Is Violence Speech?

Well, here we are, back at our discussion of free speech. Free speech that is emotional, that expresses ideas we are invested in, whether they are socially acceptable ideas or anti-social ideas, may lead us to feel that words are not enough. After all, we still have some pretty primitive hard-wiring. Our physicality might be called into play. Thus free speech can lead to violence as it did this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Is free speech paired with violence the kind of speech we are guaranteed in the First Amendment?

Our forefathers were not very peaceful. They were revolutionaries. They backed their arguments with their fists, and guns. They fought duels. But our forefathers knew nothing of Henry David Thoreau’s essay on “Civil Disobedience”. They predated Gandhi. They did not know what Martin Luther King knew about peaceful resistance. Sometimes when innocents sacrifice their lives for a cause it is even more powerful than when combatants sacrifice theirs for a cause.

America has tried to move away from violence. Ideologically, we abhor it. We have advocated for peaceful coexistence around the globe. We know how violence destroys societies, or nations, or even civilizations. We have never truly put behind us the violence of brother against brother of our own Civil War. The recent demonstrations in Virginia which descended into violence were ostensibly about the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

The entire world was appalled by Hitler, at least they were once they realized that Hitler did not deserve anyone’s adulation. Once people realized he was insane and committing genocide on a scale and in ways most of us had never thought of, just about the whole world pitched in to destroy him.

So I say, despite our roots and our contentious forefathers, we are not a nation that believes free speech should have a violent physical dimension. We have wrapped ourselves in our “exceptionalism”. How is that looking now? Should haters have free speech? These folks don’t hate ideas, they hate people, people who are different from them. They honestly believe white people are superior, that Europeans rule by “divine right”. They were not around when other cultures and people had their moments on the world stage – Chinese dynasties, Byzantium, the Mongols and more, so they do not know that power has been owned by people who were not Europeans, not Westerners.

So because we, the “exceptionalists,” have not all yet learned how to handle diverse peoples, skin colors, or religions, these people, these neo-Nazis, these white supremacists, seem to think that punching shooting, running over everyone is free speech. However many of us believe that our planet is so small, so endangered, so overpopulated that we must at least try to forge common bonds.

Speech that comes with violence is not free speech – we know better here at the beginning of the 21st century. And we all have DNA made from the exact same chemical molecules even if they are assembled with infinite variety. The alt-right or the white supremacists, whatever they want to be called, should crawl back under the rocks that they came from if the only speech they want to be free with is hate speech. We must do better. We may be at the edge of apocalypse.

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