The Left’s War on Free Speech

Those who love Trump—and those who loathe him—should think more carefully about the importance of free speech.

Whatever your views on Donald Trump, it is wrong to put the burden of responsibility on him for the violence at his Chicago rally on Friday.

According to the mainstream media’s explanation, the clashes inside and outside the rally venue were entirely due to Trump’s abrasive manner and provocative comments. But leftists don’t need excuses to intimidate and riot. They do it all the time. If Cruz or Rubio or Kasich were the frontrunner in the campaign, they would just as surely be targeted by well-organized leftist mobs. That’s because, for the left, it’s not about tone or manners, it’s about the revolution.

The left is even quick to turn on its own if its ever-shifting tests of ideological purity are not met. It was not too long ago that two Black Lives Matter protesters forcibly took over the mike during one of Bernie Sanders’ rallies. Sanders is hard left, but on that particular day, he was apparently insufficiently attentive to the concerns of Black Lives Matter. The leftist vanguard had moved on, and good soldier Sanders silently accepted his chastisement for not keeping up.

So Republicans are not the only targets of the revolutionaries. After all, the mother of all convention riots occurred during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago when the establishment Democrats failed to march to the tune of leftist, anti-war demonstrators.

Trump can hardly be blamed for that. Neither can he be blamed for the recent spate of attempts to outlaw free speech on college campuses. It’s well known that conservative speakers at universities are regularly shouted down, but now student activists have turned on the colleges themselves for their failure to provide “safe spaces” and prevent “microaggressions” (so called, presumably, because they are invisible to any normal person). By almost anyone’s standards, the administration and faculty at most colleges lean to the left, but as it turns out, not far enough left to satisfy the ever-expanding grievances of young utopians.

Likewise, the mayors of most major cities tend to be left-leaning Democrats, and their police commissioners are usually models of political correctness. But that hasn’t prevented leftists from staging numerous anti-police protests in cities across the country. Chicago witnessed weeks of such protests in December alone.

Viewed from a wider perspective, the violent protest at the Trump rally in Chicago was not a one-time reaction to one particular candidate’s supposedly divisive rhetoric. It was, instead, part of a long-standing pattern. Violence, intimidation, and unreasonable demands are the modus operandi of the left.

And not just in America. In Europe, violent leftist attacks on “conservative” rallies are more the rule than the exception. I put “conservative” in quotes because the European media refer to patriotic Europeans as “far-right,” “extremists,” and “xenophobes.” By American standards, however, many of them would qualify as liberals due to their support of the social welfare state. In any event, what brings these nationalist groups in conflict with the leftist media and the leftist mob is their opposition to immigration—particularly of the Muslim variety. For that sin, the media hammers them in print and the mob hammers them literally—with bottles, stones, and iron rods.

The generic name for the well-organized leftist gangs is “antifas,” short for anti-fascists—an Orwellian irony if ever there was one, seeing that the antifas’ tactics are thoroughly fascist. When anti-Islamization groups such as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) hold peaceful rallies or candle-lit “evening strolls,” they are often met by much larger gangs of antifa thugs intent on shutting them down and shutting them up. If they’re lucky, the peaceful protesters are protected by the police, and, if they’re not lucky, they get beaten up.

It’s no coincidence that the leftist media in Europe, along with the leftist gangs, so often work in the service of Islamic interests. The tacit alliance between leftists and Islamists has been in effect for a long time. In Europe, it manifests itself in the elite’s embrace of mass Muslim immigration. In America, it is evident in our leftist president’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood.

How does one explain this affinity? The short answer in that both Islamism and leftism are fascist totalitarian movements (for a thorough explication of the left’s fascist tendencies, see Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism). Leftists get along with Islamists because they are fellow fascists, and also because the left is a quasi-religious movement. Its devotees are true believers who find the meaning of their lives in spreading the leftist gospel. As with Islam, it’s best not to question the belief system of the left, because it is protected by strict blasphemy laws. If you disagree with the tenets of leftists, you are not, from their perspective, entitled to your opinion, you are committing blasphemy. And you deserve to be punished.

Rather than debate their opponents, the faithful prefer to silence them. Leftists are far more passionate about their ideology than they are about free speech. They have no use for free speech unless they can use it to further their own interests. For them, it is not a first principle, but a tool or weapon. Thus, they have no qualms about suppressing the free speech of others.

The media, which should be one of the chief guardians of free speech, often plays the same game. In browsing through a couple of dozen news articles on the Chicago protest, I noticed that all of them put the blame for Friday’s shutdown almost entirely on Trump. Yet all the evidence shows that it was student activists groups along with Black Lives Matter, MoveOn.Org, and various other leftist groups that deliberately planned to shut down the event. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Planning for the [Friday] event started Monday night when leaders from a range of groups gathered in a campus lecture hall. They included the Black Student Union, the Muslim Student Association, and the Fearless Undocumented Association, which advocates for immigrants in the country illegally.

The point is, this is not a civility issue, it’s a free speech issue. Leftist groups want veto power over what others say. As Robert Spencer put it in a recent essay:

In that scenario, you see, it becomes incumbent upon Trump not to say anything that leftist thugs might dislike, or he will have partial responsibility for what they do. Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich, of course, will also have to be careful not to “create an environment” that might force the left-fascists to shut them down as well.

In short, if you say the wrong thing, the left-fascists will riot. But who determines which words are permissible and which words are not? Why, the leftists, of course. And if they do attack you, you have no one to blame but yourself. You should have known better.

In this regard, the media tend to treat leftist mobs in the same way they treat Muslim mobs—as groups of individuals who bear no responsibility for what they do if they are offended. What’s more, the media seems to accept as legitimate the right of the mob to be the sole arbiter of what is offensive. The operative assumption is that if they are offended, we have done something wrong, and we’d better be more careful about what we say in the future. This, of course, is a formula for narrowing the boundaries of free speech until only politically correct platitudes can be uttered.

In assessing the debate over campaign rhetoric and tone, it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture. The big picture is that there are many powerful forces in the US and abroad that want to cancel free speech. In response to the shutdown of Trump’s rally, Hillary Clinton said, “If you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can’t control.” Clinton seems to subscribe to the notion that people aren’t free to control themselves when they are offended. Rather, they are assumed to be like forest fires: once the fire gets started, it has no control over itself. Therefore, speech has to be tightly controlled and it’s up to the political fire marshals like Clinton to decide which speech is incendiary and which is not. It’s no coincidence that one of Clinton’s chief agendas while Secretary of State was to work closely with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to promote anti-blasphemy laws and other restrictions on free speech. That should come as no surprise. Clinton is a woman of the left, and that’s what leftists do.

What’s worrisome is that some conservatives have yielded to the temptation to follow suit. Several Republicans have gone along with the idea that Trump bears much of the responsibility for the Chicago violence because of the “toxic environment” he has created. But the left created its own toxic environment long before Trump ever appeared on the scene. Republicans should be careful that they don’t end up aiding and abetting the foes of free speech. By letting leftist agitators set the ground rules for debate, conservatives are putting the First Amendment in jeopardy as well as their own chances of success.

And that caution applies to Trump as well. Trump himself is hardly a stalwart friend of free speech. He strongly criticized Pamela Geller’s cartoon exhibit/free speech event in Garland, Texas last May on the grounds that it was offensive to Muslims. He has also called for expanded libel laws which would make it easier to sue newspapers for criticizing public figures like Donald Trump. The irony is that such laws could conceivably make his own criticisms of Islam an actionable offense.

Those who love Trump and those who loathe him should think more carefully about the importance of free speech and whether they are willing to submit what they say to the self-appointed guardians of political correctness and their thug enforcers on the left.

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About William Kilpatrick 77 Articles
William Kilpatrick is the author of several books on religion and culture including Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press). His new book, What Catholics Need to Know About Islam, is available from Sophia Institute Press. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation