I’d always considered myself a 1st Amendment absolutist.
One huge reason I’ve donated money to the ACLU throughout the years is that organization, run and populated by a lot of Jews, defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, a largely Jewish suburb of Chicago. I thought that was a brilliant and beautiful example of honoring a sacred tenet of our Constitution, even at potential cost to themselves.
In light of the Identity Evropa issue at the Bloomington Farmers Market, though, my thoughts on this have evolved. Organizations that espouse white supremacy and the inferiority of races and ethnic groups are fertile grounds for violence, often fatal. As such, they should not enjoy the full, unfettered protection of the Constitution. Armed robbers, rapists, child molesters, embezzlers, and many other miscreants and reprobates are denied full Constitutional rights once convicted. We accept that. We also accept that people who meet to plot crimes can be charged and convicted merely for talking about breaking the law. In other words, we say, “Hey, you bunch of guys conspiring to rob a bank, you can’t discuss your plot nor can you even gather together.”
That’s a blatant denial of their 1st Amendment rights. And entirely justified.
So, basically, when neo-Nazis or other supremacists get together for a chat, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume a vicious crime might be a potential outcome of that tête-à-tête. Any time two or more members or sympathizers of racist organizations exchange two words it’s essentially a conspiracy to commit a crime.
I’ve really struggled with this reassessment. Like anybody else, I’m challenged by shades of gray. Life is a hell of lot easier when I can simply say, “The sacred law is such and such and that’s that!” Well, the 1st Amendment isn’t sacred to me anymore. It’s useful. It’s necessary. But it isn’t immutable. And it doesn’t apply in every conceivable situation.
Neo-Nazis and other supremacists see certain human beings as…, well, less than human beings. That’s step one on the path to murder.
I understand our local government feels hamstrung in dealing with the Schooner Creek people who peddle their squashes or whatever at the Bloomington Farmers Market. The mayor, his department heads, and the city council, I’m certain, are frightened by the possibility of a long, costly court challenge should they oust the Schooner Creek people from the Market for their alleged racist communiques. Although, I’m just as certain a creative city government can conjure ways to make Schooner Creek go away without even referring to any chat room banter, videos, money donated, or Tupperware parties held to benefit racist, misogynist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful ideological gangs.
Yep. I’ve said it: just talking neo-Nazi, supremacist shit should be a crime. Just as it is in a lot of European countries that three quarters of a century ago were ravaged by a gang of white people who thought other people were less than human.
The Supreme Court exactly 100 years ago ruled that, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a person cannot shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater as a joke. The Court has thus already ruled the 1st Amendment right to free speech can be curtailed. Saying whites are better or more important or somehow more valuable than other people of varying hues is the moral equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in that crowded theater. And people who get beaten or killed because they’re brown or lesbian or trans or female are the practical equivalent of the poor souls who were crushed or suffocated to death at the exit doors of the theater, especially when the beaters and killers have been inspired by neo-Nazi, supremacist talk.
You want more? Okay, read this devastating look back at a hideous series of incidents that wracked both Chicago and Bloomington 20 years ago this week, from the magazine Forward: