Maybe there will come a day when I can recommend a post by Andrew Sullivan without first noting I am shocked to be recommending a post by Andrew Sullivan, but it is not this day. I am genuinely not a fan of Sullivan’s ugly attacks on Sarah Palin or conservative evangelicals. That said, he still occasionally makes a very good point as he does today at New York magazine. As Sullivan argues today, what we saw in Boston last week was a sham. The left held a rally against an enemy that wasn’t even there, a phantom menace if you will:
Here’s a question: At last Saturday’s massive rally against “hate” in Boston, what were 30,000 or so people actually protesting? The event in question was not organized by a neo-Nazi group, the KKK, or any other recognized hate group, but by an outfit called the Boston Free Speech Coalition.
Sullivan then points out that some of the people who actually did speak were on the left. The reason few people seem to know that is that the city did its best to make sure no one would know what the speakers said.
What did they say? We still don’t know, and may never know. And that’s what bugs me. The reason is that Boston’s mayor and police department actually banned reporters and members of the public from being close enough to the rally to hear it (and the group couldn’t even afford a sound system). The reason was safety, but it’s hard to believe that a few reporters — let’s say, just one — couldn’t have been allowed close enough to hear the speeches and let us know what was in them. If an event is in a public space, and is advertised as a “free speech” rally, doesn’t the press have a right to access? In an interview, the mayor, Marty Walsh, shrugged: “Why give attention to people spewing hate?” In another: “You can have your free speech all day long, but let’s not speak about hate, bigotry, and racism.” The Boston police commissioner was more explicit: “I’m not going to listen to people who come in here and want to talk about hate. And you know what? If [reporters and others] didn’t get in, that’s a good thing because their message isn’t what we want to hear.” As it was, the scheduled two-hour event lasted less than 50 minutes, none of the far-rightists spoke, and the few speakers were rushed out in vans for their safety.
Who cares who they were, if the point was to denounce the hatred displayed in Charlottesville? Well, I do. I find it creepy that a crowd of 30,000, a city government, and a police force effectively shut down an event that was designed to defend free speech! I find it even creepier that masked members of the violent antifa group, who openly despise free speech, mixed openly and easily with the crowd and delighted in disrupting the event, while hurling rocks and bottles of urine at the police.
Sullivan also cites fellow critic of what happened in Boston Harvey Silvergate who was equally unsparing of the city for many of the same reasons.
Welcome to the Era of Trump, in which not only the President and his minions are frighteningly hostile to free speech, but where local officials, police, and news media, in a nominally sophisticated community resorted to the notorious form of First Amendment censorship known as the heckler’s veto. Those who sought to silence the free speech rally won. Debate was squelched, cut off, prohibited…
Boston shortchanged itself and the nation last weekend when, in effect, it gamed the First Amendment. The question now is will we learn from our mistake?
The media proclaimed Boston a victory but was it really? Granted, there were only a few low-level skirmishes after the rally ended. But Sullivan points out that ‘Was anyone injured?’ is a very low standard for judging a free speech rally a success. How about ‘Did free speech happen?’ or maybe even ‘Did people listen to anything that was said?’ Looked at from this perspective, the answer to whether or not this rally was a success would have to be a firm no. But such concerns seem to have been drowned out by the sound of Boston progressives patting themselves on the back.