A recent street brawl in Manhattan between the Proud Boys and anti-fascist (“Antifa”) demonstrators has the public officials who are pledged to uphold our land of the free and home of the brave shaking their fists at our constitutional guarantees of free speech and associational rights.
That’s the upshot of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s demands on the Metropolitan Republican Club — a private group — to know why they invited to their house Gavin McInnes, leader of the Proud Boys, a so-called white “hate” group. Doubling down on his assault on free speech, Cuomo offered the out-of-left-field pronouncement that “hate speech is excluded from protection” of the First Amendment in a now-deleted tweet.
Cuomo, a lawyer, and longtime federal and New York government official ought to know that in America, “hate speech” is not only lawful; it is perfectly constitutional. Besides, one person’s hate speech is their followers’ grievance, and we Americans have a right to express our beliefs, however repugnant.
Our knee-jerk leftwing pols rush to condemn McInnes but have been slow to denounce the “hate” that anti-Semite black leader Louis Farrakhan constantly voices towards whites and especially Jews, whom he castigates as “termites.”
Indeed, there was Farrakhan recently heralded, and front and center, at the funeral services for the beloved Aretha Franklin, rubbing shoulders and blowing kisses at the likes of America’s two other notorious bloviators of racial grievance — Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
The best and worst of our government officials — concerned, as they claim, about racial peace and harmony — have never attempted to restrict the speech of the Farrakhans and Sharptons or the right to assemble in protest much less to speak at a private gathering of the outrageous black apostles of hate.
But now, Andrew Cuomo and New York City local pals take exception and look for ways of curbing the free speech rights of white nationalists who march under the banner of pride and love of a formerly white supremacist nation.
White supremacy is taboo, but black nationalists and “I’m-black-and-proud-and-therefore-can’t-be-racist” elites are feted by black radicals and by white liberals. The distinction between a black hater and a white hater is lost on me — and on all other civil rights advocates who resent and oppose hypocrisy and racism of all stripes.
Still, one can object to racial idiocy and hatred of all kinds and simultaneously uphold the haters’ right to speak, to assemble, to be invited by others to speak to their flock. That’s not hypocrisy — that’s called freedom. It used to be a safeguard of democracy with which our civil rights and civil liberties groups once agreed — to stand up and fight for their opponents’ right to disagree with us.
That is no longer the case, as liberals have lurched to the lunatic left and openly questioned whether the resources of civil liberties standard bearers should ever be spent in defense of white supremacists.
That is a sure-fire bogeyman for lovers of freedom, because if only some of us (but not all of us) have equal rights when it comes to expressing our ideas, will who governs decide who is to be shunned or banned outright?
Andrew Cuomo, the governor, for one, misstates the law to proclaim that there “is no room” in New York for people who openly disagree with him and with the causes of the minorities and the other identity groups he champions.
And as far away as Portland, Oregon, another public official, the mayor, asserts the right of the local council to crack down on hate groups’ assembly rights under the government’s authority to stop protesters from fomenting or being participants in violence. Fights that break out are enough for the Portland government officials to stamp out constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly.
To be sure, the brawls and melees are concerning to the citizenry just as upsetting as the black shirts and black masks that street brawlers wear to hide their identity as they toss urine, brickbats, and sticks and stones at their ideological enemies.
Through an “emergency” measure — aimed squarely at alt-right and leftist wingnuts, Portland officials propose to limit when and where demonstrators may gather with and without a government permit.
The breach will be in the denial of the permit to demonstrate to some, but not others — yes — but the breach of constitutional order is embedded in the “emergency” ordinance itself, because such laws are unwise and unnecessary to the right of the people to speak and assemble and to seek redress or just to gripe.
As the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union reminded the local pols, there are already enough laws on the books “against street fighting and violence.” Thus, the “emergency” ordinance there — which comes in the wake of melees between the crazies on each side of the political pressure cooker is aimed at restricting the constitutional rights of the people whose ideas are disfavored.
If Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan can preach and gather a million to hear his idiocy, with full police protection, why can’t the police forces protect the assemblies of white haters and the unfashionable? We’ve seen this governmental mischief before:
At Columbia University years ago officials placed conservative speakers in the cold, forcing them to move outdoors. People who objected to affirmative action programs have been heckled; entire meetings have been disrupted where disfavored speakers appear or the topic is too hot for the room — or where security bonds were required to skirt cancellation due to the unavailability of sufficient police protection.
Lest we forget, when Nazi groups sought a permit to march in Skokie, Illinois, a mainly Jewish neighborhood, local authorities required the small Nazi group to post an insurance bond of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, and to give the government a 30-day notice of their demonstration, before a permit would be issued for their march.
As bad for free speech, the emergency ordinances back then banned the public display of “offensive symbols.” A saner ACLU in 1977 sued to block what they characterized as a “heckler’s veto” of the Nazis’ right to march.
Somebody ought to give Gov. Cuomo and Portland officials a copy of those court rulings — including the Supreme Court’s decision — which upheld the right of the detested, disfavored group to demonstrate free of hefty insurance bonds and prohibitions on their dress and symbols.
Not that the ACLU can be relied on to go to court to represent the Proud Boys or the self-identified “Patriots” who wear either black shirts or white shirts, they who disagree with the ACLU’s Resistance Movement.
Today’s national ACLU has brazenly chosen sides. And it’s not on the side of the constitution’s guarantee of free speech for all. The ACLU and other liberal groups — including the NAACP (of which I was the assistant director from 1975 to 1984) — are in full retreat from defending the free speech rights of those who disagree with them.
And that opens the way for government officials to make some pretty bizarre pronouncements about the “perils” of allowing free speech and assembly. My own civil rights group withstood pressures from government and liberal groups to cancel our marches in protest of anti-black, anti-gay, anti-Asian and anti-white madness.
For example, when we marched in Canarsie (in the wake of the firebombing of realtor offices that began to rent to black families) and conducted Unity Walks in Flatbush, and Crown Heights, to bring blacks, and Jews, and blacks and Asians together to protest an anti-Asian boycott of Korean stores by black separatists and anti-Semitic rants of black community leaders who accused Jews of being “interlopers.”
We faced down threats from local and citywide activists who were displeased with our integrationist agenda. We relied on effective community policing to protect our marchers — as well as on a contingent of Guardian Angels to safeguard the rear of our long line of marchers from being stampeded. Police barricades and motorcycles, as well as uniformed and plainclothes officers, kept our numbers safe from the brazen community activists whom we had decried as haters.
Through resolve, and our free exercise of speech, we beat back the anti-fascists and Proud Boys of our times — and the black militants and street brawlers, too, who sought to silence us and to break through our ranks.
We did not think others’ free speech could be restricted or that their racial rhetoric was either “illegal” or unconstitutional. We condemned their rhetoric and faced down their threats of civil strife. We welcomed the cops to protect our rights — and the rights of those who paraded against us.
That, we thought, was the American way. The advocacy and protection of neutral principles — in pursuit of free speech, assembly, and demonstrations were honored values and precepts of democracy, we had insisted.
The climate of suffocation that was attached to our positive campaigns for racial justice and harmony — aimed at we the good guys — is the same hostile climate that Patriots, Proud Boys and Anti-Fascist protestors face today.
Because a few hotheads or crazies besmirch their free speech assemblies through street violence and fisticuffs is neither a compelling or legal reason to disinvite or silence their leaders from the public marketplace of ideas or banish them from private precincts that want to hear their views.
Government, and most importantly, our police forces must be neutral arbiters, and as such be held accountable for the equal enforcement of the law, and for earnest, even smart rather than unconstitutional strategies for keeping the peace and protecting all alike to their free exercise rights.
There are no streets in America, much less City Hall itself, that are “safe zones” from protests.
Under our grand Constitution, ordinary people, as well as controversial speakers — those who disagree vehemently with me or with you — noisily and disrespectfully as they may sound and be, are entitled to state their case, to walk their walk, to raise their errant voice without suppression from the guardians of our free country.
Even pariahs like the Proud Boys, Patriots and Louie Screwy Farrakhan should not be forced into self-defense from the antics of the hecklers and their opponents. We can and should answer their idiocy and the gospels of hate, but we dare not restrict or ban their speech or assembly or their right to associate with their kind.
Michael Meyers, former assistant national director of the NAACP, and past vice president of the ACLU, is president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, with offices in Manhattan, New York.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.