Don't remain silent at the sound of hate

Nazi salutes high in the air, white supremacists rallying on the town green, colorful banners telling homosexuals they are going to hell — this is what democracy looks like.

I know, awful.

But the right to say and do those things — no matter how offensive many Americans will find them — is that First Amendment freedom of speech thing that demonstrators in Portland rallied for over the weekend.

Which is odd.

Because as far as we know, the folks taking part in the Trump Freedom of Speech rally weren't jailed by their government for anything they said.

They may have been ridiculed, harassed, marginalized, ostracized, asked to leave businesses, refused service, lost their jobs or positions of influence because of the things they said.

But they haven't been jailed.


[Police images of seized weapons show potential viciousness of Portland protests]

And that's the freedom the First Amendment guarantees. The right to speak out without being jailed — though not the right to speak out without being criticized.

So it's easy to see that we wield the greatest power — punishing peer pressure — to stop the growing tide of hatred in America. We have to speak out.

Here's an extreme example — the white supremacist in the gym.

Richard Spencer, the "Hail Trump" alt-right movement leader who champions an American apartheid, complete with a whites-only state, was quietly working out in his Alexandria, Virginia, gym when he was confronted by another gym member.

"I just want to say to you, I'm sick of your crap," Georgetown University professor C. Christine Fair said to Spencer, as he was lifting weights.

"As a woman, I find your statements to be particularly odious; moreover, I find your presence in this gym to be unacceptable, your presence in this town to be unacceptable," she went on.

Spencer wasn't wearing a swastika shirt or handing out white power flyers at the gym. He was just doing reps. It was the professor who went after him. And she was relentless, calling him a "Nazi," then a "cowardly Nazi" after he refused to identify himself.

It got so uncomfortable, another gym member yelled at the professor for making a scene.

Guess who lost their gym membership?

Spencer did.

And his world howled that this was a violation of his freedom of speech.

No, sorry, folks.

"Most states ban most businesses from discriminating against clients based on the clients' race, religion, sex or national origin," law professor Eugene Volokh wrote in The Washington Post last fall, right after the election, about a case where a New Mexico company said it would stop doing business with Trump supporters.

The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from that kind of discrimination, while some states and cities also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status and other attributes.

[Pro-Trump rally in downtown Portland met with massive counterprotest]

"But political affiliation is rarely on the list," Volokh wrote. "A few cities or counties do ban such discrimination. D.C. bans discrimination based on 'the state of belonging to or endorsing any political party.' "


Spencer's freedom of speech wasn't violated. He can say whatever he wants without being jailed.

The Constitution doesn't protect his right to belong to a private gym that finds his political and social views dangerous and odious.

But what if a coffee place didn't want to serve a Muslim, a hotel wouldn't rent a room to black family, a baker didn't want to bake a cake for a gay couple or a restaurant didn't want someone with a wheelchair eating in their dining room?

Too bad for the businesses in those cases. State and federal laws prohibit businesses from discriminating against protected classes.

Neo-Nazi is not a protected class — at least not yet.

The ACLU is used to these sticky debates, and their attorneys have consistently stood their ground in protecting everyone's right to say what they want, no matter how disgusting. It probably wasn't easy to defend the Ku Klux Klan's right to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, a town filled with survivors of the Holocaust.

"I'm not defending hate speech, I'm defending free speech," said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, head of the Virginia ACLU, which has been hearing plenty about Spencer, who lives in Alexandria.

"As soon as you accept that it's OK to suppress speech, you say it's OK to suppress your speech."

But what about the rallies that seem so hateful?

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, had the wrong idea when he tried to stop that freedom of speech rally over the weekend. It was scheduled before two men were killed on the light rail trying to protect a woman in hijab being attacked by vocal white supremacist Jeremy Christian.

Christian, 35, was arrested for the killing of Rick Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, and for stabbing another man, Micah Fletcher. When he was brought into a Portland courtroom last week, Christian yelled, "Get out if you don't like free speech."

Dude, your free speech was protected at all those rallies where you threw the "Heil Hitler" salute. Killing two men and stabbing a third is not speech.

The protesters in Portland had the right to spew all their hateful views. The feds recognized that and rejected the mayor's request to shut down the rally because it could incite violence.

It was the counter-protestors who behaved violently.

Until they started throwing stuff, damaging property and messing with the police who were there to do their jobs, the counter-protesters had the right idea.

"The right response to speech you don't like is more speech," Gastanaga said.

"The real harm," she said, "is the nice people who say nothing."

So do it. Speak, yell, shout.

Don't shut the other guys out.

Just be louder than them.


Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com.