Free speech for gun extremist, not for student?

Editors passionately defend the Freedom of Incendiary Speech of a right-wing extremist – but not a peep about a student arrested for a tweet.

The editorial board of the Northwest Arkansas Times today announced that “Free Speech Wins in GOP controversy”, referring to the brouhaha around Benton County Republican Chris Nogy who had made noises about shooting lawmakers who voted for laws that he disagrees with. Nogy wrote on the county GOP web site:

“The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives.”

While he personally thinks that “a gun is quicker and more merciful” than political and civic action, he regretfully concluded that “we can’t shoot them” [lawmakers]. He later issued a non-apology, stating that he “most likely won’t try to kill them [legislators] or harm their families”, and has since resigned from his committee post. The State Police had looked into the matter and concluded that he didn’t really mean to shoot anybody so his remarks weren’t actual threats and so no criminal charges were in order. The NWA Times editors agree:

“we’re glad to see free speech at work, just as the Constitution guarantees. Nogy got to express his ridiculous notion about a political party exterminating its traitors, while others fairly had the opportunity to speak out against an ill-conceived, poorly executed advocacy of political retribution. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. Nogy isn’t in danger of going to jail or being executed for speaking his mind.”

Fair enough. One has to wonder though why there wasn’t the slightest peep from any journalist, politician, or other advocate of Freedom of Speech when recently a UA student was arrested after a tweet that seems far less dangerous than Nogy’s figures of speech. On April 12, a University building was evacuated and student Carlos Martinez was arrested and charged with “terroristic threatening” after he had tweeted:

“UPDATE: Someone screams over the mezzanine and shoots all the forth year.”

This blogger has no idea what Martinez was trying to express in this message but it doesn’t appear to be a threat. At worst, it might have been intended to create a false alarm (as it did). Authorities nowadays understandably take any hint of danger in connection with schools seriously. But students still have First Amendment rights or have they? In the Nogy case, the police investigated whether there had been an intent to threaten and concluded there was none. In the Martinez case, the police arrested and the prosecutor charged without asking any questions.

None of the media outlets reporting on the incident (here, here, here and here) offered any comment on possible Free Speech implications of a hefty criminal charge based solely on a twitter message. No passionate editorials were written. There was also no hint that any of the journalists attempted to contact Martinez. Indeed all reporting appears to have consisted in merely copying the police press release.

Apparently, when it comes to exercising Free Speech, it helps to be a firebrand political extremist rather than an unknown – and probably harmless – student.

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4 thoughts on “Free speech for gun extremist, not for student?

  1. To answer your question, NO, students do not still have have first amendment rights. We have the extremist wing on the Supreme Court to thank for that. Google “bong hits for jesus” to get a little education on this topic. Seriously.

  2. I’m usually with you on all points but you missed the boat on this one. Students are in a confined area and “screams over the mezzanine” refers to a specific location in a building on UA campus and “forth year” refers to all the fourth year architecture students. Architecture is a five year program. So he should have been removed and questioned/investigated. Not so sure about the arrest.

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t see why it was obvious that the twitter message referred to a specific UA building. It is rather unspecific. I can see the case for questioning the student but a felony charge on that basis – no way. In any case Nogy’s statements were very specific and still were not deemed to be threatening. The real story in my view is how different the media reacted to both cases. A felony charge for a twitter message and not a peep from the “free press”. That’s a bit scary.

  3. I agree with your sense of outrage over the lack of consistency in addressing the two disparate incidents. To me, the Nogy case was arguably far worse than the Martinez case, since Nogy reportedly sent threatening messages to the individual legislators he purportedly wanted to murder. He made it clear that HE was going to do it, to lead if possible, an uprising of like-minded hooligans. Whereas Martinez did not state that he intended to engage in any killing, it can only be inferred from his statement that he was suggesting it. In any case it was NOT a threat, which he was (ironically) charged with committing.

    Benton County and Washington County have different prosecutors. Washington County’s John Threet has a reputation for being a hard-hearted, throw-the-book-at-’em D.A. I don’t know who the Benton County D.A. is but he certainly could not be any worse. Let’s assume they’re roughly equivalent in their crusty conservatism. The only argument I see that explains the Nogy nol pross decision is because he’s a right-wing conservative wacko. At least he’s “our” wacko, I can hear them saying in Bentonville.

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