Advocating genocide is never incitement

There’s a disturbing trend these days to claim or imply that language is violence. That, of course, is nonsensical rubbish that should have no place in a serious discussion, but here we are. (My history of urging that Philosophy 101 be mandatory at the high school level is reaffirmed as a good idea every single day.) In particular, there has been a growing position that advocacy of genocide is such abhorrent violence that it, in fact, is not free speech. Again, nonsensical rubbish. Here is one example of someone saying as much:

The growing fascist movement in the United States often claims that it is marching for “free speech” and complains that Antifa and other opponents are violating their rights. Unfortunately, this cynical claim has won some credibility among liberals and even the ACLU. But the law does not protect the advocacy of violence any more than it protects child pornography. These well-established legal principles should be extended to prohibit the advocacy of genocide, the ultimate violence.

Arguing about the free speech rights of Nazis, fascists, and KKK members is a trap. The issue is not speech, it is violence. The fascists do not want to argue with us, they want to kill us.

I originally picked this article merely because it was a quick result on Google; my goal here was to generally address the issue of calling genocide-advocacy violence. However, the muddled understanding of free speech is too much to ignore. The article continues:

A brief review of U.S. law demonstrates that fascist advocacy of violence and genocide can and should be prohibited. In 1969 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio that there is no free speech right to advocate violence when there is a likelihood that violence will actually occur. The Court traced the development of U.S. law from its earlier prohibition of even abstract teaching of the necessity of violence for accomplishing social change to protecting such speech “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

As it so happens, I made this post because I wanted to specifically talk about Brandenburg. Nearly every person who claims speech is violence has never heard of the case. The fact that this article brings it up is both surprising and, for the author, embarrassing. Brandenburg is the precise reason advocacy for genocide is always protected speech:

The Court’s Per Curiam opinion held that the Ohio law violated Brandenburg’s right to free speech. The Court used a two-pronged test to evaluate speech acts: (1) speech can be prohibited if it is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) it is “likely to incite or produce such action.” The criminal syndicalism act made illegal the advocacy and teaching of doctrines while ignoring whether or not that advocacy and teaching would actually incite imminent lawless action. The failure to make this distinction rendered the law overly broad and in violation of the Constitution.

This couldn’t possibly be more on point. Advocating for genocide is 1) advocacy for a necessarily lengthy process and 2) often an advocacy for a change in law. Both of these points immediately fail the first prong of the test. A lengthy process – that is, systematic killing of an entire group of people – cannot possibly incite imminent action, lawless or not. Genocide is, by definition, not imminent. And where its advocates want a change in the law that allows for genocide…well, I mean. C’mon. That’s not only a lengthy process that requires years of lobbying and voting, but just imagine if you weren’t allowed to campaign for a change in the law because it was unpopular.

The article continues:

We are not proposing that offensive speech, or even speech that many consider hateful because of its abusive treatment of people based upon their race, gender or ethnicity, be outlawed. A free society must tolerate speech that is hurtful or offensive. But no civilized society must or should tolerate behavior by individuals or groups of people that promotes violence and even the total destruction of people based upon their color, gender, religion, or origin.

Notice the subtle bait-and-switch I’ve highlighted. We’re supposedly talking about speech, but the author here changes the issue to behavior. It’s a tacit surrender of the issue. Speech which fails to incite – and advocacy of genocide fails to incite, through and through – must be tolerated. Despite the incorrect interpretation of the specific ruling that renders the entire article wrong, the author acknowledges as much.

Just imagine if advocating for something violent was itself considered violence. We would have to lock up all the people who support the death penalty. Every shitty YouTube commenter who says [enter politician] should be hanged for [enter crime, usually treason] would have to be charged with criminal wrongdoing. And what’s the next step? If advocating for general violence at some indeterminate point in the future is violence, then would it also be violence for someone to advocate for the right to advocate for general violence? If I think neo-Nazis and antifa people should be able to advocate for violence, am I engaging in violent speech?

Here’s the bottom line. Advocating for genocide is free speech. You can talk about your desire to emulate Nazi Germany, if you wish. You can talk about your desire to kill all Jews or Muslims or Christians or blacks or whites. Take your pick. You can even say we should round-up and murder all the people who say we should round-up and murder other people. You are free to do that. It is 100% free speech.

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