Last Saturday, the nation was rocked by protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, with the alt-right protesting the removal of Confederate monuments, being joined by neo-nazis and the KKK. Counter protestors from antifa and other leftist organizations soon showed up, setting up a showdown which quickly turned violent, as police stood by and let the two groups duke it out. The violence culminated in a white nationalist running down and killing Heather Heyer, and injuring several others.
The aftermath of the clash led to a national debate on free speech and the use of violence in political discourse — and a division between the left and the right as to what groups are using acceptable tactics versus those who are over the line. President Trump’s lackluster response and attempts at moral equivalence between white supremacist groups and antifa and the Black Lives Matter movements have left a sour taste in some mouths. The firing of Steve Bannon may help his standing among moderates and the left, but at the possible expense of the far and alt-right.
With all of that as background, Boston is now facing the prospect of a repeat performance. Pro-free speech activists are planning to converge on Boston Common, and they are expected to be joined by thousands of others from various groups on the right who have been using the free speech movement as cover for extremist views. Leftist groups are expected to push back with counter demonstrations, arguing that free speech doesn’t apply to views they don’t like and that certain forms of speech are akin to violence in their own right.
Boston does have the advantage of hindsight, however, and their police force is expected to take a much more proactive stance when it comes to quelling any unrest. With concerns about police abuse high on the list of some of the groups involved, especially Black Lives Matter, this may end up being more harmful than helpful.
In any event, the debate over free speech versus intimidation, racist extremism versus censorship, and police abuse versus violent counterpunches seems to be heating up even more. We can only hope that there won’t be any more Heather Heyers to list as casualties in this burgeoning culture war.
[Featured Image by Michael Dwyer/AP Images]