Friday, January 14, 2011

Free speech and threats

There have been a number of laws proposed in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting that would punish speech that advocated acts of violence. The upside, say advocates of such a law, is that random crazies would have only their own voice inside their head to tell them to kill, and thus be less likely to kill. It would also dial down the heat of the rhetoric in the political environment and make it much more likely that we could figure out some way to get along rather than kill each other.

The other side, on the other hand, says it'd be a violation of the 1st Amendment to outlaw general threats. Note that specific threats of a specific act of violence against a specific person are already illegal, and nobody has ever honestly proposed that we legalize these. So what is the difference between saying, "Kill George Soros", and "Kill the Jews"? Either one is a threat. Just ask any Jew who has ever been the target of the latter what goes through his or her body when someone advocates "kill the Jews". It's a sick feeling at the pit of your stomach, a fluttering of the heart, a panic'ed feeling in your head... it's the exact same as a specific threat against a specific Jew, in other words. And, in my opinion, should be treated the same way -- just as it is in every other Western nation, and just as it was here in the United States before Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969.

So here's my question to those who say that outlawing advocacy of violence is tyranny: Was the United States a tyranny before June 9, 1969? Is Canada a tyranny? Is Great Britain a tyranny? Is Australia -- a nation which doesn't even have a Bill of Rights in their Constitution because a Constitution is just a piece of paper and they rely on democracy, not a piece of paper, to defend their liberties -- a tyranny?

If outlawing advocacy of violence, as EVERY SINGLE WESTERN DEMOCRACY did after the events of 1939-1945 where some German dictator used violent speech to incite his people to exterminate most of the ethnic minorities of Europe, is "tyranny" -- does that mean that only the United States is free, and only since June 9, 1969? Or are you saying that, unlike every other citizen of a democracy on this planet, Americans simply can't handle such a ban on violent speech? If the latter, why do you hate America?

As for the argument, "but who decides what's violent speech?", we have a mechanism for that in a democracy. It's called a COURT OF LAW. The whole point of a jury is to listen to the facts of a case, then decide whether something is a violation of the law or not. Juries also have a bad habit of refusing to enforce laws that they feel step over the line, such as the recent case that I referenced here where a Montana court couldn't seat a jury because they couldn't find a juror who'd convict someone arrested for less than an ounce of marijuana. In short, we already have the mechanism in place to decide things like this in a way that respects our democratic processes and the rights of our people.

In short, I believe Brandenburg v. Ohio was wrong. Advocating violence has no place in political speech -- what the 1st Amendment was written to protect -- and we have examples all over the world that outlawing advocating violence does not result in tyranny and does *not* impact the ability of people to engage in the vigorous political discourse of a democracy. Go read the British press such as the Independent or the Guardian or the even rougher tabloids. They criticize their government in ways that would have the editors of the Washington Post and New York Times collapsing on their fainting couches with a case of the vapors. If that kind of vigorous political discourse is "tyranny", then I say we need more of it here in America, yo!

-- Badtux the International Penguin


  1. Something that hasn't exactly filtered into the national consciousness is the role radio played in the Rwanda genocide. Pretty chilling stuff, and a perfect example of propaganda going off the deep end.

  2. American's are simply butt-ignorant.

    Regressives like it that way, since ignorant people are easy to sway, since they don't know how to think.

    Top of the list of things regressives hate:
    Free thought



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