Well, this is definitely the most depressing and tragic thing I’ve ever had to talk about.
I’ve spent literally every day since August 11th, either on social media or in one-to-one talks, discussing the horrible events that occurred in Charlottesville and the aftermath in its wake. And I’ve been coming across the same exhausting argument every time since then – “I hate what the white nationalists have done and what they represent, but we can’t do anything because they’re exercising their freedom of speech.”
So then, field operatives, let’s discuss Incitement and Imminent Lawless Action and how those legal concepts apply to these bone-chilling events.
Incitement is defined in criminal law as any act meant, “to instigate, persuade, or move another to commit a crime.” This works in tandem with Imminent Lawless Action, the standard by which we use to judge whether a person’s speech falls under the protection of the First Amendment or if it’s an act of Incitement.
Imminent Lawless Action is judged based on two legal standards that the speech must pass if it is to be protected. The speech (and speaker, by extension) in question will lose its First Amendment rights if, “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
So, let’s apply those standards to the nationalists, shall we?
Is their advocacy directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action? Well, when you fly the colors, wear the uniforms, chant the slogans, and preach the rhetoric of groups of people that are well-known and documented for violence against people based on race and religion, it’s kind of hard argue that aren’t with them. A lot of people have started claiming that they joined up as a joke or to troll people, but this isn’t the internet; doing stuff like that in real life isn’t as easy to write off as a joke. You MAY have started it as a joke and let it get way too far out of hand, but you still chanted slogans in public that promoted violence and murder and you need to take responsibility for that.
Was/is it likely to incite or produce lawless action? Well, I’d say running over a group of peaceful counter-protesters counts as pretty bloody likely to incite violence, don’t you?
Now, I’m not going to jump on this ‘Punch the Nazis’ meme that the internet is ballyhooing around because that’s just a stupid idea; It puts a lot of innocent people in harm’s way, makes white nationalists look right, and makes genuinely good people just as guilty as the forces they fight. That said, I do believe that the white nationalists and hate groups that took part in the protests should be held responsible; they should be charged with Incitement, punished to the fullest legal extent, and be sent a clear open letter to the world: responding to political discourse with a call for blood is not allowed in this country and those who do are not welcome here.
Responsibility to the responsible; kindness to the kind; tolerance for the tolerant. Those are my politics and I’ll stand by them to the end of time.