This statement just in from Caitlin Graf, vice president of communications at The Nation:
The Nation does not support violence directed at individuals for their speech, however reprehensible that speech may be. Not everyone shares that view or interprets it in the same way, as was clear in the reaction—from left, right and center—to the video of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face by a masked demonstrator. We published one article, by Natasha Lennard that reported, approvingly, on the black bloc organizing behind that incident and other actions taken at the Disrupt J20 Inauguration Day protests. We’ve since published another article, by Peter Van Buren, that condemns such tactics. Editorially, The Nation is committed to nonviolence. But it is also committed to airing differences of opinion, as well as candidly reporting on the strategies different movements choose to take at this time.
If violence against those exercising their First Amendment rights (speech, religion, etc.) can ever be condoned, why wouldn’t that also condone tearing off a woman’s hijab, or lynching someone? See how the “violence is justified” argument can work?
… Punching people is not a form of protected speech. Expressed legally in a number of ways, Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
Free-speech protection covers all the things people want to say, from the furthest left to the furthest right. You can burn a flag, display a nude body, fill a fish tank with urine and call it art, put on a KKK uniform and march past a black church, and say whatever Richard Spencer was saying. It means I can write this article.
The First Amendment and the broader traditions of free speech are there to protect the most challenging awful mean terrible hateful racist sexist anti-American garbage people can spew out. The protections are not there to cover the easy stuff most people agree with (though they do). That is the whole point.
I’m glad that The Nation published the Van Buren article, but that doesn’t let them off the hook morally. I have no problem at all with the magazine publishing a report from someone embedded inside the antifas, describing what they do and what they thought about what they were doing. But that’s not what Lennard’s piece did. It explicitly said that their violence, including punching Richard Spencer, was a good thing that the left ought to support. The piece even included a hyperlink through which readers of The Nation could donate money to pay legal expenses for arrested antifas. That’s not “candidly reporting on the strategies different movements choose to take at this time.” That’s straight-up advocacy.
Besides, there are times when it’s irresponsible for a publication to air two sides of a controversy. Would The Nation be comfortable publishing an essay from an ISIS operative, reveling in the aesthetic beauty of mowing infidels down with an automatic weapon? Of course it would never do such a thing, not even for the sake of “airing differences of opinion” (“Some people believe it is wrong to go into gay bars and massacre patrons, but other disagree: you decide.”)
Of course punching somebody and burning cars on the street is not the same thing as murdering others. That’s not the point. The point is that if a magazine chooses to publish an opinion, even one with which its editors disagree, that act implicitly legitimizes the opinion as within the realm of acceptable discourse. Lennard’s piece — which, as of this writing, is No. 2 on the magazine’s most read list (Van Buren’s in No. 5) — concludes like this:
One broken window, or a hundred, is not victory. But nor is over half a million people rallying on the National Mall. Both gain potency only if they are perceived as a threat by those in and around power. And neither action will appear threatening unless followed up again and again with unrelenting force, in a multitude of directions. You don’t have to choose between pink hat and black mask; each of us can wear both. You don’t have to fight neo-Nazis in the street, but you should support those who do.
That’s exactly what The Nation did by publishing Lennard’s piece, and allowing her to put a hyperlink to the fundraising page for imprisoned antifas (in the original, the words “you should support those who do” are hyperlinked). Reportage is fine, even necessary. But the taboo against using violence to solve domestic political disputes is an extremely important one for all people — left, right, and center — to defend.