On Saturday, Heather D. Heyer was murdered by a neo-Nazi. 19 others were injured. The Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors in Charlottesville, VA during, or just after, a mass neo-Nazi rally. I’m not interested in parsing out the nuances of their ideological nomenclature—white-nationalist, white-separatist, etc. It does not matter what they want to call themselves. They were Nazis. Call them “Nazis with nuances” if you want. I don’t care. What matters is how we respond to an increasingly organized Nazi movement that has no apparent qualms about murdering the opposition.
As an organization that provides legal services, we know how we will respond. We will defend those who defend their communities against Nazis, ecocidal corporations, and other fascists. Do not confuse us with some other non-profit law firms. We choose sides. Those who have privileged the right of Nazis to speak and assemble have shown the inherent weakness of their idealism: That the ideal is to be preserved over the preservation of human life (or, if you want to go further, the life of the planet). Liberal idealism holds that, no matter the cost—whether planet or people—the “noble” notion of free speech should be upheld and defended (using police violence, of course, if necessary). It privileges the immaterial over the material. In the current situation, it privileges whiteness over all else. Don’t mistake this for an attack on free speech. It is an attack on the uncritical, unreflective, ideological conception of free speech.
Those that are defending the “free speech” of the Nazis, if they insist on measuring the morality of free speech with U.S. jurisprudence, have some learning to do. Speech in this country is not totally unrestricted. There are things you can’t say and speech activity you can’t engage in. The classic example of this is that you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater if there is no fire. Why? Well, that kind of speech creates an obvious danger to everyone in the theater. People are likely to stampede and hurt each other in their attempt to get out of the theater.
The Nazis are an obvious danger. We know what they do once they are in power. In the U.S., since September 12, 2001, Nazi’s and their ideological associates have conducted more acts of political violence than any other group in the U.S. But again, we don’t need to look at the recent past to know why these individuals are dangerous. The political program for Nazi’s is clear: destroy other races at any costs. Now, if anyone wants to throw the “well, actually…white separatists want to just be separate,” I would encourage you to ask any of the separatists in the U.S. where they want to have their special little white-haven safe space, how they expect to create it, etc. (hint: it involves the same genocidal procedures as the other Nazis). In short, there is a reason that there are exceptions to the First Amendment.
We should be asking whether an exception exists for Nazis. For those that argue: watch out, they’ll come for you next, I have some bad news: The state is already, and has been, engaged in the mass repression of the left, anarchists, and others whose ideology does not entail the worship of capital or the total and complete destruction of a group of people based on race or religion. We have tried to fight this repression with limited success.
The liberal and un-critical defense of free-speech needs to be challenged. We need to engage with the notion of free-speech in a way that does not merely repeat the empty platitudes often heard on the left and right. If we accept that some exceptions to free speech exist, e.g., “fire” in a crowded theater, obscenity, and certain forms of commercial speech, how far should the exceptions go? Further, for those of you that do advocate for revolution, is there an exception during revolutionary moments?
In the most severe crises of capitalism, many groups (though particularly white folks) have blamed people of other races, countries, religions, etc., for their social and economic woes. It’s always some other group of “outsiders” that is the problem for them. This system, capitalism, thrives on this kind of division. It prevents groups from organizing on a class basis against this system and, instead, pits working class groups against each other. We must fight fascism, but we also must fight the conditions that allow these groups to ever exist in the first place.