Quote Du Jour: On Nazi Marches

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

It is useful to consider the three primary arguments set forth by Skokie in support of its effort to forbid the march. First, the village argued that the display of the swastika promoted “hatred against persons of Jewish faith or ancestry” and that speech that promotes racial or religious hatred is unprotected by the First Amendment. The courts rightly rejected this argument, not on the ground that the swastika doesn’t promote religious hatred, but on the ground that that is not a reason for suppressing speech. After all, it the Nazis could be prohibited from marching in Skokie because the swastika incites religious hatred, then presumably they couldn’t march anywhere for the same reason, and movies could not show the swastika, and even documentaries could not show the swastika. And if the swastika can be banned on this basis, then what other symbols or ideas can be suppressed for similar reasons. What about movies showing members of the Ku Klux Klan? News accounts showing Palestinians committing suicide bombings in Israel or showing Israelis attacking civilians?

Second, the village argued that the purpose of the marches was to inflict emotional harm on the Jewish residents of Skokie and, especially, on the survivors. Certainly, some residents would be deeply offended, shocked and terrified to see Nazis marching through the streets of Skokie. But they might also be offended, shocked and terrified to know that Schindler’s List was playing at a movie theatre in Skokie, or in Chicago, or in Illinois, and African-Americans might be offended, shocked and terrified to know that the movie Birth of a Nation was playing in a theatre in their town or nation. And so on. Moreover, it is doubtful that the actual intent of the Nazis was to inflict emotional harm on the residents of Skokie. Initially, the Nazis sought to march in a totally different community in Chicago, one with almost no Jewish population. But they were denied a permit. They then decided to march in Skokie in order to get publicity for their grievance. Indeed, the signs they planned to carry in Skokie did not say “Bring Back the Holocaust,” but “White Free Speech” and “Free Speech for the White Man.” Making First Amendment rights turn on judgments about a speaker’s subjective intent is a dangerous business, because intent is very elusive and police, prosecutors and jurors are very prone to attribute evil intentions to those whose views they despise.

Third, the village argued that if the Nazis were permitted to march there would be uncontrollable violence. But is this a reason to suppress speech? Isn’t the obligation of the government to protect the speaker and to control and punish the lawbreakers, rather than to invite those who would silence the speech to use threats of violence to achieve their ends? If the village of Skokie had won on this point, then southern communities who wanted to prosecute civil rights marchers in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham could equally do so, on the plea that such demonstrations would trigger “uncontrollable violence.” Moreover, once government gives in to such threats of violence it effectively invites a “heckler’s veto,” empowering any group of people who want to silence others to do so simply by threatening to violate the law.

The outcome of the Skokie controversy was one of the truly great victories for the First Amendment in American history. It proved that the rule of law must and can prevail. Because of our profound commitment to the principle of free expression even in the excruciatingly painful circumstances of Skokie more than thirty years ago, we remain today the international symbol of free speech.

— “Remembering the Nazis in Skokie,” by Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, The University of Chicago

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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12 Responses to Quote Du Jour: On Nazi Marches

  1. Will S. says:

    Reblogged this on Patriactionary.


  2. plwinkler says:

    In the immortal words of Dick Cheney, So? The Nazis and KKK *were* allowed to march in Charlottesville, Va. What’s your point?


    • If I get a permit to stand in a park and speak, and some people exercise a heckler’s veto by shouting me down and then beating me up or otherwise causing chaos while the police stand idly by and watch, then the government has hardly protected my First Amendment rights. Protecting a person’s free speech right means more than obtaining a government permit. In Stone’s words: “Isn’t the obligation of the government to protect the speaker and to control and punish the lawbreakers, rather than to invite those who would silence the speech to use threats of violence to achieve their ends?”

      Instead, attitudes like this seem to be widespread, so there’s an implicit understanding that violent confrontation is to be encouraged: https://psmag.com/news/antifascists-have-become-the-most-reasonable-people-in-america

      To quote from the article: “What unites [communists and anarchists] (who have been known to kill one another from time to time) is a commitment to confront and defeat fascists and white supremacists by whatever means necessary.”


      Antifa hit the big-time in 2017 when an as-yet-unidentified inauguration protester punched 38-year-old professional fascist cheerleader Richard Spencer in the face on camera. The clip went viral, and the Internet memed it to death—now you can even punch Spencer in a mobile game! As the video spread, interest in anti-fascism spiked, and I can say, based on personal experience, that the attitude at demonstrations has changed. Where masked and black-clad antifa used to get wary glares, now it’s thumbs-up and “right on!” from kid-toting parents. Former congressman and Michigan institution John Dingell tweeted “When I was a pup, punching Nazis was encouraged. Hell, some of my Army buddies won medals for it.

      Do those sounds like the words of someone who values free speech? Before you dismiss the PSMag writer as some kind of fringe nut, his attitude is one that I’ve seen among many others. He says the “attitude of demonstrations has changed” and I have zero doubt that he’s correct. A culture that encourages this kind of violent confrontation is one that has abandoned its commitment to liberal values.

      Furthermore, in the case of Nazis/KKK, there’s a sense among the media, elites, and liberals/lefties in general that the very existence of the far right constitutes “incitement” so it’s perfectly fine for Antifa to violently prevent them from speaking. Nevermind that “incitement” has very narrow, well-defined limits.


      • amac78 says:

        Well said, Blowhard (I tried making a similar point a few moments ago, but perhaps WordPress is set to reject comments with an excess of sarcastic content).

        There’s also the news conferences that CPD Chief Thomas, Mayor Signer, and Governor McAuliffe held earlier this week. Thomas essentially explained that the massed resources of the city, nearby jurisdictions, the VSP, and the National Guard were caught by surprise when the Nazis/rightists (some of them armed) and the Antifas/leftists (some of them armed) started clashing — weeks of notice just wasn’t enough, and waddya gonna do anyway? I still can’t get used to the reaction of the lapdog mainstream press when presented with such a target-rich environment. “Yeah, orders to ‘stand down,’ nothing to see here. No further questions.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • JV says:

        Yeah I agree wholeheartedly, and very well put. Also, the definition of “nazi” is getting pretty broad these days, so that violent reaction to almost any provocation or disagreement will soon be applauded.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Another progressive calls for suppressing “intolerant” speech: http://www.kottke.org/17/08/the-paradox-of-tolerance


      • amac78 says:

        Looks like even mild sarcasm consigns me to the spam folder. tl;dr version, the linked Mr/Ms Kottke is in a purity spiral, not a wisdom spiral. If the Left is so worried about American Nazism, they could consider discussing it with Deplorables before moving straight to denouncing and stomping. But this way is more fun.

        Liked by 1 person

      • JV says:

        What does “discussing it with Deplorables” mean? I’m familiar with the deplorables reference, I’m just unclear on what of whom the left should be asking about nazis.


      • amac78 says:

        JV — Sorry for the lack of clarity, that was the condensed version of a longer comment that didn’t make it through UR’s spam filter (I better keep this one short, too). Justice Brandeis quipped, “The cure for bad speech is more speech.” (At least many of) the rightists came to their rally to speak and to listen. Doubtful that Nazi or WN ideas would win many hearts, but they might have gotten some traction on the left’s passion for punching down on working-class whites’ heritage and interests. From what I could tell, the core of the left came to the counter-protest to fight, and to exercise the heckler’s veto. That’s not what Brandeis meant.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Spirit of Marcuse | Uncouth Reflections

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