Nazis, Communists, and Charlottesville
In the 1930s, two major groups clashed in Germany. The clashes were often violent and, at times, people were killed in these conflicts. The two groups were the Nazis and the Communists. Both sought to dominate the political conversation and, while both groups would eventually cause the deaths of tens of millions of people, their approach to totalitarian rule was different. They were both far more dangerous than anyone could imagine at the time.
Fast forward to the summer of 2017 and one finds a similar scene being played out in Charlottesville, VA. On one side is a far right group and, on the other, a far left group. One side has among its ranks member of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. The other has embedded in it anarchists and members of an anti-fascist group known as Antifa. In viewing news video of the violent clash in that beautiful Virginia city, it was difficult to tell who was who. Both groups were intent on inflicting harm on, and silencing, the other.
The problem is not just the violence and the peace of a city that was disrupted. The problem is that, in this nation, there is the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and the right to express one’s views, however abhorrent those views may be to the vast majority of the population.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
What this means, of course, in the area of speech, is that all political speech, and most other kinds of speech, is protected. In the 1950s, a chill swept across the land as a powerful politician, Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican, sought to root out and expose alleged communists in the government, media, and the arts, and silence their left-leaning viewpoints. In today’s America, leftists groups have successfully silenced right-leaning speakers who have been invited to speak on college campuses.
Not only have the courts found that Congress does not have the authority to limit speech but, for the most part, all speech, even hate speech and reprehensible speech, is to be protected. The rationale is that, if one can prohibit one kind of speech, then all kinds of speech can be forbidden. The framers of the Constitution felt that freedom of speech was so important that prohibiting any form of speech had to be guaranteed in the Constitution.
So, if the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members wish to peacefully assemble and speak their minds, that speech is protected. If those who oppose such ideas wish to counter-protest and espouse their ideas, that, too, is protected speech. But one group does not have the right to prohibit the speech of the other and violence takes the matter out of the realm of speech and into the area of criminal activity.
The scene played out in Charlottesville recently, if filmed in black and white, would have looked little different from the pre-World War II clashes in Germany between the Nazi and the Communists. When the mentality of the mob takes over, then reason and inhibition goes out the window. People who, under normal circumstances would never attack anyone, suddenly are caught up in something that changes their behavior and they become, no longer peaceful people, but part of the mob.
It was significant that a number of those on the left wore black masks to hide their identity as they attacked other people who, under different circumstances would have been wearing white masks to hide their own identity. Wherever the threat to free speech originates, there it must be condemned. In America, speech is protected. Once it is not, then no American will be able to speak without fear. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists in Germany wished to tolerate opposing viewpoints. Neither the far-right nor the far-left are proponents of free speech. That is why the one wishes to silence the other.
David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org