When "Free Speech" Kills

A chalk mural of Heather Heyer, murdered by a white supremacist hitting her and other anti-racist protesters with his car, adorns the Charlottesville Downtown Mall on August 16, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo: Bored_Grrl)A chalk mural of Heather Heyer, murdered by a white supremacist hitting her and other anti-racist protesters with his car, adorns the Charlottesville Downtown Mall on August 16, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo: Bored_Grrl)

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The way we were going, this was always going to end in blood. Every person who’s ever misused arguments for free speech to defend Nazis or white supremacists  —  just so they could puff out their chests and apocryphally quote Voltaire with smug certitude  —  has some measure of Heather Heyer’s blood on their hands.

The road that James Alex Fields Jr. sped down was paved with countless editorials in major newspapers and magazines that positioned student movements or black women on Twitter as existential threats to “free speech.” It was paved by those who said they were less afraid of Richard Spencer than the man who punched him. It was paved by countless people saying, “they’re just words” or “it’s just the internet, it’s not real life” in defence of extremists’ vitriol, never realizing that such statements are not mere words on the wind: they are promises.

After all, how many times have we seen white people online call for mowing down protesters? What happened in Charlottesville wasn’t even the first time someone went out and actually did it. As a recent Slate article notes: “On July 10, 2016  —  the same day a South Carolina fire captain threatened to run over BLM protesters who had shut down Interstate 126  —  an SUV driver in southern Illinois plowed through a group of BLM protesters after yelling ‘All lives matter, not blacks, all lives.'”

That was over a year ago, and we should have seen then how quickly hateful social media slogans quickly become action.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Heyer’s…

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