White nationalists have tried to weaponize free speech. But it’s still worth defending.

Imagine, for a moment, that the left had responded to the antibusing movement by attacking all civil rights proponents as racist reactionaries, and by dismissing the civil rights ideal itself as a misleading fantasy that only advanced the interests of the white, the rich and the powerful. Instead, social justice activists remained committed to the importance of civil rights, and that model then provided the foundation for dramatic gains in women’s rights, disability rights and gay rights, among others. It remains essential and alive with the potential to transform the world for the better.

Similar to the “Where are white civil rights?” placards held up at antibusing rallies, the spectacle of white nationalists and conservative flamethrowers masquerading as free speech martyrs is difficult to stomach. I can understand the urge to distance ourselves from the free speech cause when some of its loudest proponents are morally bankrupt opportunists. But like civil rights, free speech is much too important to give up for dead.