Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dissidents, Hate Speech, Free Speech and Propaganda

I saw Glenn Beck the other day talking about the shooting at the holocaust memorial. On this particular program he wasn’t so much reporting the facts of the case as he was regaling us with his opinion. It appears as if this man James von Brunn has set a tempest upon us with his despicable action. One man kills another and mainstream media personalities are suddenly condemning entire groups of people numbering in the hundreds of thousands if not the millions. One crazy, paranoid, violent old man, perhaps suffering from who knows what kind of brain disorder, takes it upon himself to murder someone in cold blood and suddenly he is not responsible, but shadowy groups of hate mongers must have been pulling his strings? One tragic incident and suddenly I’m hearing rumblings that one of humankind’s most cherished birthrights needs to be monitored by those in power, thus tarnishing the memory of thousands who died in defense of such rights.

Mr. Beck made a statement something to the effect that he felt “9/11 truthers” were dangerous, potentially violent people. He’s been saying things like that for some time. James von Brunn is a racist, angry, violent man whose actions may be judged as that of a madman. Mr. Beck used that man’s individual actions as an excuse to condemn many who are nothing more than peaceful activists or those trying to express a point of view that may seem unacceptable to the majority. Any affiliations James von Brunn may have had, be they with the 9/11 truth movement or with some kind of white supremacist organization, are incidental. Just because he went out and decided to initiate violence against others doesn’t mean that everyone else in all the organizations he was affiliated with are going to go out and start doing the same.

Glenn Beck isn’t the only voice raised against so called hate groups after this incident. I’ve read many a commentary calling for laws making hate speech illegal. All these commentators seem to believe that if people spewing forth hateful rhetoric were forced to remain silent by threat of fines, imprisonment and even violence then hate crimes would no longer occur. They seem to want to put the blame not on the individual who carried out a despicable action, but on people he never met who he happens to agree with on certain issues. These people who want to subvert the right to free speech by outlawing hate speech have missed the point on why the right to free speech needs to be honored and preserved no matter how hateful, vile or disgusting that speech may be.

On the surface, hate speech laws might seem like a good idea to many, maybe even to a majority of people. In fact, I would say the vast majority of people don’t want to hear someone spewing hatred and would disagree with what was being said. There are, however, some things many people might not have considered. First, unpopular speech is the very speech that needs protecting, for speech that most people agree with is in no danger of being censored. Second, who is going to decide what constitutes hate speech? I can tell you this, it doubt very much it will be you or me.

People in power would be the ones determining what constitutes hate speech. People in power are people with agendas. People in power are people who have a tendency to want to take care of their own interests and the interests of their friends and supporters first and consider what’s best for the general populace second. There is often found, on close examination, conflicts of interest between legislation being considered and the interests of those who would vote on that legislation. People in power are people who have biases. In short, people in power are fallible human beings who can make mistakes and do the wrong thing, knowingly or unknowingly, just like anybody else. Perhaps more importantly, people in power today may not be in power tomorrow. The best policy, in my humble opinion, would be the policy of I won’t censor what you have to say and you don’t censor what I have to say.

I suspect that if a hate speech law were to go into effect, it would not be long until dissenters would be imprisoned for speaking out against government policy. In fact, it seems to me this is already happening. The recent articles I’ve written about imprisoning journalists are examples of government curtailing free speech. A law prohibiting hate speech, or any kind of speech for that matter, is just another step toward legitimizing the attempts to silence criticism of government, for it is government personnel who would be determining what hate speech was and it is not hard to imagine that they would soon consider legitimate criticism as hate speech.

One does not even have to dig very deep or look very hard to see how easily such a law could be abused. A good example would be the disturbing thoughts and words of Glenn Beck. He has not hidden his hatred for the 9/11 truth movement. He has made accusations against them that in my opinion are unfair and unfounded. He has called them crazy and dangerous and yet I have never heard these groups officially advocate violence, nor have a seen it reported that they have. Perhaps some individuals who claim affiliation with these groups may have made some questionable comments or threats, I don’t know. If so, then those particular individuals should be chastised, exposed and held responsible for their words and actions. I am fairly certain, however, judging from comments he’s made, that if Glenn Beck could have his way he’d throw anyone that questions the official story of 9/11 in prison just for their beliefs.

It seems to me that many of the people involved with the 9/11 truth movement simply want a valid investigation into the incident. I don’t blame them considering the make up of the 9/11 commission that undertook that investigation nearly a year after the incident. They seem to me to simply want unbiased answers to questions that fester to this day. It seems to me that they are only asking for justice concerning a crime for which perhaps the wrong people were punished. It’s too bad that Mr. Beck seems to have developed a personal grudge against this group of people, which includes a large swath of the population, but he should know better than to condemn an entire group because of his perception of a few of them.

Mr. Beck has accused “9/11 truthers,” along with white supremacists, of wanting to destroy the country. He has unfairly equated in a very subtle way people questioning the official 9/11 explanation with racists. This is a card that has been overused and abused by far too many powerful people in the media. In the same breath he condemns people who may want to see certain elements in the government prosecuted for crimes they may have committed with wanting to destroy the country. It seems to me that Mr. Beck is far too caught up in group think to be considered libertarian, as he likes to call himself.

The last thing that perhaps Mr. Beck hasn’t considered is that he himself may be engaging in hate speech, or that at least his words could be construed as hate speech. Other media personalities calling for the enactment of hate speech laws are just as guilty of not considering this. If the “9/11 truthers,” or the white supremacists, or some group sympathetic to them were to gain power, they could conceivably use these same hate speech laws so many are clamoring for against the very people who want them enacted. Can you see how slippery the slope is here? Can you tell how easily laws such as this can be abused? One need look no farther back in history than the last election to see how power changes hands and laws abused by one group of people can be quickly used against that same group when the tables are turned. The real purpose of hate speech laws would not be to stop hate crimes from occurring, it would be to stifle dissent.

Finally, Mr. Beck expressed his fear that he felt there was going to be a witch hunt. I agree with him on that point, but unlike him I don’t think the witch hunters are going to go after Jews and conservatives. Witch hunts are started by people in power with an agenda, not by marginalized individuals spewing hatred. I think that perhaps he is trying to start and spur on a witch hunt of his own against people in the 9/11 truth movement and perhaps other dissenters who may have differing ideas than his of what is truth, how to try to make people aware of their point of view, and how to go about trying to bring change to our broken system. If history is any indication, then if ever a real witch hunt does take place in this nation, it will likely be one launched by the government, it will likely be used to snuff out those trying to expose a truth that some power does not want known, and likely powerful media outlets will help it along by spreading misinformation and propaganda.

Free speech is an ideal that should not be compromised. Do not let those who oppose it fool you into believing that they are trying to produce a more secure society. A government that can imprison people with impunity for one form of speech, can imprison people with impunity for any form of speech.

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