Robert Azzi: Then, they came for America, because they thought we were weak

For the Monitor
Published: 1/31/2021 6:15:05 AM

I support Leigh Bosse’s First Amendment rights and am thankful that he was given the opportunity to express his point of view in a Jan. 24 letter to the Concord Monitor.

Bosse whines that Republicans and conservatives are being victimized – that there’s a grave threat to American freedom and an ongoing conspiracy to silence right-wing voices because some individuals – like Donald Trump – have been de-platformed because they incited seditious action against the government

Indeed, no matter how one attempts to decontextualize Katie Couric’s recent comments to Bill Maher – as Bosse does – there is no talk of a roundup, purge, and re-education of Trump supporters – however much I think they might need it – simply because they choose to continue to flaunt malicious and hateful rhetoric in public.

There is talk – rightly, in my opinion – to de-platform insurrectionists, seditionists, and individuals who deliberately lie in order to advance a political or racist agenda.

The Supreme Court has generally – Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) – determined that there are some “well-defined and narrowly limited” exceptions to free speech and that obscenity, true threats, child pornography, defamation, and incitement have been found (sometimes inconsistently) to be within those exceptions, acting as community guardrails.

Americans aren’t free to yell fire in an occupied theater. They are not free to incite insurrection by falsely maintaining that an election was stolen. And they have no constitutional right, as I understand it, to be hosted by any social media platform.

Further, while I’m willing to defend the right of Americans to spew the most vile and repugnant speech in public that they think someone may want to hear – or merely because they like to hear the sound of their own voice – it’s important to affirm that no organization is obliged to host or amplify their views.

Let me be clear: No non-governmental social media or press platform, whether Twitter, Parler, Facebook, or Gab; whether NPR, NBC, CNN, or Fox – or the Concord Monitor – is obliged to give space and publicity to people who lie in order to deceive and manipulate public opinion or who – as occurred on Jan. 6 – incite violence, insurrection, and domestic terrorism.

Platforms – sometimes imperfectly, sometimes too late – take down child pornography, take down threatening and defamatory speech and, during the election, flag lies and malicious and fraudulent representations.

They are not obliged to supply oxygen to people who support conspiracy theories that incite domestic terrorism.

There should be no room for them in the nonpublic square, little in public spaces. There should be no guaranteed space, anytime, anywhere, for incitement, for violence, for calls to act out on hate or racism.

Indeed, some of the problems we confront today are a result of allowing narcissistic reality TV show hosts to promote false narratives without being fully challenged, as when Donald Trump, in 2011, began promoting the vile and racist trope that President Barack Obama wasn’t an American.

There should be no room for people like Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, who was recently banned from Twitter not because he’s conservative or a Trump supporter but because he encouraged an insurrection and urged President Trump to declare martial law in order to overturn a democratic election.

Such lies and incitements are not just other opinions – or “alternate facts,” as Kellyanne Conway calls them – but false narratives deliberately designed to provoke and incite racially based resentments and grievances and radicalize and mobilize a segment of the populace, especially that segment of our nation composed of unreconstructed white supremacists, nativists, xenophobes, and domestic terrorists who thrive today because not enough people resisted them yesterday.

For at least two years, and especially since last September, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI, have, in spite of the attempts of the Trump administration to suppress their data, warned that the greatest threat of domestic terrorism in America was from white supremacism.

On Wednesday, after the insurrection and inauguration, the DHS National Terrorist Advisory System (NTAS) issued a warning of the possibility of domestic terror attacks in the coming weeks: “Information suggests that some ideologically motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.”

Today, many Republican apologists are immorally quoting Lutheran pastor and German nationalist Martin Niemöller’s sacred verse, “First, They Came…,” in order to try to justify, sustain, and protect anti-Semitic and racist speech emanating from what remains of today’s Republican Party.

When Trump came for the Central Park Five, for Barack Obama, for Colin Kaepernick, for Mexicans, Muslims, LGBTQ peoples, for breastfeeding children, for Kamala Harris, for BLM, for the Squad, most Republicans were silent because Trump didn’t come for them.

When Republican political ads targeted Hillary Clinton and George Soros with anti-Semitic imagery, most Republicans were silent because Trump didn’t come for them.

When anti-Semites marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” and Trump called them “very fine people,” most Republicans were silent because Trump didn’t come for them.

Then, on January 6, 2021, most Republicans, witness to a violent, ideologically incited insurrection executed in their name, were silent not just because they were unable to recognize the humanity of their neighbors but because many – like Mike Pence – themselves become targets.

Such silence – the silence of “good Republicans” – in the face of all the anti-Semitic and racist language being used by insurrectionist Boogaloos, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, QAnon, Oath Keepers, and others is itself nothing surprising. That Republicans – Bosse is not the only one – should try to cloak the treasonous depredations of their party with language used to mourn the Holocaust – the genocide of over 6 million Jews – to protect people, including Holocaust deniers, who carry swastikas, iron crosses, Auschwitz T-shirts, and T-shirts printed with 6MNE [Six Million Not Enough] is reprehensible and blasphemous.

In the end, Niemöller, having witnessed the horrors and moral depravity of what the Nazis had visited upon his nation, awakened to write, “First, They Came…” as remembrance – as caution to the future.

Let us hope, in the end, after silence and complicity, Republicans, having witnessed in silence the horrors visited upon our nation and themselves, will awaken to reclaim and rebuild – with their neighbors – a new and more honorable nation for all its people.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)


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