We are on Day 7 of Reason's annual Webathon, in which we are asking readers to provide $250,000 in tax-deductible donations between now and December 8, so that we can provide you even better libertarian news, analysis and commentary.
Last week I made the case that giving money to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that publishes these here words is a way to ensure that due-process argumentations are put forth forcefully into the national conversation regardless of which major political party is riding high on the teeter-totter of presidential power. The hook then was the Democratic firmament's red-faced insistence—reiterated by President Barack Obama last night—that Americans who are placed by the executive branch (by a future President Trump, in other words) on unaccountable and unappealable terrorism watch lists should obviously be deprived of their 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. Yes, we have lived long enough in our awful post-9/11 world that Democrats thrashing against the ACLU in order to strip due process from a disfavored minority.
Well, here's another flashback for you. Remember when all of your Democratic and progressive friends were going apoplectic (and correctly so) at then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer's Sept. 26, 2001 "reminder" to "all Americans" that "they need to watch what they say, watch what they do"? Well, here is the chief federal law enforcement officer in the country, Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday, stating—incredibly—that her "greatest fear as a prosecutor" is that anti-Muslim "rhetoric will be accompanied by acts of violence":
Now obviously this is a country that is based on free speech, but when it edges towards violence, when we see the potential for someone to lift—lifting that mantle of anti-Muslim rhetoric or, as we saw after 9/11, violence against individuals who may not even be Muslims but may be perceived to be Muslims and they will suffer just as well, just as much. When we see that, we will take action. […]
Since 9/11, we've had over a thousand investigations into acts of anti-Muslim hatred, including rhetoric and bigoted actions, with over 45 prosecutions arising out of that.
As constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh points out, non-inciting "anti-Muslim rhetoric" is not, in fact, prosecutable. I would add that hate speech (or "hateful speech," in Lynch's phrasing) is not on its own a meaningful legal category, at least until it becomes tethered to a specific, non-speech crime. I don't know what "lifting that mantle of anti-Muslim rhetoric" means, I don't know what "edges toward violence" means, I don't know what investigation into anti-Muslim "rhetoric" means. But I do know something truly ominous for the future of free speech in this country: Lynch's comments are perfectly in keeping with the modern left's predilection for scapegoating free speech in the wake of Islamist violence. This is something that Reason fights against constantly, for which we are asking for your support.
One of Lynch's many telling comments in her appearance at the Muslim Advocates dinner was this: "Paris has been grappling with anti-Muslim rhetoric for some time now." That's an awfully queer way for an American official, sworn to protect the Constitution, to describe a country that has been systematically cracking down on civil liberties (including, inevitably, on those of Muslims) in ways that should make any free-speech advocate shudder.
This echoes the remarkably awful suggestion by John Kerry last month that deliberately assassinating Charlie Hebdo cartoonists was less appalling than indiscriminately massacring concertgoers, because "There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of—not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, 'OK, they're really angry because of this and that.'" Which in turn echoed Hillary Clinton's remarkably awful testimony in front of Congress in September that Charlie Hebdo's cartoons of Mohammed "sparked" the cartoonists own grisly murders, and her reiteration of the equally inaccurate notion that an amateurish YouTube trailer made in Cerritos, California "sparked" the widespread attacks on American diplomatic posts on Sept. 11, 2012. The Obama/Clinton scapegoating of that video in the wake of four American diplomats being killed remains one of the lowest points in an unexalted administration.
At Reason we are against the notion that an act of speech unrelated to an act of crime can be accurately described as "incitement." In a world plagued by real and would-be censors, we defend Gangsta rap, anti-abortion speech, jury-nullification pamphleteers, comedy, ideologically unpopular expression on college campuses…and that's all within the last month. Free speech is the basis for liberal science and modern prosperity, and Reason defends it with more gusto than any publication you can name.
This Webathon's almost over. Please donate to Reason right the hell now in the name of free speech!