The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Federal Prosecutor Sets Up Hotline for Reporting, Among Other Things, People "Espousing … Hate-Filled Views"

"In Massachusetts, we have recently seen multiple incidents of groups espousing deeply offensive and hurtful ideologies displayed on our streets."


A press release Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney in charge of the federal prosecutor's office in Massachusetts, Rachael S. Rollins announced the rollout of an "End Hate Now" telephone hotline (emphasis added):

The "End Hate Now" hotline [1-83-END-H8-NOW] is dedicated for reporting hate-based incidents or potential criminal activity. Massachusetts residents and visitors are encouraged to call the hotline to report concerning or troubling incidents of hate, potential hate crimes, or concerns regarding individuals believed to be espousing the hate-filled views or actions we learn of far too often in the wake of mass shootings and/or acts of hate-based violent extremism. Callers are encouraged to leave their contact information but may remain anonymous….

Hate crimes are illegal acts committed based on a victim's perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Beliefs are not hate crimes. Distasteful ideologies, advocacy of political or social positions, use of discriminatory rhetoric, or the general philosophic embrace of biased or hate-filled beliefs are not crimes. Under federal law, investigations may not be based solely on an individual's beliefs or their protected First Amendment activity.

"With the uptick in horrific mass-shootings and unimaginable acts of racially motivated violent extremism we have seen across our country, people are scared. In Massachusetts, we have recently seen multiple incidents of groups espousing deeply offensive and hurtful ideologies displayed on our streets. A recent act of hateful vandalism at the future PRYDE senior housing facility in Hyde Park threatened burning and death against the LGBTQ+ community. Enough is enough. My office is offering our residents and visitors a new outlet for bringing these critical and concerning issues seeped in bigotry and hatred to the attention of law enforcement," said U.S. Attorney Rollins. "I am asking people – when you see hate, call this number and let us know. If you have serious concerns about a loved one, a friend, or even an acquaintance, call this number and let us know…." …

"Protecting Massachusetts residents from violence and hate is the top priority of my administration," stated U.S. Attorney Rollins. "In Massachusetts, we have a long history of standing up to hate and intolerance. Today, we continue that honored tradition. By establishing this 1-83-END-H8-NOW hotline and a Civil Rights and Human Trafficking Unit, my office is fully equipped and dedicated to fighting hate-fueled criminal activity across our Commonwealth."

A sound means for a prosecutor's office to investigate potential violent crimes or vandalism? (Though saying, for instance, "killing [police officers / Jews / my ex-wife] is completely morally justified" is constitutionally protected speech, if such a killing had actually happened nearby, prosecutors might reasonably want to look into whether the speaker actually acted on his beliefs and didn't just express them.) A tool that, if indeed effectively publicized, would chill public expression even of constitutionally protected speech by people who have no plans for crime? Both? Neither? I'd love to hear what people think about this.