Yet Geller’s being an obnoxious blowhard cannot lessen her claim to the same free speech rights that more salubrious individuals enjoy. Indeed, it is vital that free speech supporters unequivocally condemn Sunday’s attack precisely because Geller is an obnoxious blowhard. To understand why, it helps to remember one of America’s most important First Amendment legal cases.
The archetypical test of one’s commitment to free speech is his or her position on National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie. The 1977 case concerned a planned demonstration by neo-Nazis in the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb, where one of every six residents was a Holocaust survivor. After the neo-Nazi group announced its plans to march in the community, local authorities did everything they could to stop it, using bureaucratic tools like demanding the NSPA post $350,000 worth of liability insurance in advance of its demonstration.
The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which overruled an injunction against the march issued by lower courts. Ultimately, the “march,” as such, never took place. Instead, some 20 neo-Nazis milled around for 10 minutes, drowned out by thousands of counter-protesters. The very freedom that the bigots used to express their bigotry became the tool for decent people to demonstrate their much larger numbers.