‘Violently silencing’ views slippery slope

KYLE DAY, Opinion Columnist

I had a social media debate a couple of weeks ago. Ok, fine, it’s probably the twentieth debate I’ve had this year already, not exactly remarkable for me.

I was debating with a friend of mine over the then-recent filmed punching of Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute and increasingly infamous figurehead associated with the alt-right. My friend was actually arguing that it is morally acceptable, even necessary, to initiate an assault against people for the crime of holding certain political views (specifically ones that allow or call for discriminatory treatment of others based on genetic traits) and especially for daring to communicate them publically.

This was disturbing enough, as the entire point of maintaining a free marketplace of ideas is to hash out honest disagreements and eventually arrive at a consensus over public decisions without resorting to violence at all.

But one particular horror came from a single comment by my friend’s girlfriend. She was apparently disturbed that we would not stand for unprovoked assault against another human being (which is what it was), saying, “I can’t imagine trying this hard to defend a neo-Nazi. The mental gymnastics must be exhausting. Yikes.”

Notice that she didn’t say “…defend a neo-Nazi shooting up a school”; she simply said, “…defend a neo-Nazi.” No limits, no qualifiers, no conditions.

To her, the crime of merely being a neo-Nazi (which I’m assuming for argument’s sake is a fair characterization of Spencer’s views) was enough to make anything that person says or does indefensible, and that anything said or done to that person somehow needs no defense. As though Spencer is not a human being with inalienable rights. As though Spencer or anyone else who thinks like he does somehow forfeits their right to be safe from abuse and harassment by virtue of their speech alone.

This was not an isolated conversation, either. Not only has Spencer himself been assaulted a second time, but other prominent figures associated with the alt-right have been targeted for physical abuse and harassment for the simple crime of expressing their opinions, that is, of exercising the right to speak freely guaranteed to them by federal and state constitutional law.

This isn’t even limited to public figures. At U.C.-Berkeley last week, a woman wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap was trying to attend conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopolous’s speech when she was pepper-sprayed by a masked rioter. A Syrian national was attacked by another rioter because he, “…look[ed] like a Nazi.”

Why is this significant?

American progressives claim to be proverbial knights against hatred. It is they who (often rightfully) call attention to bigotry and intolerance in our world. They prioritize protection for all people (regardless of race, gender and other characteristics) against maliciousness and injustice. In fact, all of these assaults, protests, demonstrations, etc., are done for the stated purpose of working against hatred and intolerance.

But these assaults, and the verbalized defense or downplaying of such (looking at you, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin), reveal that progressives are not actually against hatred itself, or even intolerance. Not in principle.

Rather, when push comes to shove, there is a (perhaps small but) growing segment of the American left that is perfectly willing to be as hateful, intolerant, vicious and even violent as deemed necessary, provided that only certain kinds of people are targeted for such malevolence.

Those who claim the loudest to be the champions of the “other” not only are guilty of “otherizing” to an extreme as to justify violence, but also consider articulated challenge against their “otherizing” to be “exhausting mental gymnastics” on the part of those who refuse to fall off the edge of the cliff with them, including true liberals like Bill Maher and Dave Rubin.

Truth be told, I’d rather not spend column inches “defending a neo-Nazi.” But this pattern of thought and action is too dangerous to go unchallenged. Left unchecked, it is a far greater threat to America’s social order than Spencer and the alt-right could ever dream of posing.

If there are certain views that we can violently silence, then, in principle, there is no view that we cannot violently silence. That’s a risk no American should be willing to accept. If you are, then, at the very least, stop calling yourself a liberal.