We must take a stand against hate without compromising vital rights

A counter demonstrator uses a lighted spray can against a white nationalist in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Bigotry and racism are awful and inexcusable.

The actions and chants of agitators intended to harass or intimidate those around them are a form of domestic terrorism. Neo-Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists do not speak for the people or the ideals of our great nation and never will.

The images and behavior of Americans with Nazi or KKK symbols or attire, signs and displays glorifying of a time and culture of violence, murder, enslavement is sickening and should never be justified or excused.

The actions of the driver of the vehicle who viciously attacked counter protestors were evil.

Words of unmitigated, direct condemnation is the least we should expect or demand from our nations leaders and President Donald Trump failed us by not delivering that message in a timely manner. The White House issued a statement today saying in part, “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

There will be some readers of this piece who will think I should stop here, but I’m not done.

I’ve spent the better part of a day reading as many firsthand accounts, watching videos and scrolling through photos of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The only thing I can say with certainty is this – there were individuals on both sides of the situation, protestors and the counter protestors, who arrived with the intent to hold a peaceful protest. Then, there were others who came to create violent encounters and cause trouble.

If I were to base my opinion solely on the headlines I’d think that it was just the white nationalists who were violent or who even started the violence but there’s plenty of evidence to contradict that. What we do know is the driver of the vehicle which took the life of a young counter-protestor was domestic terrorism.

I’ve seen posts and read pieces praising counter protestors for violently confronting those who came to participate in the rally but I can no more justify violent behavior by those who share my views than by those who don’t. Violence isn’t the answer. It leaves those caught in the middle of the two sides to live in fear innocent bystanders who just live or work around the areas of protests. Violence doesn’t seek to change the message it fuels the flames of hatred and injustice and cannot be tolerated by anyone.

Was violence the intent of the organizers on either side? Not that I can find.

It seems the neo-Nazi, white nationalists believed that their rally would grow their disgusting, ridiculous and unwelcome cause. Were the counter protestors not there, had there not been violent confirmations but instead peaceful assemblies by both sides would they have marched and chanted and then left? We will never know.

The organizers’ stated goal was to normalize hate and recruit more supporters. This goal (taken on face value) is based on a delusion that more than a small percentage of Americans share their view.

Without a doubt, that should be clearer to them today.

Those consumed by hate may have forgotten their outdated and vile positions have been already litigated in our nation’s history; we have moved past them. Decency, love, tolerance, community and kindness won out over hate and injustice.

People on the losing side will never be celebrated. Nor will those trying to resurrect their cause now be successful.

I’ve seen people – smart people – explain that the First Amendment doesn’t or should cover hate speech. That’s not true.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this and with opinions, which I cannot do any better writing myself.

So, read what our justices had to say, reported by the Washington Post

Samuel Alito (for four justices) in Matal v. Tam, the “Slants” case:

[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in addition to four justices, wrote separately, but on this point the opinions agreed:

A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.

We are living in an age where offense is too often taken lightly. In is an age where the younger generations seek to be protected from anything that doesn’t suit them or their positions. If we cower to limitations on the fundamental right to free speech and peaceful assembly, then we have already lost to those with whom we disagree.

We will not beat back the intentions and beliefs of jack clowns of the so-called Alt-Right by putting them in free speech boxes, limiting their rights or by outright ignoring them. We beat them by showing they’re outnumbered and that they don’t represent either true conservatives or the spirit and will of Americans as a whole.

I’m disappointed in Trump’s weak, non-specific statement.

The president could (and still should) do better. There were bad actors on both sides – that is an undisputed fact. But to not call out those intending to promote evil was wrong.

This should be said again and again — until the light has chased out the darkness — that the goals of their movement deserve no respect and will fail again.

We don’t and won’t have to compromise our freedom to placate their sickness.

There’s a scene from the movie The American President that fits today’s conversation well.

You can view it here: