The “alt-right” will descend on Charlottesville on Aug. 12. Preempting the demonstration, Black Lives Matter Charlottesville petitioned Charlottesville City Council to revoke the permit for the rally. Rather than waste energy pursuing an unconstitutional and unnecessary retraction of the permit, BLM Charlottesville should let the alt-right rally occur.
First and foremost, the act of restricting the right to speech and peaceful organization of any individual or group based on a value judgement of their message is not only unconstitutional, but immoral and shortsighted. Just over 50 years ago, laws restricting rights to assembly and protest were manipulated to jail and oppress civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This flagrant disregard for first amendment rights stemmed from the simple fact that the access to permits was restricted based on the identity of the applicants. That is not to equate the mission or ideas of the American civil rights movement to that of the alt-right — rather, it is to illustrate the historical oppression that could very well still follow when the government is allowed to discriminate in its protection of speech rights based on the content of the message. Advocating for government intervention to silence any group based on their particular views sets an alarming, easily misappropriated precedent and betrays a blithe disregard for history.
Imagine, for a moment, if City Council instituted a policy of restricting the rights of BLM to peacefully assemble and participate in open speech. BLM Charlottesville would rightfully cry foul, and yet they rush to lay the legal foundation for such a dystopic possibility. While their message is unquestionably more palatable than the downright repulsive views of the alt-right, the hubris displayed in the delusion of immunity from turning tables exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of the fragility of the progress we have achieved in the last 50 years.
The views of the alt-right are visibly toxic. Because of this, beyond the legal implications of the attempt to silence the rally, it is a redundant measure. When the alt-right enters the open marketplace of ideas, they necessarily lose. Their message simply does not have the political, philosophical or social latitude to thrive when it competes directly with more inclusive and tolerant ideologies.
A perfect example of this phenomenon was the July 8 KKK rally in downtown Justice park, which occurred despite similar calls for retraction of the protest permit. Although the KKK was allowed to assemble and disseminate their filth, the result of the afternoon was an undeniable failure for the already discredited and universally loathed organization. Their message, when they were allowed to broadcast it, was nevertheless resoundingly rejected. If anything, allowing the KKK to assemble shone a light on the festering moral core of the organization and ultimately concluded in an inspiring display of solidarity by the Charlottesville community in the face of bigotry. The upcoming alt-right rally is no different. Rather than rely on government intervention to suppress the distasteful ideas espoused by the alt-right, BLM Charlottesville should permit entrance into the free marketplace of ideas and watch as the rotting ideological foundation collapses under its own weight.
Even if the alt-right could weather the public arena of discourse, the solution is not to infringe on their right to peacefully assemble. If there are community members susceptible to the ideology of the alt-right, the speech isn’t the problem in the first place. The hateful rhetoric of the alt-right will not simply disappear if the government makes it harder for the ideas to be shared openly. If anything, such a move would only further entrench adherents. True progress and healing can be achieved only through open, honest dialogue. Rather than expend resources suppressing the rights of others, BLM Charlottesville should focus on winning their hearts and minds.
I’m convinced that BLM Charlottesville has a better philosophy than the alt-right. If they meet those ideas head on in the realm of open discourse, I’m confident the public will be convinced as well.
Brendan Novak is an Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.