One of the most noble protests in the history of protest was that of Thick Quand Duc, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who doused himself in fuel and lit himself on fire on a Saigon Street in 1963 to protest Buddhists’ treatment at the hands of the corrupt American-backed regime, and by extension, to protest American involvement in his country. He never flinched until he collapsed, consumed by the flames. And he started a trend, as other monks followed.
One of the most repulsive moments in the history of protest was when the South Vietnamese president’s sister-in-law then referred to the martyrs in an interview with an American reporter as “barbecued monks,” a remark then picked up in the United States.
Powerful protests unsettle the powerful, particularly the powerful who are entrenched, have nothing to lose and lob their invectives from a distance. You’d think Americans would have some reverence for protest. The First Amendment enshrines it as the first and most fundamental right of citizenship. But they don’t. They specialize in the vilification and suppression of protest however noble the cause, whether it’s Woodrow Wilson’s mass arrests of dissenters after World War I or Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower crushing veterans at the point of bayonets in Washington in 1933, whether it’s Bull Connor’s dogs mangling civil rights marchers in Birmingham or Gov. Ronald Reagan unleashing his goons on the peaceful gatherings at Berkeley’s People’s Park in 1969, or whether it’s regular folks, too many regular folks, reacting with glee and support to the National Guard’s murder on the Kent State campus of four students protesting Nixon’s Cambodian invasion in 1970.
By then the “barbecued monks” remark had come home in the form of “surly, foul-mouthed, know-nothing punks” who deserved to die, as people saw protesters, according innumerable letters that ran in the Kent newspaper after the killings. “The National Guard made only one mistake—they should have fired sooner and longer,” went one letter-writer. Words as fresh as today’s anti-protest vigilantism: recall how Dan Adamini, the Republican Party official in Michigan, described how he’d like anti-Trump protesters treated last week: “Time for another Kent State, perhaps,” he wrote. “One bullet stops a lot of thuggery.”
It’s still just words, though there’s a lethal difference between words of protest and words that directly incite violence.
What worries me isn’t the words. It’s the spate of bills in state legislatures that would do to protesters what words alone can’t: restrict, confine, suppress them and, as in North Dakota, make killers immune from prosecution if they run over a protester, as long as they don’t do it on purpose. It’s a perversion of a law inspired from the already perverted stand-your-ground scenario. Minnesota proposes to bill demonstrators for the cost of law enforcement, as if the right to protest no longer exists in Minnesota. In Iowa protesters who block traffic could face a felony and five years in jail.
The Bush administration not so long ago opened the way for the systematic repression of free speech with its cynical creation of “protest zones.” Anyone visibly protesting the president’s or vice president’s public appearances was barred from their proximity, even if it meant wearing protest t-shirts. The Secret Service routinely set up zones far away from the president or vice president where protesters could supposedly exercise their First Amendment rights, but out of earshot or even visibility of the president.
There was no point. If we can’t subject our public officials to relatively in-your-face protest, give or take a few dozen feet for safety’s sake, let’s at least not call ourselves either free or democratic. Zoning out protest is the very definition of repression. The Bush-era zones succeeded for too long, though more recently, at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, a federal judge struck down such restrictions. But the rules under President Obama didn’t exactly improve: he signed an updated version of a 1971 law that, as Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate, “makes it easier for the government to criminalize protest. Period.”
That many of the state bills (though likely not Obama’s Orwellian lock) would be nullified even by conservative courts is beside the point. Lawmakers, police and people who just don’t like to be bothered with the noise of democracy are feeling empowered to crush dissent, legally or not, which means the climate in the streets is as toxic as the language of the proposed bills and the language of radio and TV shout shows. Of course there will be blood.
In Florida, right-wingers are pushing a proposal to do what appears to be the opposite, give government power to prohibit limits on campus speech. It sounds good. College students on many campuses have turned tyrannical in their mis-application or restrictions of free expression. One survey found 51 percent of college students favoring speech regulations and 63 percent favoring the use of “trigger warnings” in classes, when any material that could make anyone uncomfortable for any reason is used. Certain speakers are routinely excluded from the campus circuit, as if their mere presence is a threat to college students who clearly skipped the seminar on John Stuart Mill.
Speaking of trigger-warnings: Bill Maher, host of Real Time on HBO (the same Bill Maher ABC fired in 2001 for being politically incorrect and saying, on a show called “Politically Incorrect,” that the 9/11 terrorists were not cowards), triggered a new controversy this week for inviting Milo Yiannopoulos to his show tonight. Yiannopoulos is an islamophobe with daddy issues cut out of the crypto-fascist Steve Bannon’s rib. He’s made carpet-bombing of vilification for a living, targeting immigrants and women when he tires of insulting Muslims. He’s also frequently blocked from appearing on campuses, just to speak. But being despicable is no reason to be silenced. If universities still extend invitations to the likes of Henry Kissinger (a mass murderer), Louis Farrakhan (a bigot) or Geraldo Rivera (an idiot), there’s certainly room for Yiannopoulos—more so, as he is representative of the ascendant nationalist sleaze now in charge of the country. If it’s defeating him you have in mind, Sun Tzu would not recommend silencing him. Beyond that, no point of view, however extreme, should be intimidated out of university halls.
But it’s not government’s place to be the arbiter of speech. The proposal Stanley Kurtz and the Goldwater Institute want to present to a Florida House education subcommittee next week would require universities to ban speech codes, forbid them to disinvite speakers, punish those who interfered with others’ free-speech rights (an ironic double-twist of those bills seeking to punish protesters) and even recover legal fees from free-speech battles, thus further opening the door to mercenary litigation.
In principle the aims are sound. But as principles, not as laws. The marketplace of ideas belongs in the marketplace, whether we like it or not. Campus speech codes are ridiculous. But so are laws banning speech codes, as are laws criminalizing speech you may not like, or laws criminalizing protesters.
It all seems to be the result of the amplifying echo chambers we all live in. We surround ourselves with like-minded media, like-minded friends, like-minded believers and scream heresy at anything that transgresses our little world. We’re a nation of intellectual cowards, uncurious but for the reaffirming dogmas we know best. There’s so much of what we’re comfortable with anyway (every pretend marketplace of our own making is intellectual sugar), it’s easier to skip doubt. Making the effort to transgress is itself heresy. It’s what makes it so easy to live in alternate realities, and so dangerous: we’ve cozied up to extremes in our own way of looking at the world, and are now surprised that extremists are in charge. No wonder we look at protesters as the worst of heretics.
But they may well be the last patriots. Freedom for the thought we agree with is as cheap as a Facebook click on the “like” button. “Freedom for the thought that we hate,” to quote Justice Holmes’s phrase—now that’s what separates Americans from thuggery.
Today’s protesters carry gas masks, body armor, molotov cocktails, and an attitude bent on destruction, not protesting.
Now to the practical Pierre
What do you suggest to protect the right of a speaker like Yiannopolous when protestors deny him his right to speak with violence burning throwing barriers through bookstore windows. What about the rights of those students who wanted to participate?
When protests turn violent and rocks and bricks are thrown at police or other people, that’s a riot not protest or free speech, rather a felony.
And paid protestors is performance not free speech to be protected even at the risk of preventing another person’s rights of free speech.
This is not a simple no rules no laws libertarian = freedom
We have that old thing about my rights end where yours start
This is so different than the swinging 60s and 70s when a lot of innocent do-gooders went out and spoke their hearts. Even then, some people were used and ugly happened, bombings, etc. Now, protests are often orchestrated and/or paid for by political groups with not noble goals. My own opinion is that bringing down a government and creating anarchy is not good for our country. Resist, destroy, ridicule, obstruct? The hypocrisy in the women’s demonstration not letting prolife or republican women help or the lack of note to the women globally who do not enjoy any of the rights women have here. Free speech also does not mean get enough people who agree with you together and BULLY someone to shut up. What a mess! This is the movement?
If you, Pierre, are standing in the Park with your commentary, speaking and a mob comes beating up your listeners and lighting fires smashing windows, basically threatening you and everyone, would you feel that YOUR rights are being protected?
The Ghost of America says
The older I get, the more I realize that embracing the gandhi or mlk approach of nonviolent protest really doesn’t get anything done. How’s police relations in the US since the various protests surrounding the shootings of unarmed black men? How’s the quality of flint water doing these days?
The government should fear the people, not the other way around.
Nancy N. says
Hear, hear! Dissent was the very first right that we were given as citizens in the Constitution! It’s our patriotic duty to exercise it…without dissent, we cease to be a truly functioning democracy.
Carol Rizz says
This is an eloquent defense of freedom of speech. Your last paragraph is nothing short of inspiring.
Your words call to mind those of famous men throughout history: Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it..” Churchill: “Some people’s idea of [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.” Noam Chomsky “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like.”
Thank you for them.
Cait Hutsellj says
You said it all.
Do you wonder where Trump, et al, will start their Reichstag fire?
Dave Stallman says
But our Lefty Protestors are protesting PROGRESS this doomed man in the pic is protesting Leftist Govts that kill dissenters.
Michael Winchester III says
Nothing says Patriotism like left winger protesters burning the American Flag
The vast majority of protests over the Trump “revolution” have been peaceful and orderly, and perfect examples of democracy in action. It is our right, even our responsibility, to question policies, to demand answers and to publically voice our concerns when those policies or answers are unsatisfactory. And to any remaining trump supporters still living in their post-truth alt-world, we will continue to voice our unalterable rejection of 45’s rogue administration. We will gather in force to demand, loudly and often, that our political leaders do their jobs to protect America from the scourge of trumpism. There will be no rest, no peace, no compromise until he is buried in the trash heap of history. The fight has just begun.
Peaches you are so very wrong about Trump protestors. More than 4 million people marched on November 9th to protest without incident. There were hints of the Russian interference with our election then and now we may even find out how deep this administration is involved with them. Now we have a group in government who are taking away health care, environmental protection, education, food in school for poor children, and way more. Yesterday’s news conference was an embarrassment and now this narcissist is having TWO rallys this weekend so he can get all the adulation from those who still think he is their savior. He is still campaigning and has not governed nor accomplished anything! He needs to get to work but he has no idea how to do it. In addition, relative to security, he is extremely dangerous. Those Americans who are working to try to meet with their absent legislators this week are real patriots, as well.
Protesting is fine but destroying property is a felony and blocking roads so people can’t get to work or the doctor is flat out wrong.
Well said Pierre.
Inspiring? You’re kidding right? Peaceful protesting is one thing. Violence, destruction of property and shutting other people up is not protesting, they are criminal acts. The only founding fathers that were protestors were Thomas Jefferson, who was too chicken to fight, and Benjamin Franklin, who was to old to fight. The rest were criminals! Thick Ducky was an idiot. What did he get? Dead.
PS This ain’t a Democracy, it’s a Constitutional Republic. Study the Federalist Papers.
What you say is so fake news…
Please don’t put all protesters in that tiny box….you know that isn’t true.
Last month there were 2,000 peaceful protesters in a Unity March across the Bridge of Lions…not one had
“gas masks, body armor, molotov cocktails, and an attitude bent on destruction”.
Richard Smith says
What a bunch of BS! YES…..People have a right to protest peacefully without harm to other people and without destroying someones property. Once they cross the line and hurt, kill or destroy property then they are no longer protesters, they are criminals and deserve to be locked up in prison for a very long time. Or better yet “an eye for an eye”, kill someone you die too.
This country has laws and they have been ignored for way too long. New sheriff in town, don’t like it, don’t like the laws, don’t like the rules, LEAVE.
Millions of people in the United States and across the world are peacefully protesting against Trump’s disastrous policies and all Trump’s defenders can see is a handful of protesters who became violent. Come on now folks, do you really think that even Trump has enough money to pay millions of protesters? If you believe that the protesters are paid, you are as crazy as Trump.
Well said, Pierre.
Pierre and Howard Stern have a lot in common. The only reason to listen/read is to see what garbage comes out next. Free speech in all for, destruction of people and property is not protest but a criminal act if I was in my car ands mob approached me chanting and yelling I’d be in fear for my life and would run them over
William Moya says
“Intellectual cowards”?, you’re too kind. Our problem is that there is very little intellect in our national discourse, instead there is an avalanche of propaganda and dogma, as you point out. This phenomenon is not knew to America or humanity for that matter.
Sadly the current state of affairs where we now have an administration whose head and supporters are the direct descendants of the Know Nothings. In large part the dark side of our history has been instigated and fomented by the State who in their eagerness to place unity above everything else, and to stifle dissent by using the Constitution, the flag, and god. The direct result of this lack of social and historical conscience is this political miasma that has engulfed or country and will be with us for a long time. I fear for the country I fell in love with and made me what I am today.
If we live in FEAR and characterize ALL those who exercise their constitutional right to free speech and free press as “paid mobs or thugs” then our country is entering into nothing short of Fascism!!!
The Trump tribe is hell bent on suppressing ALL those journalists who report “FACTUAL” information as being “Fake News” simply because the “FACTS” make Trump look bad. He has called out the majority of media outlets and labeled the press the “Enemy of the People”!!! What we see here is the forming of a “Dictatorship”. . . much like Russia!!! Why isn’t EVERY person in the USA PROTESTING AGAINST THIS?????
Common Sense says
Under the current administration it seems that those with dissenting views have no rights. The unfounded, debunked myth that protesters are paid to protest continues to be the GOP mantra. Now GOP politicians are
ducking town halls, unable to answer their constituents questions.
The President lies and lies and Republicans expect the majority to stand by and do nothing?
Protesters against this regime ARE PATRIOTS!
IMO- What we are, tragically, experiencing is a massive shift. . . not only in our climate. . . but in our global cultural structure. One where we have a perfect storm of negative factors that have our moral compass spinning out of control. . . often caused by the indoctrination of millions into the “FOX” realm of fear, hate and paranoia, and the ‘worship’ of the dollar:
– Loss of Ethics, Integrity, Honesty and Honor
– Distrust of proven facts, even “scientific” ones
– Lower educational standards and results, and the return of segregation
– Deeper inequality- fueled by latent racism and xenophobia
– Religious zealotry
– Profit motive over human rights
– Loss of compassion and caring for other human beings
The election of the Trump tribe is the culmination of these and other very disturbing factors. My personal disappointment is not in Trump. . . his sociopathy has been obvious for many years. . . it is with his poor deluded/duped followers. What a tragedy!
AL I saw protesters get paid for a demonstration with my own eyes. It was many years ago on the University of Florida campus.
Trump is a liar. Protesting his lies is our right and our duty as free citizens.
@Anonymous. . . it is preposterous to ask people to believe that even if a few protesters are paid, the millions upon millions that are protesting world wide should not be heard or have a profound influence! That’s the same very narrow minded thinking that got us into this very disturbing situation to begin with!
Barney Burns says
I’m sorry,but you failed to mention it was the Democrats who got us into Vietnam War and that Pres Johnson’s Sec Def used it to send as many blacks off to the war to die. What a hypocrite.
Patriots are those teachers,mentors,citizens,police officers, and anyone else who is physically bridging gaps and ACTIVELY helping others. Marching and protesting has its place but you are protesting for someone else to change something instead of physically changing something yourself.
Even McCain defends the freedom of the press. That is how dictators get started.http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/-that-s-how-dictators-get-started-mccain-defends-the-free-press-880252483608
I recall facing off against state, city and local cops and National Guard troops back in the early 70’a about the war in SE Asia on a very large state university campus up north. We were very close to Kent State. It was a long time ago or not so long relatively speaking. Now I never tossed a brick like some of my friends did. As long as it’s peaceful, it’s cool. When it becomes violent and destructive, it crosses a line. At the time the cops were much more violent than the students. Yes, free speech is vital to our society. Violence cannot be tolerated.
Please, show a little respect for Boris and Natasha and all the people who love them.
Did you see Don Jung-il at the aircraft hangar/Potemkin village rally? The peasants were gathered in a crowd of chickens applauding Col Sanders. The little liar was on his way to his club for forgotten men who can afford the 200K (that’s $200,000.00 for you trump voters) initiation fee and 14K annual fee to share top security matters.
Three weeks from oath to oaf on the run. Only in AmeriKKKa.
I am not surprised we didn’t see this story when the Tea Party movement started. I guess it takes a “pink pussy” hat and a lot vulgarity to make the demonstrators worthy of being a Patriot. The tea party movement was called everything from bigots to Nazis. Yet a major pop star can make outrageous statements about the white house and the people cheer.
IF Love Trumps hate is true, Then someone forget to tell these “Patriots” that slogan, Most if these protester today prove the hypocrisy of the left. Here is a little more proof. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSvXCVoeMjQ
@Jim. . . When I’ve marched in various protests over the years. . . I’ve joined police officers, teachers, journalists, Congressional leaders, ministers, military members, university students, attorneys, etc. etc. . . WE are ALL PATRIOTS !! We are ALL citizens and many, many protesters are doing much more for each of you and for our country than you bother to do for yourselves. WE represent Democracy!!!
Is like to wake up to a nightmare every day now…Can’t leave or come back to our own country without being treated like a terrorists now, were at the border/airports ICE demands our pass words to our cell phones and our social media accounts among other things…a real nightmare of being singled out!
Our press told to shut up and treason to our democracy in collusion with a totalitarian foreign power going without investigation and unpunished? A real nightmare.
Patriots are not hateful, violent protesters like we are seeing today. This is the scariest time of my entire life watching on television etc all the hate and violence by those who lost the election. This my friend is not a patriot but a violent person with HATE in his heart. No patriot from what I see. You must be living in a different country.
Where is the justice that should be enforced by GOP Congress and Senate? Why are you letting this man to profit his enterprises in our pockets by holding paid meetings in his Maralago resort, while his several weekends spent there so far have cost us the taxpayers over 10 million? Where is the due investigation about his collusion with a totalitarian foreign power and why is that foreign power intelligence ship allowed to be anchored only 30 miles from our coast within our USA 200 miles continental shelve..?
“Pirate radio broadcasting from artificial marine fixtures or anchored ships can be controlled by the affected coastal nation or other nations wherever that broadcast may originate, whether in the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf or even on the high seas”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_waters. My question to GOP is why the bias?
Why isn’t our shameful bias GOP Congress and Senate investigating all the above is a real nigthmare that I wake up to every day!
@palmcoaster. . . really excellent points! My strong belief is that the GOP will continue to stoke the FEAR and look the other way and continue allowing our constitution to be violated at every turn, and even allow our country to be turned into a fascist dictatorship. . . . as long as they have a window open to push through their heinous agendas and create complete “right winged” government CONTROL:
– Removing Healthcare From Millions of Citizens
– Deporting 11 million Peaceful, hard working people who have lived here for many years
– Removing regulations that keep our air and water clean
– Militarizing civilian police forces in order to “control” the populace
– Suppressing the freedom of the press. . . except, of course, FOX and the “Alt Right” media
– Suppressing the vote. . . especially the vote of “non-whites”
– Injecting “Christian” religion into our laws and political processes
– Removing the right of all women to control their own bodies and lives
– Suppressing ALL rights to “privacy”
and on, and on, and on. . . .
Violent protests are disturbing. But are any of us comfortable with the notion that presently and historically violence has not been perpetuated on both sides of an issue? More insidious is the possibility that soft racism is allowed to go unchecked by the base. When it’s OK for any potus to suggest a reporter set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, seemingly on the basis that the reporter is black and that this was in response to a legitimate question, then proponents of the Bill of Rights are morally committed to speak out. Loudly, often and hopefully peacefully. But to those so aghast at the violence, l suggest you revisit the column, analyze its theme and switch the TV channel occasionally.
It’s not government’s place to be the arbiter of healthcare either but they are no thanks to King Obama. Not only are there people who cannot afford his ridiculous unaffordable healthcare, but they can’t afford the “tax fines” that are imposed on them for not having unaffordable healthcare.So what’s your point? You’re saying that these protesters are practicing their rights? What right do they have to incite violence at these “protests”? Throwing gates, bricks, destroying property that does not belong to them. If that’s practicing their First Amendment rights, then I’d hate to see what Free Speech really is.
Regarding Trump’s blathering, incoherent “press conference”. . . here is an email from dear “Conservative” friends in England. . . ones who even voted for the Britexit and thought Trump may be OK:
“Actually watched some of this and it was genuinely cringemaking and highly embarrassing that the leader of the most powerful country in the world was shown to be a petulant, childish man who’s completely out of his depth. He won the election and is now shi****** himself because he’s no idea what to do now other than bluster. Hasn’t he got any advisers or speech writers? or I suspect he’s he’s too pig headed to admit he needs help. God help America and the rest of the world!”
Not sure what the healthcare issue has to do with the comments thread, but l disagree that our legislators are not the ones to listen to and act on disputes. I am in agreement that healthcare insurance is expensive. And hospital ceo’s, pharmaceutical and companies that manufacture devices are getting obscenely wealthy. It is statistically probable that at some point many of us will require health services, just as we may be in an automobile accident or need to implement our homeowners’ insurance. I truly wish it weren’t true, but l also believe that the system breaks down when all don’t participate. Our family pays when we are healthy, driving responsibly and maintaining a safe dwelling, so that other like-minded individuals have access when they are in need. Regarding the violence, to me the author seemed to be making the point that we all would benefit from seeking out discourse with individuals who do not share our opinions. And discourse involves listening, not just talking and not confusing listening with formulating our response. If we cannot have meaningful conversations with those we respect, how then can we demand it of our lawmakers and media? People of any age get extremely frustrated and agitated when they feel they are not being heard, and it also seems to me that if society wasn’t so seduced by violence, then it wouldn’t be so profitable nor would it be the only response to conflicting opinions. My only points.
Sherry you are wrong. I witnessed protesters getting paid after their protest at the Univ. of Florida campus on the Plaza of the Americas. I have no reason to lie. Sorry I have shaken your illusion that all protesters are in it for patriotism and not profit. I guess you think all wars are started and fought over values and moral virtues as well. Wake up and smell the coffee. Senator John McCain said on Meet the Depressed last Sunday morning that a new world order was established after WWII. Who are the “Elite” people behind this push for a one world government? People who are greedy and filthy rich who don’t care if you or I die today. These are the people who pay to start protests and riots. With todays technology and social media network it is easier than ever for an unscrupulous person with their own agenda to incite a vulnerable population into protest if they chose their words and lies carefully. George Soros is a master of this as is Russian president Putin. I believe Putin is the cause behind most of the immigrant fleeing from Syria into Europe. His reason is to destabilize both socially and financially those countries to make them easier to takeover. He is basically herding the Syrians like cattle on a path that will benefit Russia’s imperialistic purposes. Sherry don’t tell me that all protesters and their backers are pure as the driven snow. Open your eyes before it is too late.