On Saturday, mere days after President Donald Trump, surrounded by military vehicles, held a poorly disguised political rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the nation’s July 4th celebrations, a variety of “alt-right” and alt-light organizations are holding a “rally for free speech” in Washington, D.C.
As you might suspect, this is actually an attempt by what passes for luminaries among thirsty social media figures on the fringe right to get some media attention and attract some fringe left protesters in order to make sure that media attention is more sympathetic than usual. An earlier May rally in San Francisco produced negligible results on both fronts; last week’s contretemps in Portland, Oregon, were moderately more successful, driven by the alleged attack on conservative Quillette writer and provocateur Andy Ngo.
This week, then, white nationalist trolls and quasi-celebrities such as Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnes, former Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, gadfly and Twitter headquarters self-handcuffer Laura Loomer, dirty trickster Roger Stone (currently under indictment courtesy of the Mueller investigation) and the largely-forgotten-yet-apparently-not-gone Milo Yiannopoulos are hoping to capitalize on Trump’s 4th of July “Trumpstravaganza.”
This may be enough to get their rally some desperately desired attention. But “free speech” has nothing to do with it.
According to the rally’s website — under the all-caps header “THE FIRST AMENDMENT IS UNDER ATTACK!” — readers are told that “Our rights guaranteed under the United States constitution are being systematically violated” so they must “Join the rally to demand unbiased social media, and an end to censorship.” The site also asserts that the speakers include “well-known public figures who have been silenced by Big Tech.”
Alas, neither the First Amendment nor the term “free speech” mean what the organizers of this white whine festival seem to think they mean.
The First Amendment theory being promulgated here seems to derive from the noted constitutional scholar Sarah Palin, who seems to have been largely left behind from this rolling grift despite her important role in Trumpifying the Republican Party. In 2008, the Republican vice presidential candidate asserted that if reporters continued to criticize her “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”
In a variant of Palin’s theory that the First Amendment entails the right not to be criticized, the “Rally For Free Speech” seems premised on the idea that the First Amendment guarantees you the right to say whatever you want on any platform of your choice, whether or not the platform agrees to host those sayings. The lifet