Maybe we need a refresher course in the value of free speech, because the concept seems to be fraying.
What do punching a Nazi, a half-million-buck payout and the Wazzu College Republicans have in common?
All are signs that maybe we need a serious refresher course in free speech around here.
First, in case you are unplugged from the fever swamps of the internet: There really was a Nazi — or at least a guy wearing a swastika armband — wandering around Seattle on Sunday before he was knocked out cold with a haymaker punch.
Strange, right? Even stranger, though, was the oh-well response of the Seattle police to what appears to have been a brutal assault.
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“Man Removes Swastika Armband After Downtown Incident,” the police summed up in a news release.
So … Seattle was made safe from a swastika, after an incident. That’s practically an endorsement of Nazi-punching, from the police no less.
I know, nothing gets your week jump-started like punching a Nazi. But there was a study out this week, by the Brookings Institution think tank, that found that 1 in 5 college students feel violence is a legitimate, OK way to silence speech they find offensive.
“The fraction of students who view the use of violence as acceptable is extremely high,” the study’s author, UCLA professor John Villasenor, wrote. “Any number significantly above zero is concerning.”
Where could the kids possibly be getting these crazy ideas?
Speaking of college kids, it was also just announced that the hapless Evergreen State College is paying $500,000 to settle a lawsuit from a professor, Bret Weinstein. Student protesters harassed him off campus in the spring after he opposed a “Day of Absence,” in which white students were asked to leave school for a day.
Evergreen just learned that free speech is not free — it costs you dearly if you don’t nurture it and protect it. The professor, prickly and litigious though he may be, had every right to speak out. And the college, especially as it’s a public one, should have defended and safeguarded him — even as the protest against him was carried out by its paying customers.
The college admitted to no wrongdoing in paying him off. Sorry, but it’s the same as the police and the Nazi-puncher. Looking the other way is what you did wrong.
Last, the bedrock of free speech is that the government doesn’t get to choose who does the speaking.
So to the 12 state Democratic politicians who just wrote a formal letter to the president of Washington State University asking him to ban the WSU College Republicans as a group: What country do you think you’re in?
The premise of the request, spearheaded by state Rep. Gerry Pollet of Seattle, is that the former president of the club was a racist who marched with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., last month. Fair enough. But that was one guy, and he resigned.
It’s also that the club last year seemed consumed with provocation — by building a replica of “Trump’s Wall” in a demonstration and inviting controversial speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos in order to “trigger” outrage from the Left.
All of this appears to be true but … so? Supporting the building of a wall along the Mexico border is hardly hate speech. It would be chilling if partisan lawmakers persuaded a university president to boot out a student club because they don’t like a policy the students are advocating.
It’s worse than bashing a Nazi in the nose. That puncher should be arrested, but his was just the action of an individual. Here, representatives of the state are petitioning a state employee to censor students. Government overreach like this is why they invented the First Amendment.
C’mon, folks, if by chance you run into a wayward Nazi downtown, or an outspoken professor saying something you don’t like, or even of all things, a college Republican, don’t punch, threaten violence or censor. All this gets you is the thing you’re supposedly against — more intolerance.
It’s hard to believe this column has to be written in year 241 of our national experiment. But they did warn that this democracy thing would be a constant struggle.
Correction: A previous version of this column misstated the day the man wearing an armband with a swastika was punched downtown. The incident was on Sunday.