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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

LIVE from the Crosscut Festival: “When free speech becomes hate speech”

Before noon I was already at my third ses­sion of the day here at the Cross­cut Fes­ti­val at Seat­tle University.

“When free speech becomes hate speech” fea­tured pan­elists Ethan Blevins, staff attor­ney at Pacif­ic Legal Foun­da­tion; Ever­green State Col­lege stu­dent Jamil Bee; David Nei­w­ert, inves­ti­gate reporter and author of a recent book on the Rad­i­cal Right; and Ever­green State Col­lege pro­fes­sor of Geog­ra­phy and Native Stud­ies, Zoltán Gross­man. Mod­er­at­ing was Sara Bernard.

Bernard start­ed the pan­el by ask­ing Bee to recount from their per­spec­tive some of the chal­lenges they went through at Ever­green last year. They not­ed it start­ed with a coali­tion of stu­dents rais­ing con­cerns about pat­terns of issues on cam­pus and doing orga­niz­ing to try to cre­ate change. When media start­ed report­ing on it, it led to nation­al atten­tion and stu­dents being vic­tims of online harass­ment and threats of vio­lence against the cam­pus as a whole.

Bernard then asked Blevins, an attor­ney, about the legal aspects of hate speech. He said the biggest chal­lenge is that there is not a very good def­i­n­i­tion of hate speech that is gen­er­al­ly agreed upon. Gen­er­al­ly hate speech is pro­tect­ed, except that which incites vio­lence, he continued.

Bee fol­lowed Blevins state­ment to explain that the def­i­n­i­tion of vio­lence was part of com­pli­ca­tion of the issues at Evergreen.

Gross­man point­ed out that there is a strong tra­di­tion of stu­dent protest in this coun­try and it has always been rous­ing. In the case of Ever­green, there was con­tin­ued frus­tra­tion built up on cam­pus after years of rais­ing con­cerns and stu­dents feel­ing like they were not being addressed. But he also not­ed that this sort of thing is not just hap­pen­ing on cam­pus­es, but across the coun­try in oth­er com­mu­ni­ties and industries.

When asked if the Alt-Right tar­gets col­lege cam­pus­es, Nei­w­ert answered emphat­i­cal­ly, “absolute­ly 100%. I have nev­er seen it this bad in 30 years.”

Alt Right and white suprema­cists are active­ly recruit­ing at unprece­dent­ed lev­els, he said, often through the inter­net, tar­get­ing young white men between the ages of 14 and 30. He said it is done very effec­tive­ly through appeals to hatred of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, fear of fem­i­nism, and fears of peo­ple of col­or. He says recruit­ment is espe­cial­ly geared towards wealthy young sub­ur­ban males, and that we are at risk of a gen­er­a­tion of rad­i­cal­ized young white males.

Gross­man not­ed that it is not just on col­lege cam­pus­es that recruit­ment is hap­pen­ing, but even ear­li­er than that, at high schools, and urges that pre­ven­tion of rad­i­cal­iza­tion needs to start much earlier.

After Gross­man gave a time­line of the events at Ever­green last year, Blevins not­ed that a true threat of vio­lence is not going to be pro­tect­ed, but deter­min­ing the scope of that is a chal­lenge. He said that the Supreme Court is very unwill­ing to sti­fle speech in almost all cir­cum­stances. Blevins says the rem­e­dy is counter-speech and counter-protest.

Nei­w­ert agreed that it’s true that courts are very lim­it­ed in what they will do, that the First Amend­ment gives huge amount of lee­way. He said, “the court that mat­ters most right now is the court of pub­lic opin­ion, but that court is be swayed by white suprema­cist jack­ass­es like Tuck­er Carlson.”

Bee, the only per­son of col­or on the pan­el, point­ed out that the very dis­cus­sion of lim­its on what can be deemed racist ARE racist. White peo­ple can­not set the bound­aries of what is racist, peo­ple of col­or should set the bound­aries, as the tar­gets of oppres­sion. They empha­sized that this is applic­a­ble to all forms of oppres­sion, not just race.

Bee said that this is actu­al­ly what feels most vio­lent to them, “that I can­not say what feels like harm for me, or say it enough for peo­ple to want to take action. Amer­i­ca has done enough harm to peo­ple that noth­ing feels like the lim­it for repa­ra­tions; I have not received enough restora­tion to start lim­it­ing what reme­dies need to happen.”


The final ques­tion asked of the pan­elist was what uni­ver­si­ties can or should do about poten­tial hate speech on cam­pus. Bee, as a uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent, said that uni­ver­si­ties need to stick to what their high­est val­ue should be: their stu­dents and their safety.

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  1. Hey it’s me — the Jamil men­tioned in this post — and I just want­ed to say that I am pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by the integri­ty of this post.

    # by Jamil Bee :: February 9th, 2018 at 2:06 AM
    • Hi Jamil. Thanks so much for your com­ment. We strive for integri­ty in all of our posts, of course, but I am still very glad to hear your feed­back! It is espe­cial­ly impor­tant to me to know that I accu­rate­ly con­veyed what you, and the oth­er pan­elists, had to say. Thanks again for tak­ing the time to comment.

      # by Theresa Curry Almuti :: February 9th, 2018 at 9:08 PM
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