First Amendment, First to Go

Rightwing extremism is America's biggest threat?

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.

- First Amendment of the United States Constitution

DHS/I&A assesses that lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States... Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

- DHS Report "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment"

As the founding document of our Republic, the Constitution holds a revered place in the minds of patriotic Americans.  It is the ultimate source of the law of the land as determined by the Supreme Court; its meaning and implications are as relevant today as they were on the day it was written.

The Constitution spells out how our government is to operate; what political bodies have responsibility for which areas of governance; and, most importantly of all, what our government is not allowed to do.

Throughout most of human history, governments were limited by ability, physical power, or custom, but not by law. The King was legally able to do whatever he thought he could get away with; if he went too far, a revolution or coup might result, but there was no judicial check on kingly authority.

Our Founding Fathers established a new concept in human governance, that of a strictly limited government whose authority extended only thus far and no farther.  The Bill of Rights enshrines American liberties, delineating certain specific areas into which our government is flatly forbidden to intrude.  The most fundamental of these is the freedom of speech.

A moment's thought demonstrates how absolutely essential free speech must be to freedom of any kind.  If something is going wrong, you have to be able to talk about it to other people.

The grievances of our Founders against King George were communicated in letters between state Committees of Correspondence; published in newspaper articles; and expounded in public speeches.  If the private individuals with private grievances had been unable to jointly discuss the issues, they could never have made common cause and the world would be a different place today.  That's why, in totalitarian dictatorships, the right of dissent and free speech is always the first to go.

By definition, the speech most urgently in need of First Amendment protections is speech which is offensive to the rulers.  If you are complimenting and lauding the government, you don't need special protection; the ruler will be happy to cover for you.  If you're calling him a scoundrel, though, or disagreeing with the majority, that is when the First Amendment's power is essential.

Naturally, a good deal of speech protected under the First Amendment is vile: racist Klansmen spew their hatred in public marches, and anti-Semites call for the destruction of Israel.  It would be satisfying to order the police to wade in with swinging truncheons.

Precisely because their bigotry can be freely aired in public, however, it can also be combated logically; the Klan is a shadow of its former self, and though anti-Semitism is with us today as it always has been, never has there been a nation where Jews have been more thoroughly integrated and protected than in the United States. The more you dislike what someone is saying, the better off you are allowing him to go ahead and beclown himself publicly rather than drive his venom underground to fester and spread.

Given the clear benefits to national stability provided by freedom of speech, it is a truly frightening thing when the government declares its political critics to be criminal suspects.  Yet that is precisely what Janet Napolitano, Mr. Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security, has done with her recent report on "Rightwing Extremism."

There is no question that there are criminals among those who occupy what could be considered to be the right wing.  There have been zealots who murder abortionists; there have been survivalists who refuse to obey tax and weapons laws; and, of course, we all remember Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombings.

We also remember 9-11, where 19 devout Muslims murdered 3,000 innocent people, inflicting vastly more damage than "right-wing" criminals ever dreamed of.  Yet what was the never-ending refrain immediately afterwards?  That most Muslims were peaceable and should not be considered terrorists - a debatable point on the global scale, but when speaking specifically of American Muslims, absolutely true and absolutely right.

For the all-powerful fist of government to be directed at a group of people composing slightly less than half the country with no significant and systematic track record of criminal violence, is appalling in its own right.  What makes this threat a clear and present danger to American liberty is that the left has already long since established a pattern, not of defeating their intellectual opponents in the marketplace of ideas, but of aggressive censorship of views they disagree with.  David Limbaugh brings us a review:

Ohio state employee Vanessa Niekamp said she was ordered to run a child-support check on Joe the Plumber, the man who asked Barack Obama an innocuous question about redistributing taxpayer income... Democratic prosecutors in St. Louis threatened criminal prosecution against candidate Obama's critics. In Pennsylvania, lawyers for Obama wrote intimidating letters to TV and radio stations that aired unflattering ads documenting Obama's anti-gun record. The Obama campaign complained to the Department of Justice about the American Issues Project's ad tying Obama to William Ayers. Obama supporters flooded Chicago radio station WGN with harassing calls during its interviews of conservative writers investigating Obama.  On election night, Philadelphia police arrested a man who dared to wear a McCain-Palin '08 T-shirt at an Obama celebration rally. What's scarier is that the Obama crowd reportedly chanted with joy as cops arrested the man for exercising his freedom of political expression.

It's human nature for most people, including government officials, to do what they see others doing.  When dissenting views are expelled from the public square by threats and force, others watching will do the same.  An Oklahoma City police officer provides a sterling example of the result:

An Oklahoma City police officer wrongly pulled over a man last week and confiscated an anti-President Barack Obama sign the man had on his vehicle.

How dare he?  It's easy to say that everyone makes mistakes - but confiscating a bumper sticker voicing political protest goes against all that is American.  What kind of environment has this police officer been dwelling in where it would even occur to him to do this?

Napolitano's report emerges from the same craven cesspool of censorship.  Though it was released after the Oklahoma City event, the connection is clear and obvious - the bumper sticker protested abortion, and did not the Department of Homeland Security state that individuals dedicated to opposition to abortion are a terrorist threat?

The problem is that, in a democracy, government actions will always reflect actions in the public square and vice versa.  The First Amendment specifically restricts the actions of Congress, and by extension, of government agencies Congress establishes and funds.

It doesn't place any requirements on individuals.  If the Jehovah's Witnesses knock on your door, you have every right to order them off your property, but the government has not that right.  You don't have to listen to political speeches, but the government has no right to stop them.  If you like, you can even join the KKK - and you have every right to parade around in a tatty old bedsheet, but nobody else has to listen to you.

Even though the First Amendment applies to government alone, there is still a fundamental principle that patriotic Americans should apply, one best expressed by the French philosopher Voltaire at the time our Founders were thinking things through:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

If you don't like what someone is saying, debate them.  If you don't want to listen, leave - or if they're on your property, you can ask them to shove off, of course.  But demanding that offensive views simply not be heard is as un-American as is the government outlawing them.

Yet it is the standard modus operandi of the Left.  Consider the explosive reaction to the success of California's Proposition 8, the voter referendum banning gay marriage.  Homosexuals were upset at this vote - as they have every right to be.  But far more than that, according to Time magazine:

"My goal was to make it socially unacceptable to give huge amounts of money to take away the rights of one particular group, a minority group," says Fred Karger, a retired political consultant and founder of Californians Against Hate... Scott Eckern, artistic director of the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento, whose $1,000 donation was listed on ElectionTrack, chose to resign from his post this week to protect the theater from public criticism. Karger says a "soft boycott" his group had started against Bolthouse Farms - which gave $100,000 to Prop. 8 - was dropped after he reached a settlement with the company. Bolthouse Farms was to give an equal amount of money to gay rights political causes. The amount ultimately equaled $110,000.

Blackmailing and browbeating your political opponents, even forcing them to resign from their jobs, is against hate?  It is precisely because of First Amendment freedom of speech that homosexuals have been able to successfully protest laws of centuries' standing which outlawed their private choices - and now they wish to deny those same rights to people who disagree with them?  If the cause of the homosexual is a just one, they should be confident in their ability to persuade, bullying not required.

It's questionable enough to "name and shame" people who support your political opponents.  It's quite another to do so to what amounts to an innocent bystander.  Yet that's exactly what just happened in the Miss USA contest.  The Houston Chronicle reports:

In the recent Miss USA pageant... Carrie Prejean representing the State of California was the front-runner.  She drew a question by celebrity blogger Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. who posts under the pseudonym Perez Hilton, the "Queen of Mean."

His question: "Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage.  Do you think every state should follow suit?  Why or why not?"

Her response:  "We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."

The result:  The front-runner fell to first runner up and Miss North Carolina took the crown.

The aftermath:  Perez Hilton goes on a blogging tirade [involving outrageous misogynistic vulgarities -ed] against Carrie Prejean's answer.  He later apologizes for his remarks, but then retracts his apology.  "She lost it because of that question," he admits.  "She was definitely the front-runner before that."

What, precisely, does the issue of homosexual marriage - or views on any sexual behavior at all, for that matter - have to do with a beauty contest?  The contestants are there for their personal beauty (obviously) and their talents; it's not supposed to be a political rally.

As an independent entity, the Miss USA pageant has the right to run their show however they please, but that doesn't make it right.  What could the purpose of this crass performance be, except to frighten into silence anyone else opposed to the homosexual agenda?

Miss California is to be commended for standing by her remarks even when given the opportunity to retract them, and even after the scandalously bigoted behavior of the pageant judges and organizers; she showed herself to be far more "Miss USA" than the actual winner.  How many others will be as brave?

For all the accusations that President George W. Bush trashed the Constitution, the accusers revealed themselves as liars every time their claims were heard.  A true dictator, instead of allowing noisy protesters to camp out complaining in front of his front gate, would whisk them off to prison.

How, if anti-war protesters were somehow being oppressed, did they appear on the news every night and the streets of our capital with near-equal frequency?  The only government response to their views was to disregard them, but never to shut them up.

As Barack Obama famously reminded Republican leaders, he won the election.  That gives him every right to ignore what conservatives or Republicans might wish him to do.  Never does it give him, any government official, or anyone else the authority to push opposing views off the air entirely.

Wasn't it just a few months ago that we were being told "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"?  Not anymore.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments
We are having huge problems with loss of freedom of speech north of the border here in Canada. I would recommend doing some reading about The Canadian human rights commissions and Ezra Levant's fight over his publishing of the Danish cartoons. Highly recommended are his blog, youtube videos and his book called Shakedown. This is truly scary stuff! Learn from your neighbor's problems. Hold on to your freedom of speech!
April 29, 2009 5:46 PM
You're missing the most important aspect that makes the targeting of right wing groups and individuals right and proper. The left is right and the right is well... wrong. Therefore it is their moral responsibility to shut us up.

Put me on the list of people who believe that state governments should be where power should belong. I've read the 10th Amendment, a pity our politicians can't be bothered to read such a trivial and long document like the Constitution of the United States.
May 1, 2009 9:55 AM
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