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.

Exchange with Fayetteville Free Weekly

An exchange with Blair Jackson, editor of the Fayetteville-based Free Weekly, addresses the question of how to deal with right-wing propaganda. In one of a series of columns on the Occupy Wall Street movement (which now has a camp in Fayetteville), Blair ponders whether Bill O’Reilly might be right in dismissing OWS as a “socialist movement”. This sparked a response from Arkansas Media Watch charging that “by quoting and discussing [O’Reilly’s] straw man arguments and other lies and distortions, all you are doing is giving them legitimacy they don’t deserve.” Instead of allowing the extreme right to frame the debate and dominate the public discourse, we need to “end the occupation of the public discourse space by Fox News and other corporate shills” and “expel O’Reilly from your mind”.

Read Blair’s response here and the full text of AMW’s comment below the fold. What do readers think?

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Republican Nate Bell adorns facebook page with fabricated Hitler quote

Max Brantley at Arkansas Blog discovered an interesting story. Republican State Representative Nate Bell has put the following quote allegedly from Hitler’s Mein Kampf on his facebook page:

As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.– Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler

In response to the post, Bell has defended his choice of quotable statesmen in the following remarks on his facebook page:

“Comparing Dems to Nazis is wayyyy to easy. Let’s start with banning cell phone use while parked in a school zone. After all, it’s for the children. How about banning soccer goals in the entire state? Banning texting while walking? Banning private ownership of monkeys? The state determining how long my hamburger MUST be cooked? Banning wearing headphones while jogging? These were all Democrat bills introduced this session. Dems use children to pass bad legislation regularly.”

And:

“Apparantly there are some on the left who can’t see the irony in the fact that their side agrees with Hitler. I feel sorry for those who are so blinded to reality that they somehow see posting this as supportive of Nazism.”

Okay, lets get this logic straight.

1. Hitler allegedly said that pretending to care about children was a good propaganda strategy.
2. Therefore, anybody who claims to care about children must be a veiled Nazi, or at least belongs to the side that “agrees with Hitler”.
3. Food safety regulations, traffic laws and the like are the road to Nazism because they might prevent children from dying, which is exactly what Hitler was all about.

One wonders whether in Bell’s opinion, that also means that the Arkansas Family Council, which has tried to ban gay adoption in order to “protect the welfare of children”, “agrees with Hitler”.

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