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The War on Dissent Continues

In West Virginia, a fifteen year old young woman, Katie Sierra was suspended from her high school for promoting an anarchist club and for wearing t-shirts with anti-war slogans. The Circuit Court upheld the suspension, but Sierra promises she will pursue the dispute [Salon]. I don’t know that this story needs to be commented on so much as just pointed to; we cannot tolerate this kind of silencing of dissent in the name of wartime security or unity — indeed, in times of war, dissent must be guarded and held sacred more than ever, since the moral debate is no longer about laws but rather about profound moral crises, about tanks and dropping bombs, about the lives of women and men, both civilians and military. You’re damn right that anarchism and anti-war protest is a disruptionand that is precisely why we must defend to the death the right to express it.

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5 replies to The War on Dissent Continues Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. S.R. Prozak

    Would we hear this outcry if she had been a Nazi or Ecofascist? No. The compassionate voices in this country need to clean house.

· April 2002 ·

  1. Charles W. Johnson

    Civil libertarian free speech groups such as the ACLU have a long record of fighting for the free speech rights of those with whom they sharply disagree – including the Ku Klux Klan and fascist groups. Perhaps you recall the Supreme Court case of Skokie v. Collin?

    Would there be the same level of back-up from the social justice community if we were talking about a fascist advocate? No, of course not, and there’s no reason why we should expect there to be. Why? For the same reason that there aren’t a lot of fascists standing up for Katie Sierra. Because people tend to be more strongly attached to crisis cases in which their own values need defense.

    Standing on principle for the free speech of everyone, including those with whom you sharply disagree, is necessary if we claim to hold to a principle of free speech. But while you can expect the support of civil libertarians in struggles for free speech, you can’t expect the same amount of energy to be put into the activist effort as when we ourselves are directly under attack, any more than we expect the same amount of energy to be put in by you.

· May 2002 ·

  1. S.R. Prozak

    The ACLU hasn’t stood up for any groups that don’t fit their definition of the norm. Don’t call it free speech unless you mean it; the definition you’re looking for is “standing up for your own.” Further, don’t make any assumptions about my political beliefs. (I would also argue that Nazis and other ultra-ideological groups believe that they’re doing the best for the “whole” and so are unconcerned with some particular cases, but that’s a whole essay)

  2. Charles W. Johnson

    “The ACLU hasn’t stood up for any groups that don’t fit their definition of the norm.”

    This is either ignoance or a lie. The ACLU has repeatedly condemned neo-fascist groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate organizations. Howeer, they have a long history of defending their rights to free speech. The most famous example of this is the 1978 case Smith v. Collin, in which Jewish lawyer David Goldberger of the ACLU represented the National Socialist Party of America in their challenge to the ban passed by Skokie, Illinois (where one out of every six Jewish residents was a Holocaust survivor). The ACLU pursued the case to the Supreme Court and won; the ban was overturned (although the Nazis never did use the legal opportunity to march in Skokie).

    Here is a short list from five minutes of web research on other cases in which the ACLU fought on behalf of free speech even though they found the content of the speech repugnant:

    I’m sure you can find more references if you try. Of course, I suppose you could claim that the Ku Klux Klan and the National Socialist Party of america are within the ACLU’s definition of the "norm," but if so you’ve got a bizarre definition of the "norm," and I wonder who exactly you are thinking of that you think the ACLU fails to defend.

    “Don’t call it free speech unless you mean it; the definition you’re looking for is ‘standing up for your own.'”

    This, again, is nonsense. I defend on principle the right of Nazis, Klansmen, World Church of the Creator zealots, Hamas fanatics, Kach ethnic cleansers, paedophilia advocates from NAMBLA, incest apologists from the Father’s Rights movement, Army of God theocrat wannabes, Promise Keepers reactionaries, and lone wolf imbeciles and lunatics to exercise free speech and expression (so long as they commit no acts of physical force) without fear of government censorship or personal violence. Hateful speech is to be combatted with righteous speech and boycott, not violence.

    However, I, just like you, and everyone else on this mortal coil, have a limited amount of time and energy to invest into activism. And, as it happens, civil liberties activism is not my primary focus. Someone whose liberty from coercion is under attack because of views which I find repugnant has every right to expect my opposition to what is happening to them, but has absolutely no right to demand that I drop everything else I am doing and invest my energies into her/his defense. Nor does s/he have any right to make this demand against groups which (unlike the ACLU) are primarily concerned with other areas of the struggle for social justice. I am a human being, not a boddhisatva, and I cannot just drip compassion into every single cause that there is in the world.

    This should be obvious. Where is William Pierce’s colum in support of Katie Sierra? Where is the Michigan Militia’s condemnation of police violence against non-violent civil rights marchers? The answer is simple. They have other things that they’re busy with. I do not pretend that the membership list of far-Right groups is my personal civil liberties activism contact list.

    If there is a crisis case involving a fellow activist for social justice, I am more likely to set aside time and energy to invest in this case. Why? Because I am more likely to drop other things to invest energy when I am directly under attack. This doesn’t mean that I believe Katie Sierra has more rights to free speech than a neo-fascist does. Everyone has the same rights to demand that they be free of government coercion. However, no-one has the right to make entries in my datebook except me. If I ever become a full time pro bono civil liberties lawyer, then feel free to call on me for defense of neo-Nazi free speech rights. In the meantime, I’m afraid that I’m busy with other things.

· August 2002 ·

  1. S.R. Prozak

    Maybe I should clarify my comments: The ACLU hasn’t stood up recently for any groups being challenged by ACLU bed-buddies such as the SPLC and ADL. A great example, although I do not support this group, is the Aryan Nations, who had their entire compound seized on pretense.

    Your carefully research facts are debunked as any form of monolithic policy, but I do appreciate the research. If I didn’t think it was ultimately part of a facade, I’d agree. But “free speech” in America, at least now, means “free speech within socially accepted norms.”

    Note: I didn’t see the ACLU standing up for the National Alliance during their various lawsuits, nor have I seen ACLU protection in any kind of meaningful way for the extremist arm of the environmentalist movement.

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