Even Sacramento Nazis have rights
If you haven’t seen the scene, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. Jake floors the accelerator pedal of his jalopy Dodge (with the “cop” motor) and drives directly at the Illinois Nazis situated on a bridge. As they pour over the edge of the bridge and into the water below, the crowd goes wild.
Now, I think it’s fair to say that those particular Illinois Nazis should not have been allowed to protest on that bridge to begin with. But I also think it’s also fair to say that the Blues Brothers were not heroes for running the Nazis down, either.
It bears repeating that Nazis (Illinois or otherwise) should and, in fact, do have a right to spread their message wherever they like, in accordance with the various constitutional and time, place, and manner restrictions to which all other viewpoints are subject.
That is, after all, the deal that we’ve got with our Constitution here in the United States. Good or bad, the government – with its interest in preserving order and not discriminating based on the content of speech – is charged with keeping the peace when an unpopular opinion is publicly expressed.
With that in mind, how bizarre it was to watch what unfolded over the weekend in my hometown of Sacramento.
Exact reports of what transpired remain unclear, but it appears that a small group of self-identified white nationalists properly filed, and actually obtained, a permit to hold a demonstration on the steps of the state Capitol.
There, the “Traditionalist Worker Party,” a group that appears to espouse white nationalism, should have been left to unfurl its banners and, not unlike other unpopular protest groups that regularly gather at the Capitol on miserably hot Sunday afternoons, should have been ignored and left to slowly melt in the sun.
Instead, a counterprotest led by groups named BAMN, short for “by any means necessary,” and Antifa Sacramento, a local chapter of a protest organization founded to combat fascism and a large collection of other “isms,” gathered on the sidewalk in front of the steps upon which the white nationalists were situated and unfurled banners of their own.
Of course, given that the sidewalk is a public forum, the presence of the counterprotestors was also fine and good. Like the new-traditionalists, the BAMNers and Antifans were welcome to spend as much time as they liked being miserable in the 105-degree weather as well.
Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was the rhetoric, but the counterprotestors eventually elected to employ more kinetically-intensive means of addressing the white nationalists. What followed was a ludicrous display of shoving, running, pepper-spraying and stabbing.
There’s plenty of video of the event (here’s one), so folks can come to their own conclusions about how responsibility for the violence should be apportioned. Ultimately, though, interviews with various counterprotest members (here’s one) after the fact showed a Blues Brothers-esque level of understanding of the rights of others to publicly express themselves. As counterprotester Yvette Felarca put it:
…we defeated them and their efforts, they had to run hiding. They were not able to hold any kind of demonstration on the west steps, or any steps of the Capitol. And that was because of the militant, integrated, direct action of the people who came out.
Contrary to the beliefs of counterprotestors like Ms. Felarca, confronting legal speech with violence is utterly inappropriate. It harms not only their cause, but civil society and the nation’s constitutional order as a whole.
So what’s the takeaway from this hot Sunday afternoon in the Golden State’s capital city? It’s that the violent suppression of speech is funnier, and less destructive, when Hollywood does it.