False claims to freedom: chaos in Charlottesville

By Leila Hashemi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/15 20:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution promises many things, among which are freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble peacefully. Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, US, these rights turned from freedom to tragedy.

A decision in February to remove a statue of an American general known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E Lee, from a park in Virginia caused a stir among the alt-right and the Klu Klux Klan. This is one action in a movement to remove Confederate monuments in the South that are considered by some to promote racism and the acceptance of slavery.

In an effort to "take America back," a major white-nationalist rally was planned for Saturday, August 12, that was supported by and included members of the Klu Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other white-supremacist groups. The participants began to flood into Charlottesville on Friday night, carrying flags with swastikas and other racist slogans and chanting Nazi slogans in a touch-carrying procession across the University of Virginia's campus. 

The Daily Stormer, a popular neo-Nazi website, encouraged rally attendees to bring shields, pepper spray and anti-fascist flags and flag posts, and to protect themselves by "any means necessary."

After the marches on Friday night, the protesters were met with counter-protesters on Saturday morning, and this is when things started to get ugly. Hundreds of American neo-Nazis and white nationalists clashed with anti-fascist demonstrators in the streets of the university town. The altercation became so out of hand that the governor declared a state of emergency, but not before a member of the white nationalist group drove through a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring 19 and killing one.

The incident is on everyone's tongue inside and outside of the country. While the US promises the right to free speech, where do you draw the line? The state was condemned for not acting sooner during the riots; the president was condemned for not calling out the protesters' actions that amount to domestic terrorism.

A popular YouTube commentator, Philip DeFranco posted on his Twitter account, "If you ever wondered what pure ignorance sounds like here's a small glimpse into #Charlottesville right now," adding a video of protesters holding Confederate flags, anti-Semitic banners and flags chanting "f*** you faggots" over and over.

In the comments section, there were varying responses. One Twitter follower said, "Free speech. Not saying I agree with them, but I will fight for the right for them to say it because it is a two-way street." Another user said, "I disagree and hate them, but this must be allowed in a free society. We cannot suppress expression."

Others opposed free speech when it is in reference to hate and breeds violence. One commenter replied, "So you will defend their right to free speech as they drag you off to die. "

While free speech should be a guaranteed right, we must realize that it comes with responsibility and consequences. Many leaders stood up including Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer who tweeted, "I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will - go home." The governor of Virginia also remarked at a press conference later that day after declaring a state of emergency. "Go home … Shame on you. You pretend you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot."

With the country up in arms and accusations being thrown to President Donald Trump for not having a more decisive stance or more harsh condemnation of the happenings, it is only fair for citizens to begin to feel weary of this new status quo in the US.

As freedom of speech and assembly is crucial in the freedoms of the American people, when do we stand up and say enough is enough? When does an assembly become a terrorist gathering of hatred that threatens physical violence?

Some believe the Charlottesville government waited too long to step in and that some of the violence could have been avoided if there was a stronger presence to maintain order.

People continue to clash over the ideas surrounding the issue of free speech and assembly even as the outcome of those freedoms gone too far is predictably disastrous. If there was no free speech, there would not be a route for change for more justice. However, many feel that openly slandering and wishing harm upon others based solely on their race and color of their skin is a form of terrorism. In this sense, the white-nationalist rallies at Charlottesville simply abused the freedom of speech or assembly, which is intended for furthering a democratic society, not undermining the values it should uphold.

The author is an editor with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

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