Remember the Boston free speech rally in August, the one that drew tens of thousands of protesters to an event that featured a tiny number of speakers and supporters? Brandon Navom wasn’t the main organizer of the event but he was scheduled to speak. Today Navom filed a lawsuit claiming Boston Mayor Marty Walsh slandered him, resulting in threats and the loss of his job. From Boston.com:
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Berkshire Superior Court, sues Walsh in his personal capacity, claiming the mayor made “either knowing lies or reckless false statements” by repeatedly characterizing the rally and its organizers as “white supremacists” or hate groups…
Navom’s lawyer, Rinaldo Del Gallo III, says there was an “easily found wealth of information” online showing that the rally’s organizers, speakers, and “invited attendees” were not members of white supremacist or hate groups.
“I believe the Mayor was purposefully lying and if he wasn’t lying, he was grotesquely incompetent,” Del Gallo said in a statement. “But at the very best the Mayor’s comments [represent] a wanton, callous and reckless disregard for the truth.”
The article points out that Walsh never mentioned Navom by name and suggests this may make it tough for him to prove slander. Navom’s attorney argues the Mayor is largely responsible for spreading the idea that this was a “hate” rally associated with white supremacy. “If the Mayor told the truth about the organizers and speakers (that they were not white supremacist and they were not members of known hate groups), 40,000 people would not have showed up in protest ‘against white supremacy,” Del Gallo tells Boston.com.
Where did Mayor Walsh get the idea that this was a hate rally? That may have come from CNN contributor and Hillary Clinton aide Brian Fallon who tweeted this directly to the mayor:
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) August 12, 2017
The organizers of the event replied to Fallon on Facebook stating, “We are not in any way associated with the organizers of the Charlottesville rally. This was a lie and blatant attempt at defamation by Brian Fallon on twitter.” Nevertheless, here’s what Mayor Walsh said prior to the rally:
The situation became so heated that, just days prior to the rally, Navom gave an interview to CBS Boston saying that he was receiving death threats and suggesting the rally should be canceled.
The rally did finally take place with a permit from the city, but police set up barriers so far from the stage that almost no one heard any of the speakers, some of whom were progressives. Even reporters were barred from getting close to the event. After the rally, Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece criticizing the city for effectively shutting down a free speech event by preventing the media from covering it:
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.
Civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silvergate also criticized the city saying it had “gamed the First Amendment.”
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides with utmost clarity against the government’s enacting any laws “abridging the freedom of speech.” The exceptions and limitations are few and narrow. The Boston Common Free Speech Rally – cynically or sarcastically or through an excess of politically correct caution dubbed by the media as the “Free Speech” Rally (note the scare quotes) – was a massive failure for what was widely deemed a test of the community’s First Amendment vibrancy.
Yet City Hall, police, and the media all proclaimed the exercise an overwhelming success. Why? Apparently because nobody was killed. So, the official test now for whether an expressive event succeeds in its purpose is not whether the speakers are able to say their piece, nor whether those who want to listen actually get to hear. The test is that nobody was killed during the course of an event where not a word was heard, where no political views were aired, where no debate took place…
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
That was published two months ago. Today, the Massachusetts ACLU and several press organizations sent a letter to the city essentially agreeing with Silvergate. The letter claims the First Amendment rights of reporters were violated at the rally. From masslive.com:
In the Oct. 24 letter, the groups said “journalists were improperly excluded from the buffer zone around the Boston Common’s Parkman Bandstand during the rally on August 19, 2017.”…
“Journalists could not hear what participants said, record or photograph the proceedings near the Bandstand, or interview participants, including about the reasons for their involvement and views,” the civil liberties and media groups wrote in their letter.
I don’t know if Brandon Navom has a case against the mayor, but the city of Boston certainly failed to provide a workable venue for free speech. The mayor’s harping about “hate speech” certainly didn’t help.