Ratifying the Heckler's Veto, and Getting the Boston Demonstration Wrong

Matt Welch talks Berkeley's quaking in front of Antifa, and Jacob Siegel explains who the original demonstrators the other week actually were


As Scott Shackford explained in this space yesterday, the free-speech white-flag waved in the face of Antifa this week by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin is becoming an ominous test-case in this fraught post-Charlottesville era of ours. In the immediate wake of the latest Antifa East Bay assault, such capitulations—which are on the rise nationwide—are a near-textbook definition of the "heckler's veto." Right-wingers petition to speak, left-wingers provide a credible threat of violence, and so the nervous authorities seek to pre-emptively shut the speech down. In Shackford's measured words, "One of the primary expectations of a city government is to protect the civil liberties of the people within its borders, and the right to speak freely and demonstrate peacefully are among those liberties."

I was a little bit less polite about the subject on last night's Kennedy:

Public safety in our street-fightin' times is no simple matter, of course, which is why two weeks ago I asked First Amendment explainer extraordinaire Ken "Popehat" White about the trickiness of protest-permitting and free speech. His answer, in part:

So first of all, you didn't even need a permit in Charlottesville, as I understand it, to generally assemble. Cities can't get around the First Amendment by creating elaborate permit requirements. The First Amendment still applies, and it limits the way you can use permit rules. So yeah, the suggestion uttered by, God help us, the president of the United States, that somehow the protestors were illegitimate because they didn't have permit, is nonsense. It's not a valid, legal argument. So cities can't eliminate protests through permit requirements, nor can they stop normal, lawful assembly and protest.

The next big clash after Charlottesville came in Boston, where a tiny "free speech" rally (which was routinely portrayed with precisely those air-quotes) was met with a massive anti-racist counter-demonstration. On the most recent edition of The Fifth Column podcast, we had on freelance journalist Jacob Siegel, who was not only at the rally in question, but at its precursor back in May. And man, did his description of the events, and the organizers thereof, differ than 99 percent of the characterizations I saw on Twitter. Take a listen, particular at the beginning of the show:

Siegel also has an interesting new piece out for Vice titled, "The Alt-Right and Antifa Are Waging a New Kind of Internet Warfare."