Free Speech For Assholes

I’ve been taking some mild heat on Twitter for this response:

Honestly, I can’t even remember why exactly I don’t like Gavin McInnes. Somewhere between his annoying appearances on The Independents and the amazingly awful crap he wrote for the cesspool that is Thought Catalog, I developed my opinion that he is a huge asshole. However, I also support a broad concept of free speech, so I support his right to speak unmolested. The combination just feels a bit weird.

I had a similar response earlier to the news that reputed neo-Nazi Richard Spencer got sucker-punched on video.

There’s something I find fascinating about the tension I feel when this kind of thing happens. I despise neo-Nazis and their fellow travelers, but I support their right to free speech. Those of us who hate what they’re saying have every right to criticize them, and the people who invite them to speak, and the people who come to hear them. But we do not have the right to use violence (or the threat of violence) to stop them from speaking, or to otherwise prevent people from hearing them. That’s not how freedom of speech works.

It’s tempting to allow a few exceptions — Nazis for God’s sake! — but exceptions have a way of swallowing the rule. Shortly after everyone got so excited about a Nazi getting attacked, protesters at a university apparently became violent enough that they shut down a speaking event by a gay Jewish man. That gay Jewish man was Milo Yiannopoulos, a noted alt-right troll, so lots of people cheered his being shut down for his “hate speech,” but note how quickly some people went from cheering a neo-Nazi getting silenced to cheering the silencing of a man the real Nazis would have sent to the gas chamber twice over.

If nothing else, this kind of thing seems like bad strategy. We’ve just elected a president who campaigned against “political correctness” blown all out of proportion, and now protesters are handing him real examples of political correctness gone too far. He even tweeted about the Milo incident and threatened to cut UC Berkeley’s funding. That’s probably an empty threat, but you can bet a lot of his followers agreed with it. And given Trump’s own hatred of free speech, is it really a good idea to be making the argument that some speech deserves to be suppressed? Trump would almost certainly suppress speech that the protesters like.

(Also, this incident got Milo far more attention than he’s had in months. Was that really a good result for the protesters?)

I firmly believe in freedom of speech, and for reasons both principled and practical, I have no trouble supporting the rights of Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Richard Spencer to speak and be heard.

However…I still enjoy it when bad things happen to to assholes. Especially Nazi assholes.

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