lot like the totalitarian rulers that she invokes to come to this conclusion.
In the end, Bazelon borrows the words of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan to lay out her ultimate charge:
“Justice Elena Kagan warned that the court’s conservative majority was ‘weaponizing the First Amendment’ in the service of corporate interests, in a dissent to a ruling against labor unions. Somewhere along the way, the conservative majority has lost sight of an essential point: The purpose of free speech is to further democratic participation,” Bazelon writes.
Ironically, the day after Bazelon’s piece appeared, America witnessed the greatest “weaponizing of the First Amendment” by “corporate interests” to date when tech giants Twitter and Facebook, who both have a history of shutting down conservative voices with impunity, shut down a story by the country’s oldest newspaper, The New York Post, to prevent a negative story about Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter from being disseminated (hence the protest against Twitter in San Francisco).
While currently, big tech interests favor voices on the Left, it wouldn’t be any better if one day, they favored voices on the Right.
Finally, as she does throughout the piece, Bazelon looks to Europe as a model for allowing free speech but “not as an absolute right.” Here, she champions countries like “Germany and France [that] have laws that are designed to prevent the widespread dissemination of hate.
That hate was on full display this week when an Islamist terrorist beheaded a French schoolteacher for educating his students about free speech during the on-going trial of the Charlie Hebdo murderers.
The 49-year old teacher “committed the crime” of showing his students cartoons of Mohammed published by the satirical magazine.
One could argue that the “less than absolute” right to free speech in France contributed to an atmosphere where crimes such as these in Europe may horrify, but not surprise us.
The slippery slope advocated by Bazelon is ultimately one that will put all of us, Bazelon included, in a dark world – the one she mistakenly imagines we are in now.
Although it looks like we are fast hurdling toward that place, we aren’t there yet. However, it would behoove each of us to prevent that by engaging in political discourse with civility and in a way that allows for, in the words of Holmes, the “free trade in ideas.”