Protecting Nazi rhetoric in the United States is not about the first amendment.
There’s a lot of people, perhaps asleep and believing strongly they’re taking a principled stance, that believe deeply that somehow allowing Nazi rhetoric in the United States is an issue of protecting the First Amendment. This is a lie, and our country needs to face the truth. That includes the ACLU.
I’m watching the news, just like a lot of you, about the Nazi rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly, when an American Nazi got into his car and plowed it into a crowd of people there. The people he hurt were there to condemn the violent rhetoric of American Nazis.
And afterwards, all day today? I saw it, already, the people talking about, “You have to protect the free speech rights of Nazis to protect all free speech in America.”
And it hit me.
Nobody knows what the hell they’re talking about on this issue.
Nobody knows the details. And somehow, weirdly, I do, because I know the case that became the ground zero source of this dumb meme we live with today, that protecting Nazi speech is about protecting all speech.
The case that most people know, or think they know, about this idea of a principled defense of Nazi speech is “National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977).” On the surface, we all know the story. The basic through-line, one that even the ACLU will sometimes allude to, is that the government (in this case, the people of Skokie, Illinois) have no right to restrict any political speech. Thus, to protect the political speech of everyone, the ACLU took a principled stance, fought this case on First Amendment grounds, then won a victory for the First Amendment and the freedom of all Americans, irregardless of belief. This idea has become so much of a part of so many people’s frameworks on freedom that the details of “Nationalist Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977)” have been lost to most people who vaguely understand this case. It’s become almost a truism, especially on the Internet, that we have to tolerate racist, white…