A free speech rally this weekend in the Cradle of Liberty, Boston, and planned in July before the Charlottesville, Virginia clashes over Confederate monuments, was cut short by leftwing counter-protesters. This ought to say enough about the sad state of affairs for the rights of free speech and peaceable assembly.
The rally was organized principally by a Massachusetts college student who made clear his coalition’s opposition to white supremacy and its presence at the rally. That made little difference for the left-wing counter-protesters, as reported at Voice of American before the event:
“Left-wing activist groups, including Black Lives Matter and Antifa, have announced plans to protest an event that its organizers are calling a free speech rally Saturday in Boston, as a response to the violence in Charlottesville last weekend.
“The free speech rally … was organized in July by a group calling itself Boston Free Speech, which says it is made up of a coalition of ‘libertarians, progressives, conservatives and independents.’
“John Medlar, one of the group’s organizers, has told multiple media outlets the rally will not welcome white supremacists, and he has denounced racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.”
NBC had reported the then-upcoming event as a right-wing rally “organized by a coalition of groups calling themselves ‘libertarian’ and ‘conservative,’” conspicuously by its quotations omitting the progressives and independents. Other media then labeled this free speech rally as “right-wing” and “controversial.” Reporting before the event contributed to the fear that this was a white nationalist event:
“Organizers of a counterprotest expect thousands of people to join them on a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) march from the city's Roxbury neighborhood to the Common to ‘stand in defiance of white supremacy,’ activist Monica Cannon said. ‘I don't think what they are exuding is free speech, I believe it is hate speech,’ she said at a separate news conference Friday.”
I can attest to the fear being spread. Friday night before the next day’s Boston rally, a liberal friend and First Amendment lawyer colleague who knows my work for an unrelated Free Speech Coalition out of McLean, Virginia emailed: “Tell me it isn't you guys, and mean it … . The time for theoretical rationalization is past. These are serious issues on which my position is inflexibly opposed to Neo-Nazis, KKK members and fellow travelers. The real [Free Speech Coalition] should make its position clear.”
My intelligent but now-hysterical liberal friend and I had worked together for over two decades against threats by Republicans and Democrats to rights of advocacy, but obviously he had read the false reporting about the Boston rally. Adding to the scale of his insulting inanity, earlier that day I had an article published describing racists as “grotesque.”
Accounts about how the free speech rally in Boston was ended and its participants ushered away for their safety include how bottles of urine were hurled at police, and an elderly lady was knocked to the ground when an assailant attempted to take away the American flag she was carrying.
The left went online to proudly proclaim, “The White Supremacy Rally In Boston Just Backfired In Epic Fashion.”
Back in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order banning demonstrations at the Lee Monument in Richmond for 90 days. Both Breitbart and The Washington Post had difficulty finding First Amendment lawyers to comment under their names on this suppression. When First Amendment lawyers are afraid to comment, we seem to have a problem.
The First Amendment right of peaceable assembly has been with us for over two centuries. Mr. McAuliffe believes he has a 90-day pause button from his executive mansion.
The tragic events in Charlottesville over which Governor McAuliffe claims to have issued his ban seem to have some genesis in his own decisions. Critics are questioning McAuliffe’s role in letting the violence in Charlottesville commence and spread from Emancipation Park into the streets, where Heather Heyer was killed. It is clear McAuliffe and his team anticipated violence at the event, yet seemed to let it fester, build, erupt, and then forced it to flow-over to the streets where it became tragic and fatal.
The common law punished police for negligent failure to act, and there is a doctrine called state-created danger under which there is government liability for injuries or deaths based on failure to act when it was clear harm may ensue.
Hopefully an independent investigation will determine McAuliffe’s level of responsibility, and whether his actions and inactions even were designed to allow for escalation in Charlottesville for political purposes.
Mark J. Fitzgibbons, Esq. is an attorney and co-author with Richard Viguerie of "The Law That Governs Government."