When free speech meets hate

Photo by Jessica Wade

Madeline Miller

With the recent events in Charlottesville, the range of free speech has been challenged more than any of us have seen in recent years.

The far right, especially those who consider themselves “alt-right” would have you believe that freedom of speech protects the right to be a Nazi.

With all due respect, which is basically none, they can pound sand.

The root of the freedom of speech problem begins in what exactly freedom of speech is. What it means is the government cannot imprison you for criticizing them and speaking your mind.

It does not mean that no one can hold you accountable for your words. It does not mean you cannot lose your job, your friends, your family or your future for posting some racist meme on Facebook.

It does not mean no one can call you out on your racism or sexism or what have you.

And it does not even mean that you cannot face legal consequences for what you say.

Maybe to some they are just words; maybe some believe them. Either way, they are causing real and tangible damage.

Damage such as the terror attack on peaceful protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather D. Heyer, 32, has been identified as the sole fatality of the attack perpetrated by James Alex Fields, Jr., 20.

Fields has been pictured holding a flag with the emblem of white nationalist group Vanguard America on the very same day as the attack. He was known as “the Nazi” around his high school.

And how does our president respond to such violence? By blaming the peaceful protesters and white nationalists in equal parts, putting a non-violent demonstration at the same level as a march with the chant “Jews will not replace us.”

Someday, hopefully soon, he is going to have to learn that lying is not a protected act. Trying to push blame onto victims will further alienate his detractors and further radicalize his supporters. We cannot be sure that is not what he wants.

President Trump and all his little fascist buddies, including the prince of Breitbart and alcoholic bloat Steve Bannon, truly want us to believe that freedom of speech includes the freedom to be a Nazi.

Spoiler alert: it does not. Your rights to say whatever you think end exactly where another person’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness begin.

I fully realize and acknowledge that I will probably be on some NSA or FBI watch list for this. I accept that responsibility and welcome my brand new observers. I hope you all like watching me talk to my cat.

But some time in your life, you are just going to have to punch a Nazi, literally or metaphorically. It is our moral responsibility to show them exactly where their “freedom of speech” stops.