Free Speech? What’s That?

It is no secret to anyone who has been paying attention that the Left’s commitment to free speech–perhaps never strong in the first place–has been eroding rapidly. Now even the American Civil Liberties Union is beginning to backtrack on the First Amendment. The Associated Press reports:

Faced with an angry backlash for defending white supremacists’ right to march in Charlottesville, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronting a feeling among some of its members that was once considered heresy: Maybe some speech isn’t worth defending.

Traditionally, the ACLU has recognized that the question isn’t whether the content of any particular speech is worth defending, but rather, whether the right to speak is worth defending. Departure from that principle would represent a radical change.

Cracks in the ACLU’s strict defense of the First Amendment no matter how offensive the speech opened from the moment a counter-protester was killed during the rally in Virginia. Some critics said the ACLU has blood on its hands for persuading a judge to let the Aug. 12 march go forward.

This is absurd. Neither the ACLU nor the judge authorized the driver of a car to run into another car, which hit a third car, which in turn plowed into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.

The backlash, reminiscent of one that followed the ACLU’s 1978 defense of a neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a large number of Holocaust survivors, set off a tumultuous week of soul-searching and led to a three-hour national staff meeting in which the conflict within the group was aired.

What resulted was an announcement that the ACLU will no longer stand with hate groups seeking to march with weapons, as some of those in Charlottesville did.

This makes little sense, for three reasons. 1) Weapons–I assume the reference is to guns–had nothing to do with what happened in Charlottesville. 2) Assuming that demonstrators are legally carrying weapons, the ACLU now says that the exercise of their Second Amendment rights negates their First Amendment rights. This is certainly not true as a legal matter. 3) A lot probably turns on the definition of “hate groups.” The antifas always carry weapons–baseball bats, ax handles, bags of urine and so on. In my opinion, they are a hate group. Will the ACLU withhold its sanction from all protest activity by the antifas? Somehow, I doubt it.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, K-Sue Park, a race studies fellow at the UCLA School of Law, argued that the ACLU’s defend-in-all-cases approach to the First Amendment “perpetuates a misguided theory that all radical views are equal,” adding that group is “standing on the wrong side of history.”

The “wrong side of history” means “I disagree with them.” If the ACLU adopts the “I disagree with them” standard, its days as a principled defender of freedom are over.

If liberals are wavering in their defense of the right to actual speech, they have no problem invoking the concept of free speech when it comes to vandalism, malicious destruction of property, defamation, and so on. Tom Steward reports at

Environmental protests have become an accepted cost of doing business for companies involved in natural resource projects–until now. Energy Transfer Partners has just filed suit against Greenpeace and two other protest groups that held up the Dakota Access pipeline project for months last year.

The Texas pipeline company has invoked federal racketeering laws to seek damages that could reach $1 billion, according to the AP.

The company alleges that the groups’ actions interfered with its business, facilitated crimes and acts of terrorism, incited violence, targeted financial institutions that backed the project and violated racketeering and defamation laws. The company seeks a trial and monetary damages, noting that disruptions to construction alone cost it at least $300 million and requesting triple damages.

The group of defendants “is comprised of rogue environmental groups and militant individuals who employ a pattern of criminal activity and a campaign of misinformation for purposes of increasing donations and advancing their political or business agendas,” the company said in a statement.

That sounds pretty bad. How does Greenpeace intend to defend?

Greenpeace attorney Tom Wetterer said the lawsuit is “meritless” and part of “a pattern of harassment by corporate bullies.” The lawsuit is “not designed to seek justice, but to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation,” Wetterer said.

But does the issue here have anything to do with speech?

The pipeline company’s lawsuit alleges protesters undertook a series of illegal acts from pipeline vandalism to cyberattacks. The FBI recently raided the home of two Des Moines protesters “who have publicly claimed to have vandalized the pipeline.”

The company alleges that members of the network used torches to cut holes in the pipeline, manufactured phony satellite coordinates of Indian cultural sites along the pipeline’s path, exploited the Standing Rock Sioux, launched cyberattacks on company computer systems, damaged company equipment, threatened the lives of company executives, supported ecoterrorism and even funded a drug trafficking operation within protest camps.

“The scheme’s dissemination of negative information devastated the market reputation of Energy Transfer as well as the business relationships vital to its operation and growth,” the lawsuit states.

So crime is free speech, but speech isn’t, if it is on the “wrong side of history.” I am drawing here from diverse sources who may or may not agree with one another, but I think the above formula is a fair description of where today’s Left is when it comes to the First Amendment.

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