Nicholas Goldberg: We rarely prosecute bigots and racists who spew hate speech. And rightly so. But it’s also the case that we have to be even more mindful of the effects of bigoted speech on the larger society.
For decades, we have been witnessing a frightening slide over the past several decades in the country’s tolerance of speech that is overtly bigoted, racist, or hate speech. One of the most glaring examples is the case of Richard Spencer’s white supremacist, alt-right, and neo-Nazi group, the National Policy Institute (NPI). In March, Spencer was forced by a public, unanimous vote by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to shut down his campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. After having repeatedly been banned from speaking at colleges, Spencer moved to the White House where he was allowed to spread his racist views only after President Donald Trump issued a tweet of support for Spencer. The White House’s acquiescence was a tacit admission that a national commission would not find his views hateful or bigoted.
In February, Spencer returned to Charlottesville to hold a speech, this time using the venue of a college. Just like in March, Spencer and his group, the Unite the Right rally, were met with an angry mob of protesters and counterprotesters that led to the death of anti-fascist, Heather Heyer and injuries to Spencer. After the rally concluded, Spencer held a press conference on a street corner in Charlottesville, where he called the protests a “great victory.”
Less than a year after being removed from his last public speaking opportunity, Spencer was invited back to the White House, even though a new administration had been elected.
Spencer then held a press conference, again speaking on a street corner. This time, he was greeted by a crowd of counterprotesters that had gathered at a nearby park. In a press conference, Spencer continued to call the protests a victory and accused both protesters and police of being “credible.” He said protesters were doing their civic duty, despite the fact that all of the major figures who came to Charlottesville for the white supremacist rally had received a phone call from President Donald Trump telling them to “unify” with the counterprotesters.
After the press conference, Spencer, and his group, the alt-right, continued to organize their protests and hold their events. Eventually,