Free speech in Boston

9 mins read
John Frary

Boston’s rally in defense of free speech on Aug. 20 had a feature seldom seen in our great and free Republic. The police department prevented the media from coverage. It decreed “NO media personnel will be allowed inside the barricaded area around the Bandstand.” The Bandstand, where the Free Speech Coalition held its rally, was at least 300 feet from the barricades. So no reporter could hear what any speaker said.

Beth Healy in a Boston Globe column entitled “Rally speakers, surrounded by police, end their event quickly” transmits a significant quote from outside the barricade. “I am burning over this,” a Cambridge-based civil rights lawyer told her. “If we repress and suppress unpopular speech, all we’ve done is kept ourselves ignorant.” This lawyer, Harvey Silverglate, explained that it was important to know whether the speakers had dangerous or hateful messages, but “I was deprived of that [knowledge] because an army of hooligans who made it impossible to hear the speakers.”

Farmington’s peerless Paul Mills told me he knew Silverglate at Harvard, describing him as a liberal among liberals who habitually provided a detached and analytical view on issues that stirred hot emotions among those around him. His insistence on the classic defense of free speech, that truth will always prevail unless suppressed by force, does not allow a priori suppression of falsehoods, no matter how obnoxious. I have two of his books which demonstrate his consistent and comprehensive concern for civil rights.

Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, makes the case that federal criminal laws have exploded in number while becoming impossibly broad and vague. We have reached a point, in this analysis, where prosecutors are free to nail any one of us for an arguable federal crime. He makes it clear that no social class or profession is sheltered from this kind of implicit social control. The Shadow University: The Betrayal Of Liberty On America’s Campuses, was written along with Alan Charles Kors, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania. The authors call universities to account for their oppressive speech codes, conduct codes, and “campus life” bureaucracies.

I know Kors well enough to be greeted as one of his “favorite people” at a Society of Historians meeting years ago. This was gratifying, but don’t read too much into it. He was a subscriber to my LU/English Department Newsletter and had just intervened to overturn objections raised by a couple of Society speakes. They demanded the removal of a stack of Newsletters from the registration table because they believed they smelled a whiff of racism in the satire.

About Kors it’s important to understand that, despite the imputations of guilt-by-association readers might deduce from his associations with Frary the Reactionary, the man is no conservative, but a libertarian of the purest pedigree. He was Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, published in four volumes by Oxford University Press and has written on the history of skeptical, atheistic, and materialist thought in 17th and 18th-century France.

The libertarian connection is important, because the Free Speech Coalition is a creation of Young Americans for Liberty, a college libertarian organization which clearly distinguishes itself from the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, founded in 1960. I found no sign that the journalists covering the Boston event bothered to check the YAL website []. If they had looked at it they would have found a mission statement, a list of leaders and their backgrounds, and a list of “strategic partners,” which are emphatically libertarian.

Readers of the Boston Globe, Portland Press Herald, Associated Press, and New York Times will find the “free speech” crowd described as haters, racists, Nazis, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Republicans and conservatives. The Boston Globe told stories of how “Boston Rallies Against Racism,” and “Tens of thousands stand against racism,” and “Resolute and ready, they made voices heard,” and “Rally by tens of thousands is peaceful but pointed.”

Adrian Weaver wrote a column in the Globe’s Metro section entitled “Counterprotesters React to Hate with Emphatic ‘Shame!” The Portland Press Herald had an article on the previous Saturday about Mainers heading down to Boston to make their voices heard. The Co-founder of For Us, By Us, for example, is quoted as saying “It’s important to stand up to white supremacy wherever it manifests.” She identified herself as one of several Mainers who was going to Boston to stand up against hate.

What hate? Whose hate? The Boston Free Speech Coalition denied any connection with the Charlottesville Unite the Right marchers. The Coalition declared on the FaceBook page “We are not associated with any alt-right or white supremacist groups, we are strictly about free speech.”
These denials were reported and disregarded. The hate-haters were not deceived. Everybody they talked to in that crowd of 30,000/40,000 tolerators told them that these pseudo-free speech advocates were really white supremacists. And every one of the persons they spoke to could assure them that everyone they spoke to affirmed the same.

Boston’s mayor, police commissioner, and police chief along with the Boston ACLU chair and the state’s Republican governor all denounced the forces of hate. The Trump Tower Gargoyle, unable to resist an opportunity to confuse matters, praised the hate haters, tweeting: “I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one! Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!”

Was the Gargoyle informed by a confidential FBI report or did he rely on the media? If the latter he was relying on a broken reed and a rope of sand. A microscopic examination of the press accounts mentioned above did not turn up a single quote about white supremacy or hate or anything at all from the free speech advocates isolated on that Boston Commons bandstand. A Portland Press Herald editorial, alone, provided two names on the list of speakers expected, but there was no information on why they were invited, what they said, or even whether they even made it to the bandstand.

I only catch tv news through computer connections and I can’t claim to have read every article on the subject, so I must rely on readers to find information to contradict this statement: there is no evidence to support the allegations of thousands of hate-haters who yelled and chanted and frothed at the mouth about racists and nazis on the Boston Commons on August 20.

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  1. The Boston Free Speech Coalition denied any connection with the Charlottesville Unite the Right marchers. The Coalition declared on the FaceBook page “We are not associated with any alt-right or white supremacist groups, we are strictly about free speech.”

    couldn’t be that inviting this winner has something to do with why the boston free speech coalition has been maligned as a hate group? he’s just an innocent little libertarian, after all. it would be unfair to accuse him of inciting racial hatred.

    after the debacle in charlottesville, the free speech coalition uninvited him, citing his violent rhetoric and holocaust denialism as being antithetical to their pure libertarian ideology, making clear that even in their detached-from-reality absolutionist views, some free speech is acceptable while some is not.

    it’s not clear who the others dis-invited from the even were, but it’s implied that they were affiliated with white supremacist and alt-right groups. groups that believe that certain other groups should not enjoy the same rights they do. groups who actively and aggressively use violent and intimidating tactics to chill the speech of others. you know, the kind of folks you’d defend the first amendment rights of, until they start killing people in your town. (one hopes.)

  2. I ordered a lecture series, “The Birth of the Modern Mind” from the Great Courses company, and it was taught by Charles Alan Kors. His lectures about the enlightenment — philosophers, issues, etc. — made that one of my favorite courses from that company. I have to say I’m in complete agreement with him about making sure campuses are safe for free speech, without oppressive speech codes and the like. Luckily, UMF remains a place where people can share diverse opinions freely.

  3. Myopic provides a link to information about Augustus Invictus, a clown as his assumed name suggests. Not clear but Myopic appears to believe Silverglate should never be allowed to hear what he might have said, assuming he actually showed up.

  4. I’ve had some interesting e-mail exchanges with Prof. Kalikow. We agree on most of the educational issues we touched on and disagreed, without heat, on a couple of current conflicts.

    The College Republicans invited me to speak on Islam along with a vet. There was a large turn-out. Some young women had I [HEART] Islam T-shirts. Always tactful I did not ask if they thought Islam [HEARTED] them right back. The exchange was free of thunder and lightening.

    All the same, UMF students might benefit from a speakers list less uniformly leftist.

  5. Mr. Frary:

    There’s an orange tweeting elephant in the room. The leader of the GOP and his statements over the past two years has more than a little bit to do with the political climate change you’re witnessing. Implicit defenses of white nationalism emanating from Cheeto the Tremendous should be denounced as a bit more chilling than the Boston P.D.’s attempt to avoid another Charlottesville.

  6. John,

    Uniformly leftist, is a general condition of the Maine educational community as well as most of the states remaining news groups. Dont expect anything balanced out of either entity because their purpose is to support the approved liberal party line. Free speech is a contradiction of terms with the leftists. Judging on the tact of Maine voters of late I’d say the pendulum has shifted. Have a good evening.

  7. I REPEAT: “…I must rely on readers to find information to contradict this statement: there is no evidence to support the allegations about racists and nazis on the Boston Commons on August 20.”

    I wonder if Myopic and Seamus understand that their responses reinforce the point of my column. Probably not, but there’s enough ambiguity to leave the question unresolved.

  8. John, I’ll always support you and the College Republicans if you want to bring people to campus (to be sure, I can’t offer money, but…) I agree that exposure to a diverse set of ideas is essential for an education.

  9. Scott, Thanks for that. Some years back Lance (when Verso still employed him) and I thought of helping financed a lecture fee for Ayann Hirsi Ali. Never got around to it, but that’s the sort of speaker that would broaden the prevailing perspective. I don’t have anyone in mind at present but I can always find a thousand for someone interesting.

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