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Fear and Free Expression - Page 2

Black person at tea party
Just look at how much the white people hate that negro! I'd be surprised if he made it out of there alive.
Of course this is a complete fiction. It would be really nice if we could live in a world where we ignore the color of people's skin, but alas, these stupid arguments force us to look into the crowd and pick out those with black skin. Yes, there are fewer black people in the Tea Party crowds than in the country at large (but certainly not none, I rush to point out), but this might have something to do with the fact that most black people are Democrats and that few black people are willing to speak out against the first black president. Neither of these facts indicates that the people within the Tea Party are racist, but this fiction has become so widespread that reporters have to ask black Tea Party members whether they are "uncomfortable," and most black Tea Party members have been accused of being race traitors, Uncle Toms, and Oreos. Call me crazy, but I think that the only racism going on here is from the people who point at the crowd and argue that the few black people we see are actually fakes.

Before I finish with this point, I'd like to bring up Kenneth Gladney, a black man who was allegedly beaten by Union thugs for daring to pass out flyers in support of the Tea Party movement. Right before he was beaten, his attackers asked him "what kind of nigger" he was to be going against the president. Yeah, it's the Tea Party that's racist. (NOTE: the actions of a few assholes do not represent the whole of people who oppose the Tea Party movement.)

Kenneth Gladney
Ken Gladney: tread upon
It should be noted that the Kenneth Gladney incident happened shortly after President Obama told his supporters to "punch back twice as hard" against his detractors. President Obama certainly wasn't calling for any real violence, but his words had consequences. This doesn't mean President Obama is responsible for the beating of Kenneth Gladney (or the subsequent beatings of other consevatives), but it's an important thing to note, as it is comparable to what President Clinton is now implying about outspoken conservatives.

A week and a half ago, President Clinton used the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing to express his concern over anti-government rhetoric. Clinton argued that "right-wing radio talk-show hosts" were directly responsible for Timothy McVeigh's terrorist attack, and then he went on to imply that modern anti-government rhetoric would have the same inevitable consequences. I'm not going to participate in the fallacy of the single cause, but I am going to agree that words have consequences. However, that doesn't mean we should censor ourselves out of fear that some crazy out there is going to take it too far. As far as I can tell, not many people are calling for violence against the government; in fact, protests here in America have a history of being remarkably non-violent.

Oklahoma City Bombing, 1995
Rush Limbaugh's fault?
If some nutjob out there commits violence against the government (like that guy who crashed his plane into an IRS building in Texas a couple of months ago), it doesn't mean it has anything to do with protests going on at the same time. It doesn't even imply that those protests are somehow wrong, even though the man commiting violence to make his point cleary is. President Clinton's argument, therefore, doesn't make any sense. If we were forced to consider how our words could be misinterpreted by violent lunatics and censor ourselves accordingly, we would never be able to utter a single word. Under that logic, President Obama should never have told his supporters to "punch back."

Which finally leads me to the charge of sedition against Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh. On NBC's "The Chris Matthews Show" on April 18, Joe Klein, a columnist for Time, came very close to accusing Palin and Beck of being seditious. John Heilemann of New York magazine eagerly agreed and added Limbaugh's name to the list. As sedition is a felony under the law, these are not frivolous accusations. Klein went on to argue that the only reasons for their borderline "seditious" statements against the government were racism and fear of the president's middle name, because as we all know, no disagreement with President Obama could ever be rooted in logical discourse.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day
Be sure to take part in "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" on May 20! (click image to enlarge)
I don't always agree with Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh, when I bother to listen to them. However, disagreeing with them is a far cry from accusing them of sedition. The only reasons to imply that somebody is seditious when they are not are 1) you want to bully them into toning down their rhetoric, or 2) you don't want other people to be influenced by them. The sedition charge is, in this way, no different than the passive-aggressive threat against the makers of South Park.

The guy who said Trey Parker and Matt Stone would wind up like Theo Van Gogh never actually came out and issued a direct threat or incitement to violence, just as Klein and Heilemann didn't follow through on their accusations of sedition. Both messages, however, are loud and clear: we should fear open discourse and be afraid to exercize our rights of free expression.

I, for one, refuse to be bullied in this way. Yes, my words have very real consequences and I should think about them. However, nobody should let fear dictate what they can and cannot say. If you disagree with someone, say it loud and proud, but don't you dare try to take away that other person's right to speak through intimidation, baseless accusations, or indirect threats. If that's what it takes to win an argument, here's hoping I'm never right.

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-e. magill 4/27/2010








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