Deploying violence against speech, even hateful speech, is no act of heroism

Will North Dakota get its own version of Charlottesville?

A Fargo man named Peter Tefft, a self-described “white nationalist” whose family made national headlines for disowning him after he participated in the Charlottesville protest, has alluded to possibility of a similar event in his hometown.

Jacob Scott Wieber, Tefft’s nephew, is promising that any such rally will be opposed. “If there’s a Nazi rally in Fargo, there will be counter demonstrations. There are too many good progressive people in Fargo for there not to be,” he told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

We can all hope, if Tefft and his ideological fellow travelers do organize some sort of an event, that it is nothing more than a point-counterpoint situation. One side having their say and the other offering rebuttal.

We can hope.

Unfortunately, it’s become fashionable in our society to believe that suppression of unpopular speech, even through violence, is acceptable.

That’s what it means when you hear people — from celebrities to politicians to your Facebook friends — claim that “hate speech isn’t free speech.”

It’s the logical conclusion when some fete black-masked, club-wielding antifa thugs by comparing them to WWII veterans.

These are not American ideals.

Like it or not, hate speech is free speech. If you work to disrupt hate speech, if you use violence against people speaking hate, you’re acting against free speech.

It may not be a fashionable point of view these days, but the price of admission to a free society is the knowledge that you will sometimes be tasked with tolerating the existence of thoughts and ideas you find repugnant.

If you want to live freely, you must accept that you will be offended.

The people who tell us that it’s ok to punch a Nazi, the people who say that hate speech isn’t free speech, think they have a right not to be offended.

They do not.

Most of us will not be happy if a rally of bigots comes to Fargo. It will be painful to see them display their hate symbols and rant their racism.

But if there could be a silver lining in such a turn of events, it would be that unpopular speech was allowed to happen in accordance with the ideals of liberty our nation aspires to.

That it wasn’t met with violence. That it wasn’t disrupted or suppressed by the government or other citizens.

It would be something we could be proud of.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

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