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The War on Free Speech in America

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It’s easy to judge how free a county is by the instances of wholesale violation of the liberty of the people. Grand acts of tyranny are hard to ignore. Yet it is even more dismaying when you see the rights of individuals violated in ways which are routine or almost trivial, trampled under the boot of an indifferent bureaucracy and its officious minions.

We saw an ironic example of this on Saturday morning when a small group of protesters were arrested for exercising their 1st Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly at the Jefferson Memorial. Infront of the statue of our nation’s greatest spokesman for liberty they were handcuffed and dragged off and ultimately charged with protesting without a permit for the desperate crime of dancing silently to the music on their iPods.

There was something almost macabre in the bizarre scene of bicycle-mounted park police in helmets and little shorts dragging away people who did nothing to harm anyone, shouting at those videotaping the event (in a building where photos and video have been shot by millions for generations), strongarming tourists out of the way and ultimately closing the memorial dedicated to the author of the Declaration of Independence to the public because eight silly people had been dancing there.

Watching the events on video I wondered what impression of America the tourists observing this scene came away with and I felt as if the giant statue of Jefferson ought to come to life at the outrage and rampage through the city which has forgotten the principles on which the government it is home to was founded.

Interestingly, this protest was in response to a ruling from the DC Appeals Court upholding a ruling by US District Judge John D. Bates earlier last year on the case of Mary Oberwetter who was arrested for silently dancing at the memorial to celebrate Jefferson’s birthday in 2008. The judge ruled that her actions were not protected free speech because the inside of the Jefferson memorial, a building paid for by tax dollars to which admission is not charged, is not a public forum.

I freely admit that these protesters, who include some prominent anti-government activists, are a bunch of anarchist clowns, but the whole point of America is the right to be speak out freely no matter how unpopular or juvenile that speech is and not be punished for it so long as it does no harm to anyone else. This protest was utterly harmless and sufficiently close to the norms of public behavior that those in the crowd at the memorial as it was going on probably would have taken little note of it.

I have to wonder what went through the minds of those policemen. Who raised them and where were they educated that they lack a basic internal sense of justice or the sanctity of liberty? How could their souls not rebel at what they were doing. What made them into sociopaths more loyal to a paycheck or more obsessed with their own power than the basic rights of other people?

I realize that bicycle policemen have shrunken genitalia and are in constant pain and danger of castration because of their tight polyester shorts. They look silly and feel emasculated and that presumably fills them with rage. But I do wonder how they were trained, where their common sense was, and whether someone really gave them an order to do the one thing which would make them look like unreasonable thugs. They could easily have looked the other way and the protest would have been forgotten minutes after it happened by anyone but those directly involved. Instead, their arrests and bullying behavior got the protestors local and national media exposure and hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.

What this incident highlights is the institutional indifference and arrogance of a government which puts the rubber stamp of a bureaucrat on a permit ahead of the fundamental rights of individuals. If you need a permit for free speech or free assembly then it is no longer free and it is no longer a right. It has become a privilege granted by the government which can also be taken away by that government. This is not what Thomas Jefferson intended at the founding of this nation and it is not what is written into the Bill of Rights.

We should be arresting the bureaucrats and letting the protesters go free as true representatives of the principles on which this nation was founded.

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About Dave Nalle

  • http://milkchaser.blogspot.com Bob White

    One course of action would be to bombard the office of the bureaucrat with requests for permits and for requests for information about permits, etc. A larger crowd might have gotten away with it, say a choir singing “God Bless America”.

  • William

    Just saw the video and I’m really rather puzzled by it all. I would characterize the actions of those arrested (that is, those actions which got them arrested) is quite silly. And that’s about it. I would characterize the response of the ‘authorities’ as childish. Absurd might be even better. This commenter is nowhere near an anarchist, but I wonder, Mr. White (commenter before me) if we’ll be monitored for a bit for our comments in support. The Patriot Act was just renewed. These comments are probably worrisome enough for the powers that be.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    Can it really be well spoken when the speaker shows they don’t understand the subject matter they are dealing with?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    You know I normally disagree with you on pretty much everything…but this is an exception to the rule. I agree with you – they might be silly, but it’s still a matter of freedom of speech.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    To see what has happened to the former land of the free over the last ten years is really depressing.

    It is outrageous that people need a permit to protest and to be arrested over something like this is scandalous.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Chris –

    Wasn’t that one of bin Laden’s goals? Along with bankrupting us by getting us into an unwinnable war?

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Bin Laden is certainly laughing at us from Gehenna.

    Dave

  • Aristides

    Overall, a very even-handed article, but I know some of the protesters and you might be surprised at just what these “anarchists” believe. Some of the people simply believe in a very limited constitutional government, as the Founders envisioned (unfortunately, something considered to be a very “extreme” position in modern America). Some of the others could be described as “anarcho-capitalists” and are influenced heavily by economists like Murray Rothbard and Hans Hermann Hoppe. Anarcho-capitalism is not a belief in a chaotic society without governance. On the contrary, the philosophy advocates a strong system of law and order, built on Lockean principles of unalienable rights (which were the foundation of our Declaration and Constitution), and administered by the free market (instead of though coercive taxation). It sounds far-fetched until you take the time to really study it. The theoretical models for such a society offer very plausible solutions to all of the functions normally performed by “The State,” including courts, police, roads, and national defense. I would recommend checking out the Mises Institute website if you don’t mind putting in some time to learn about economics and political philosophy. The media section has literally hundreds of hours of free audio and video lectures from the Professors at the Mises Institute (don’t worry, not all of them are anarcho-capitalists). They may not convince you of the benefits of a stateless society, but they will definitely open your eyes to the wonders of the free market and the impoverishing nature of government bureaucracy. You don’t know what fiscal conservatism is until you’ve studied “Austrian School” Economics.

  • Cannonshop

    Free Speech includes people being stupid. It is, in fact, one of the seminal virtues of permitting that freedom-that the stupid, the fanatical, and the foolish will reveal themselves as such in public, thus neutralizing their ability to control or manipulate the debate.

    Of course, the dim-witted and the power-addicted arrogant dislike it, dislike it and, if allowed, would curtail it in the name of “Public Order”.

    This situation, and others of its kind, are why so many of us see our ‘civil Servants’ as wishing to be ‘civil masters.’

    There is NO right NOT to be Offended or to not see something that offends you. None, it is nowhere in the Constitution of any individual STate, nor in the Constitution of the United States, nor is it in the charter documents of our nation’s Capital.

    Abuse of power is rampant, maybe it is time to demand that the power be restrained.

  • Lemmie

    9# “Abuse of power is rampant, maybe it is time to demand that the power be restrained.”

    Should we consider the police enforcing Park Service regulations (put in place so that everyone who visits can enjoy the experience) as an abuse of power, or should we consider the actions of the “anarchists” as an abuse of the 1st?

    It seems to me that these “dancers” were only concerned with their right to “show off”, and had no consideration for anyone but themselves.

    But, hey, maybe they’re right. ANYONE should be able to demonstrate at the Jefferson Memorial WHENEVER they see fit.

    I’d love to see a couple of flash mobs show up at the same time to demonstrate WITHOUT police interference. The first, anti-abortion protestors; the second, pro-abortion protestors. Might be good for some chuckles!

    Just sayin’

    Lem

  • jeff

    Well, this is my belief also that free speech should be practically unlimited unless it borders on harassment. In this case which I just learnt of now, it seems pretty clear that in a country such as the USA no one should come even close to being harassed for expressing quietly ones opinions. This is indeed counter to the principles on which the USA were built upon.

    However, there is no doubt that in general freedom in the US is clearly above the average. While it is important to fight any limit to freedom of speech it is also good to acknowledge the chance people living in such countries have.

    I am also not sure the anger poured at the policemen is warranted. I assume they got an order from their superior. While it is a wrong order they have family also and making a statement by refusing to arrest those 8 protesters would have only attracted issues for them.

    I loved the article and agree with it, apart from the attack on policemen which was not necessary in my opinion

  • Clavos

    Should we consider the police enforcing Park Service regulations (put in place so that everyone who visits can enjoy the experience) as an abuse of power…

    Emphatically yes, even though I disagree with the protester’s point.

    See Cannonshop’s trenchant comment #9 above.

  • pablo

    Good news! Soon we will not have to worry about these scum who dance in front of Thomas Jefferson without a permit.

    Thanks to our beloved Homeland Security keeping the homeland free from complaining dissidents, they have devised a new plan for preventing such outrageous displays of contempt in the future.

    It is called “Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST). This program uses complex algorithms to interview all persons entering a public area (I do know that the federal gestapo judge ruled that the Jefferson Memorial is not public) and to be interviewed on cam and the data fed into the machine.

    Thank you to our beloved Homeland Security Agency for keeping us safe!

    Here is a video of it in action! God bless America!!
    FAST Homeland Security to the Rescue

    Have fun in your Police State folks!

  • Lemmie

    9# “There is NO right NOT to be Offended or to not see something that offends you.”

    I agree.

    But, do I have a “right”, while in a public place governed by specific, common sense rules concerning behavior, to not be disrupted by the actions of others who believe they have a “right” to ignore the rules?

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Perhaps, Lemmie. But defining silent dancing in place by a small group of people as “disruptive” is ridiculous.

    Dave

  • Lemmie

    15# “Perhaps, Lemmie. But defining silent dancing in place by a small group of people as “disruptive” is ridiculous.”

    Dave, with all due respect, I can only agree with you IF the intent of the “silent dancer(s)” was simply to silent dance.

    In this particular case it seems to me that the primary intent of the silent dance was to bring attention to the dancers and their cause. The result of this was the arrival of the park police. The actions of the police resulted in the disruption of normal activities at the memorial. The cause of the disruption was the silent dancing. This was, after all, an organized group who knowingly violated park rules, not simply some “Joe or Mary Average” who got caught up in the emotion of “God bless the U.S.A.” on their IPods and started “moving to the beat”.

    In this case, the silent dancing was disruptive because it was intended to cause a disruption.

  • Clavos

    I disagree with you, Lemmie, and furthermore I think you (and Park police) tread perilously close to violating the First Amendment with that stance.

    Had the dancers been making a ruckus, trashing the monument, or in some other way disturbing the peace, perhaps they would have been out of bounds (but I don’t know if I even believe that), but if their dancing brought the cops, which in turn made the scene disruptive as you say, then the cops should have stayed the hell away. Those people had a right to do what they did; they were not, until the cops showed up (and then it was the cops, not the dancers), infringing on anyone’s rights.

    And it is specious for you to speculate on what the dancing was “intended” to accomplish — you have no way of knowing their intentions.

  • Cindy

    “I have to wonder what went through the minds of those policemen.”

    …wonder if I’ll get to shoot anyone today…

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Aristedes,

    How can anarcho-capitalism support a system of law and order? It doesn’t make sense. It sounds like you are describing Libertarians not an anarcho-capitalists.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    I am also not sure the anger poured at the policemen is warranted. I assume they got an order from their superior. While it is a wrong order they have family also and making a statement by refusing to arrest those 8 protesters would have only attracted issues for them.

    Some-one has to make these bombs, drop those bombs, guard these people, torture those people…incinerate those people…

    As a human being, using authority as an excuse to abuse your fellow human travelers is unacceptable. Stop defending that mindset and the world might have a chance.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    …if their dancing brought the cops, which in turn made the scene disruptive as you say, then the cops should have stayed the hell away. Those people had a right to do what they did; they were not, until the cops showed up (and then it was the cops, not the dancers), infringing on anyone’s rights.

    Well stated, Clav.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    This incident reminds me of the time my wife and I got into trouble for snogging on the Vittorio Emanuele Monument in Rome. And we weren’t even protesting anything.

    Well, we weren’t up until the point when the security lady got all pissy about it, anyway.

  • Lemmie

    17# “And it is specious for you to speculate on what the dancing was “intended” to accomplish — you have no way of knowing their intentions.”

    Specious perhaps had I not done a little background research on the person, Adam Kokesh, involved in this incident.

    I adhere to my theory.

    17# “Those people had a right to do what they did…”

    Do we all then have the “right” to violate or ignore laws, rules, or regulations that we do not agree with? And lest this spiral out of control let’s, if I may ask, limit our dialog to rules (etc.) governing common sense issues and NOT to those put into place specifically to protect us from physical harm (murder, assault); damage to, or theft of, property; or the irresponsible behavior of others (as in driving under the influence).

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    I thought only Hardshell Baptists had laws against dancing. Separation of church and state, Lemmie. Separation of church and state.

  • Clavos

    Specious perhaps had I not done a little background research on the person, Adam Kokesh, involved in this incident.

    And what did you find that supports your stance? How about some links?

  • Cannonshop

    #10 Lemmie, did you ask if the regulations (which are NOT laws, as they are made by an AGENCY, rather than through representative elective process) were necessary and just?

    When an agency makes rules that can be enforced with…well, with force, it’s essentially the same as the executive branch making law without need for a legislature.

    Just because the practice is common, does not make it right.

  • Cannonshop

    #23 How does the organizer being a moron have anything to do with dancing, Lemmie? or any other form of NON violent protest? Unless and until you can demonstrate that those folks were there with weapons and intent to harm innocents or vandalize public property, your defense of the actions of the Park Police is, frankly, empty of content and long on emotion.

    It also demonstrates a rather shocking lack of understanding as to what the First Amendment says in text, and why it says it. This was a public space, these people were harming NO ONE. Nobody got hurt until the police arrived and started hurting people.

    There is a reason we fought the Cold War, Lemmie, there is a reason that the Soviets were the enemy, and it wasn’t economics. There are literally hundereds of nations on earth with Authoritarian and Totalitarian systems where the police have a very free hand indeed in how they act, and the government has a very free hand indeed on what to send the cops (or Militia) to act ON.

    We’re different, or we’re supposed to be, anyway.

  • Lemmie

    25# “And what did you find that supports your stance? How about some links?”

    Okay.

    All times approximate.

    Adam Kokesh Interview (Link to YouTube)

    1:35-1:40 “What we did in our demonstration [our intention] was to expose the brutal nature of the police force…”

    3:35-3:37 “If you want to stand up to the police force…[join us]

    3:52-3:54 “We’re going to stick it to them again…” (emphasis mine)

    It is my belief that these comments demonstrate an intent on the part of Mr. Kokesh and friends to provoke a confrontation with the “brutal police force” and that they obviously plan on doing it “again”.

    Of course, it is also possible that all they wanted to do was simply dance around in defiance of “the MAN” for the TV camera and watch themselves on the news later.

  • Clavos

    Thank you, Lemmie for your links; i agree with you, that appears to be their intent.

    Which proves the police were stupid and inept for having taken their bait.

  • Cannonshop

    #28 You can’t provoke something that isn’t there. The ease with which said provocation occurred maybe ought to give you pause, Lemmie, and maybe make you wonder if it’s a good idea to have Law Enforcement that is so hair-trigger that they can be set off easily, and deliberately, by people who are NOT vandalizing property or harming bystanders.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Do we all then have the “right” to violate or ignore laws, rules, or regulations that we do not agree with?

    Of course we do. We have the “right” to design our own social reality and be free from anyone else’s imposed rules entirely. We have the right as animals born on this planet to live the way we wish and to repel and rebel and overthrow the ways of life that we have be told we must live by and insist on having a voice and a choice in the rules we live by. Anyone and any group which tries to thwart that and bend us and subject us to their “laws and order” on terms we did not participate in must be confronted with regard to its/their “right” to enforce its/their choices upon us.

    The better question is who has the “right” to impose their rules upon anyone else?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Is Lemmie short for Lemming, btw?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    pablo,

    have you seen this?

  • Cannonshop

    Lemmie, do you understand that there is supposed to be a separation between what is law, and what is regulation? IIRC, there is no law against dancing in the monument, nor is there a law against protest. Laws are enacted by persons answerable to the public, Regulations are enacted by Bureaucrats, at a whim, or fiat, persons NOT answerable to the public. As I have said before, just because it has become common to place Regulation above Law in practice, does not make it right.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    Ya wanted a nanny state, ya got a momma that don’t allow no dancing…

    …but…

    …WE DON’T CARE WHAT MOMMA DON’T ALLOW, WE’RE GONNA KEEP ON DANCING ANYHOW!

  • Cannonshop

    What did we fight the cold war for, if, in the end, we end up with the same kind of “law enforcement” mentality that the Soviets had?

  • Lemmie

    27# “defense of the actions of the Park Police is, frankly, empty of content and long on emotion.”

    Cannon, when did I defend the actions of the police?

    29# “Which proves the police were stupid and inept for having taken their bait.”

    No argument from me on this point, Clavos. They should have waited until the dancers finished their self-absorbed performance and then gave them the confrontation they sought in the parking lot. Maybe sent in the militia? Seriously, though, one wonders if the dancers had not received the attention they sought, would they have simply left the Monument, or would they have pushed onward until they got what the wanted? It appears to me that they are looking forward to making “victims” of themselves again on Saturday.

    30# “You can’t provoke something that isn’t there.”

    Sure you can. I believe it is called self-fulfilling prophecy, though that may not be entirely applicable in this particular situation.

    31# “We have the “right” to design our own social reality and be free from anyone else’s imposed rules entirely.”

    Cindy, when one designs their own social reality, is their any sort of code, written or unwritten, that one should refer to, or is it “anything goes”? What, for example, would be in place to prevent my social reality (my rules) from encroaching on your social reality (your rules) in a way that is beneficial to me, yet detrimental to you?

    32# “Is Lemmie short for Lemming…””

    Is it too late to change my moniker to “Ferret”?

  • Cannonshop

    I don’t know, Lemmie, your attention span isn’t short enough for that from what I’ve seen. You just aren’t ADHD enough for “Ferret” to stick.
    (ooh, shiny…)

  • Clavos

    They should have waited until the dancers finished their self-absorbed performance and then gave them the confrontation they sought in the parking lot.

    No, not if all they did was dance silently, then leave. If the police accosted them in the parking lot, it’s the same situation as accosting them in the monument; only the locale is different. Better for the police to have simply watched, and, if there was no further action on the dancers’ part, just let them go.

    Seriously, though, one wonders if the dancers had not received the attention they sought, would they have simply left the Monument, or would they have pushed onward until they got what the wanted?

    Unknowable. Had the police not interfered, we would now know, and if the dancers had done something that interfered with others, that would have been the time for police action.

    It appears to me that they are looking forward to making “victims” of themselves again on Saturday.

    Maybe. And the police bit.

    Unfortunately.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    If folks with Lemmie’s mindset had maintained the upper hand in the days of the Civil Rights Movement, blacks would still be following the rules of segregation.

    (That isn’t intended as a compliment.)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    That last thing I said might’ve been unfair to Lemmie. Maybe he really WOULDN’T have been the guy turning the pressure hose on the Freedom Fighters because they were “breaking rules just because they didn’t like them.”

    One wonders though, if he believes there have been ANY recent incidents of law enforcement overreach.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    …when one designs their own social reality, is their any sort of code, written or unwritten, that one should refer to, or is it “anything goes”? What, for example, would be in place to prevent my social reality (my rules) from encroaching on your social reality (your rules) in a way that is beneficial to me, yet detrimental to you?

    Of course there are codes unwritten (there always are among social creatures) and perhaps even written–but we had best write them in pencil, lest new participants show up, or if we change our minds having tested them.

    There are principles to living reasonably and fairly, such as–no one person or group of people has the right to enforce their rules upon anyone/everyone else…common sense things like that, which are reminiscent of the golden rule.

    The key point here, Lemmie, is that we should each have a direct say in the social order–i.e. direct democracy. Decisions would flow horizontally, not from a top down. What we have now is rule by those above enforced upon those below. This is a huge problem in every system I have been intimately acquainted with.

    My husband just spent three months in hospital and rehab. There is no end to the improvements that could have been made to his treatment if the power to create the rules rested in the hands of those involved on the ground. Instead, the procedures and methods were created by someone else, somewhere else and had to be followed by those present.

    Why do you think our society contains the particular flaws it does? Bureaucracy is not a “natural” condition. Alvin Toffler made a lot of sense.

    And don’t even get me started on all the mental illness and violence created by a system of unequal power.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    35

    Well-expressed point, Irene. :-)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    Good morning, Cindy!

    You and I are working for the same goal from opposite directions, I think: less “system”, more humanity. The smaller the central government, the larger role local government is going to have in determining what a citizen’s life is going to look like. That would mean a lot more town meetings, where the voices of all interested parties would be heard.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    I looked at your link, Cindy. “ADHOCRACY not bureaucracy.” I like that.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Hey, Cindy. My email address had changed. Get the new one from either Clavos or Mark.

    Trust all’s well.

  • http://tmackorg.com/ Tommy Mack

    Two words come to mind: “wrongful arrest.” Had the police used Tasers, the outrage would be different but no less justified. Dancing near a statue is not a crime. Wrongful arrest is. Police are officials but they are not the government. What a bad day for the Public Affairs Office.

    I am afraid I do not see this stupid incident as an abridgement of protected speech. Wrongful arrest abridges liberty. What a great day for lawyers.

    Tommy

  • Cannonshop

    #47 it may come down to whether the regulation violates the 1st Amendment (I doubt there’ll be case-law on that, it doesn’t seem likely to be taken up or taken seriously-after all, nobody was killed.) The case for wrongful arrest, on the other hand, likely will NEVER reach a court, simply because the officers involved can point to the park regulation as the basis for their actions, and without a challenge to the legitimacy of the Regulation and/or policy in a court of law, they’re pretty much not even going to get a day off unpaid (again, because nobody died or was seriously maimed in the incident.)

  • Clavos

    Good point (and a larger one) on the abridgement of liberty, Tommy.

  • Lemmie

    41# “That last thing I said might’ve been unfair to Lemmie. Maybe he really WOULDN’T have been the guy turning the pressure hose on the Freedom Fighters because they were “breaking rules just because they didn’t like them.”

    Comparing Jim Crow laws to National Park Service regulations IS unfair. Using them to question the very essence of my character, even more so. Shame on you, Irene.

    btw–Yes, Irene, I do find certain actions by certain law enforcement officials unacceptable, but I do not condemn law enforcement as a whole because of it.

    “Shame, shame, shame”–Gomer Pyle, USMC.

    I’ll have you know that the ONLY people I ever turned a water hose on were my children when they were small.