Demonstrators hold shields and flags during the “Unite the Right” free speech rally at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on August 12, 2017 - Courtesy of The Independent, via the NYT

August 26, 2017 Zach Skerl 0Comment

The First Amendment is paramount to our society.

By now, everyone has heard about the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. The media and talking heads have all offered their opinions and viewpoints (some might even say “narratives”) on the matter, so I believe a recap would be redundant at this point. However, the media missed the overarching theme on the matter, and Republicans should be wary because of it. Yes, Neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right, and the KKK are extremist groups and should be disavowed on all levels; but once you use violence and illegal means to shut down free speech, it’s an infringement on all of our First Amendment rights.

Today, the Neo-Nazis and the Klan are the far-right extremists. If their constitutional right to free speech (no matter how much you may disagree with it) gets shut down and it becomes acceptable — or even commonplace — to use violence to silence their voices, whose voice will be silenced next? Republicans, Libertarians, and the like could be deemed “right-wing extremists” following the removal of actual extremist groups, and will all be targeted by increasingly prevalent and violent far-left groups such as Antifa and the so-called “Alt-Left.”

If violence against people who don’t share your viewpoint is condoned by the media and some on the Left, we as a nation start down a slippery slope of rights revocation. Encouraging people to “punch a Nazi” and bring bats and balloons filled with feces and urine to counter-protest a rally is unacceptable any way you look at it. I very much detest both sides — fascism and communism have killed tens of millions — and believe that they were indeed both to blame for the violence, but both sides have a constitutional right to assemble peacefully.

“Instead of bringing clubs and mace to an event, bring signs and temperance.”

Gone are the days when even those attending a free speech rally didn’t have to fear for their safety and bring shields and helmets to an event. Speech organizers on any side shouldn’t have to be guarded by a security detail of their own members, nor should they have to worry about having medics in their ranks in the event of violence breaking out. Such a display of violence is shameful to me as an American citizen and is embarrassing to our country as a whole in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Arbitrarily declaring a state of emergency before the rally in Charlottesville was even slated to start at noon, defying a federal court order ruling that the rally must be allowed to take place under the First Amendment, and then having the police to stand down and let the two sides go at it as the attendees were evicted from the park and forced towards the angry mob was a recipe for disaster. It’s no wonder several people got severely injured and one woman lost her life.

Not only was the violence that ensued reprehensible, but so was the blatant disregard for the safety and constitutional rights of both sides displayed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, Mayor Michael Signer, Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, and local and state police officials. Much of the violence can be pinned on the aforementioned public officials and police for their utter indifference in denying attendees and counter-protesters their First Amendment rights, failing to separate the two sides, and allowing anarchy to follow.

Perhaps the most important and sacred right in the history of humanity, the right to free speech and peaceful assembly for the far right, the far left, and everyone in-between must be protected. Not protecting this God-given right for either side, or picking and choosing who it applies to — and who it does not — will only push moderates towards the extremes and lead to more polarization than we already see today. Instead of bringing clubs and mace to an event, bring signs and temperance. Instead of trying to infringe upon a person’s or group’s rights, talk to them and try to understand why they think and feel the way they do. The more honest and open discussion we have as a nation, the less polarization, violence, and extremism we will see as a result.

Follow this author on Twitter: @ZSquirrel_UC

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