On Aug. 12, journalist and white nationalist Jason Kessler organized the “Unite the Right” rally to protest the tearing down of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The Charlottesville rally was prefaced by tiki torch-wielding neo-Nazis marching throughout the University of Virginia campus, shouting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. The death of Heather Heyer and the injuries of 19 more have been written in headlines of each newspaper and broadcasted on every major news network.
While these events are utterly despicable, it is still important to understand what these people are rallying for. We all know that neo-Nazism is un-American. But how do we condemn those who believe it’s their fundamental right to speak up for their beliefs? How can the blame be on both sides? In order to understand this we must look at who these people are.
While the first amendment of the constitution gives the people the power to assemble, protest and express themselves freely, the legal standing of this amendment has been debated in the nation’s highest court. The 1925 U.S. Supreme Court Case Gitlow v. New York set the groundwork for boundaries of freedom of speech and the responsibilities that each citizen has while speaking, protesting or writing for publications.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Edward Terry Sanford, said the government has the power to condemn and eradicate speech that explicitly states a clear and present danger to the federal, state, or local government.
“That the freedom of speech which is secured by the Constitution does not confer an absolute right to speak, without responsibility, whatever one may choose, or an unrestricted and unbridled license giving immunity for every possible use of language and preventing the punishment of those who abuse this freedom, and that a state in the exercise of its police power may punish those who abuse this freedom by utterances inimical to the public welfare, tending to incite to crime, disturb the public peace, or endanger the foundations of organized government and threaten its overthrow by unlawful means, is not open to question.”
So, what does this mean? How do these neo-Nazis disrupt the welfare of the United States? This answer lies in that these men were trying to incite violence. They were successful in their goal with the death of Heather Heyer, the injuries of those ran over by said car, and the countless counter protesters beaten with clubs, guns, and sticks. In essence, they disrupted the peace.
President Donald Trump claims that the blame was on both sides and that the supremacists had a permit in an attempt to justify their actions. Yet this doesn’t mean that shouting racial slurs, saying “there will be blood” and acting as if Heather and the others ran over by the car got what was coming is protected by America’s fundamental rights. In actuality, these supremacists are acting in violation of our country’s groundwork.
“Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist,” Jason Kessler tweeted on Aug. 18. “Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.”
Since the American Revolution, we have depended on our inalienable rights to protect us from tyranny. Often we combat opposing opinions with the term “free speech”. It’s irresponsible to merely claim that Charlottesville was an act of exercising free speech. The origin of this right was to display injustice within a governing power. Instead those rallying for free speech are more interested in oppressing another group of people because of their skin color, sexual orientation or religious background.
Even though we all have the power to speak our minds freely thanks to the constitution, it’s up to each and every citizen’s responsibility to utilize language to the fullest extent, argue, protest, or simply speak for those who cannot. Words are weapons, but they must be used to protect yourself and others instead of slaying your opponents. It’s no longer okay to be complicit and silent; we must all take responsibility for our actions and exercise our fundamental rights.