Last month, NBC reporter Kelli Stavast was interviewing NASCAR driver Brandon Brown following his victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sparks 300 race when fans started chanting "fuck Joe Biden." But that's not what Stavast heard.
NBC reporter attempts desperate damage control as crowd chants "F Joe Biden" pic.twitter.com/1iYZel4zFT
— Jewish Deplorable (@TrumpJew2) October 3, 2021
And so the "let's go Brandon" chant—a less vulgar way of signaling one's opposition to the current president—was born. Fans say it at sports gatherings. Conservatives tweet it at each other. Even Republican politicians are getting in on it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) has been known to say it.
Well, even though it was completely normal for Democrats to vigorously insult former President Donald Trump throughout his presidency, some liberal media figures have decided that the comparatively mild "let's go Brandon" chant is an essentially violent utterance. Asha Rangappa, a commentator for CNN, said it was akin to making a pro-ISIS statement.
say what you will but bizarrely encouraging someone to say "long live ISIS" on an airplane is extremely on brand for an FBI agent pic.twitter.com/PLACtTiMM3
— Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) November 1, 2021
She was specifically referencing an incident on a recent Southwest Airlines flight where the pilot reportedly said "let's go Brandon," which triggered something of a meltdown on Twitter earlier this week. Another CNN analyst, Juliette Kayyem, who is a Harvard professor, said the passengers on that flight should file complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration.
If @SouthwestAir doesn't do anything, every passenger on that flight has standing to file a complaint with the @FAANews and they should do so. Southwest will then be compelled to investigate or defend him. Have fun with that. No messing around in the air. Bright line rule. https://t.co/L7VlZWJ0SU
— Juliette Kayyem (@juliettekayyem) October 30, 2021
When pressed on this point, she responded that his words "reflect possibility of anger management or substance abuse."
Progressive political strategist and commentator Chris Hahn accused the pilot of "sympathizing with terrorist[s]." CNN's Joe Lockhart attacked Southwest for not immediately firing the pilot. The airline is investigating the incident.
Keep in mind that what touched off this public freakout was an Associated Press story asserting that a pilot had uttered the statement. We don't have audio footage of it, though I did listen to audio from another incident involving a pilot allegedly saying "let's go Brandon," and guess what? It really sounded like he was saying "let's go Braves," as in the sports team. I don't know if that's what happened here, but I would bet it was a simple misunderstanding. Even if it wasn't, it would be wrong to treat the utterance of "let's go Brandon" as a crime, or terrorist behavior.
Make no mistake: The chant is clearly First Amendment–protected speech, even if some would consider it hate speech. Contrary to what many progressive activists naively assume, hate speech is free speech. There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment, because there is no mutually agreed-upon definition of hate speech, and there are no Supreme Court decisions supporting such an exception. The Supreme Court has carved out some categories of speech that don't qualify for protection—threats of imminent violence, for instance—but hate speech isn't one of them. On the contrary, the right to insult political leaders and government officials is perhaps the most important and obvious component of the First Amendment.
Ken Dilanian of NBC News said he called to ask the Secret Service whether "let's go Brandon" emblazoned on an assault rifle represented a security threat to the president, which he thinks "is a reasonable question."
I called to ask the Secret Service whether they consider "F—Joe Biden"emblazoned on an assault rifle to represent a security threat to the president. Which I think is a reasonable question. https://t.co/HfqZfrE7rE
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) November 1, 2021
That isn't a reasonable question at all. Here's a reasonable question: Why do mainstream media figures think their main job is to police speech that offends Democrats?