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In Defense of Free Speech

As I opened the door to our office today, there were two notes slipped under our door. Here’s what they had to say:

Dear Oregon Commentator,

We would like you to cover the Pacifica Forum debate that took place today. My friends and I went, but what we found was not the free exchange of ideas but a circus, a shouting match that ultimately ended in nothing of intellectual value. The Nazis stormed out in the first 5 minutes, and the leader of the Pacifica Forum was harassed for the continuing 25 minutes of so. While the Pacifica Forum member spoke (who was not a Nazi) the protesters made coordinated pointing motions with their hands that looked shockingly like Nazi salutes.

What I saw today was a horrible re-enactment of what the Nazis themselves did; silence unpopular opinion, appeal to the basest part of human nature, and ultimately a crime against free speech. I hate the Nazis, both those of Germany and the ones I saw today at the Pacifica forum, both protester and speaker.

–Nash Callaghan

P.S. When my black friend went up to speak to the forum leader afterwards a cop came up and asked him, out of everyone in the group if, “they were cool,” it was bullshit.
P.P.S. I think you guys have a great publication

A second note was slipped under the door, presumably Mr. Callaghan’s friend.

Dear Oregon Commentator,

I attended the Pacifica Forum debate today to see for myself if the forum was a Nazi supporting hate machine or if what [the] ODE was saying was just liberal bias. I was presented with a 2-sided debate over the meaning behind the swatstika symbol. Before the debate could even begin, however, the speakers were interrupted by a chorus of protesters who were so unruly that the debate could not be orchestrated. Throughout the event, protesters yelled, stomped their feet, and made hand signals disturbingly similar to “Heil Hitler” motion to kill the “hate speech” (which was actually a speech about how the swastika has been used for centuries in other cultures).

I was far more disturbed by their attempts to kill free speech than the debators themselves (1 included a Neo-Nazi). At one point a protestor screamed “FUCK FREE SPEECH!” and was met with a loud round of applause. I left the Forum meeting in tears. I am deeply ashamed of my fellow UO students for their inability to support free speech. I came to the University not only to get an education but also to expose myself to different people whose viewpoints do not mirror my own. What went on at the Pacifica Forum was mockery of the 1st Amendment and intolerance in its purest forum. I do not support Nazis, Hitler or Communism but I do support debate and the opposing viewpoints that make healthy debate possible.

My purpose to writing you is to ask that you write an article on the Pacifica Forum in an unbiased way, showing that different views, no matter how much we detest them, must be able to be heard. It’s our right.

–Deeply ashamed UO student

First, to address the issue raised by our concerned students: The Commentator has sent at least one reporter to every Pacifica Forum meeting, and there will be a feature story with that coverage in the upcoming edition of the Commentator (1/27).

Secondly, and more importantly, is the editorial stance we have yet to take as an organization. Historically the Commentator has been an organization that supports free speech no matter what the subject, no matter what the context. Of course, the situation seemingly complicates itself when you take into consideration the nature of the Pacifica Forum, both in its viewpoint and its means of hosting a debate. Yes, the Pacifica Forum speaks harshly of “the Jews”. Yes, their members have led attendees of their debates in the Sieg Heil. Yes, Pacifica Forum supporters have left harsh comments about the Commentator on this very blog. Unfortunately, if we or the ASUO Senate were to react with a consequent emotional response, we would stand on no higher ground than the Forum itself.

Their views make the Pacifica Forum impossible to defend. It does. The organization’s trivialization of the suffering of an entire race of people makes their worldview one that we as an organization can never support. Unfortunately, the Commentator must and will stand by its defense of the 1st Amendment. The sanctity of that social contract should never be corrupted, even if what it defends is corrupt. The Pacifica Forum is full of bigoted, twisted individuals but by lessening their access to free speech we inevitably limit our own.

The Pacifica Forum’s right to free speech is the same right that gives those with opposing viewpoints–those protesters in the letter–the right to hold signs, gesture and engage in a back-and-forth with those they disagree with. Indeed, we believe that the Pacifica Forum should remain on this campus so that our students can be educated about what kind of ignorant, repugnant views many people in this world still have. But more importantly, we believe the Pacifica Forum should remain on this campus so that our students may always enjoy their natural right to free speech–whether they choose to argue against the Pacifica Forum or not.

Someone once said, “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. That statement is as oft quoted in these situations as the situations themselves arise. Nevertheless, it is with that sentiment that we must support the right of the Pacifica Forum to remain on this campus–however ignorant, evil, misguided and wrong they may be.

  1. C.T. Behemoth says:

    THEY TOOK ER JOBS!

    Sorry, just trying to be constructive.

  2. Jay Knott says:

    OCFan – I hope you think about how you were turned against me and my friends and learn to resist anti-fascist hysteria. I can’t help it if people link to my blog from wherever. As for your teenage buddies “who committed very evil acts with great pleasure and pride”, well I suggest you should have stopped them. Why is it that violence from white people toward others is treated differently to any other kind of violence? If a black kid is murdered, it doesn’t matter whether it’s by a tatooed tweaker or by another person of color. The left treat these crimes differently so they can manipulate white guilt to take away our freedoms. The ‘Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Hate Crimes Act’ is a case in point. Forum regulars don’t ‘invite’ people – meetings are open to the public.

  3. […] support of free speech by ANY means necessary.” This seemed a bit absurd to me. I believe the blog comment (not a staffer’s post) was: “OC editors, I respect you: Call me on it if I

  4. Barry Sommer says:

    A Jew speaks on Pacifica Forum

    1-18-10

    A few days have passed now since the circus stupidus at Agate Hall on 1-15-10. The time since then has been productively used to process what happened, my feelings and the future of PF. As one man, with one opinion some might dismiss these words as just another attempt to explain away the hatred emanating from the participants of any Pacifica Forum get-together. This you may do willingly. Be aware that these observations come from a Jew, and a participant of PF.
    Years ago, growing up in a Jewish house I was continuously exposed to all things ancestrally Jewish, including the Holocaust and Nazis. I learned to hate that time of history, the people, symbols and mindset. Until recently, the thought of being in the same room as an avowed National Socialist Movement member, and one who freely gives the straight-arm salute would not have been thinkable. My curiosity about that time of history, coupled with my insatiable quest for knowledge was too much for me to ignore. A debate on the symbolism of the swastika between two diametrically opposed speakers should have been fodder for any buff of Germany, history and WWII. As a Jew, I wanted

  5. CJ says:

    Ronna Bouch

  6. Ronna Bouche' says:

    The old lady with the GAZA CRIES OUT sign … http://www.freeGaza.org … at Agate Hall on Jan. 15th shouted “Love is the Answer” & “I love the Dalai Lama”, learning the swastika is the Official Emblem of Dalai Lama;

    So, when Billy Rojas attempted to make the case “for Hindus & Jains of India, Nepal, and elsewhere … Buddhists and Confucians and Taoists of China, Korea, Japan, Viet Nam, Taiwan, etc Christians of Ethiopia, Greece, Norway, Basque country, Finland and the Baltic states;”

    “the case was made that swastika is a spiritual symbol for about 3 billion people who NEVER used the emblem the way that nazis did. ALL today regard the swastika as sacred and as expressing the highest possible values and NONE have ever used the symbol in any other way”.

    Rojas said, “that’s about half the population of the world” …

    The old lady would never have learned this fact if it hadn’t been for a Pacifica Forum debate and Billy Rojas.

    Thank God we live in the Land of the Free; where Free Speech is cherished by 100s of millions of Americans and me.

    Because I am the old lady who carries a sign; who hears GAZA CRY and, “I LOVE” the Dalai Lama.

  7. OCFan says:

    Fair enough, sorry to assume it was you. I hadn’t been to that site either, wouldn’t have looked, but a friend sent me the link in an email with the subject “Link between Forum and hate groups CONFIRMED” and I couldn’t -not- look.

    I can’t chill, though, now that I’ve seen that thread. I was all about the money side of this issue before, and now I’m finding myself frankly scared and wondering if the more “emotional blackmail”-ey group of my peers might have a point.. Sorry to even post that link, I feel like I’ve helped spread evil to the world. I am torn: I think people should see that, but I also don’t want to have been the one to link it. I think, Jay, that you’ll even admit that it looks bad.

    Also, I submit the following comment from the Daily Emerald story today: ( http://www.dailyemerald.com/student-protests-continue-to-disrupt-forum-1.1076746 )

    Dawn Cosgowe states in the comments: “Yes, some National Socialist Movement members came to ONE Pacifica Forum, to listen to Jimmy Marr present on their “Illegal Immigration rally”, which he’d attended.
    They were invited.”

    So this is an official Pacifica Forum rep (and she IS an official rep) openly admitting that the Pacifica Forum invited members of the NSM to campus.

    IF your intentions (or the intentions of any Forum members) are truly as altruistic as you claim, I wish you the best of luck. I’m now pretty much done considering the different sides of this one. I came to college to get away from Volksfront and their ilk. (being from rural oregon, I had high school classmates who had Volksfront tattoos before they were of legal age to get said tattoos, and who committed very evil acts with great pleasure and pride.) Seeing these two clear links between the forum and these groups takes the connection out of the realm of heresay for me, and into reality. If you were unaware that these links existed, I hope you will reconsider your stance with them in mind. If you were aware, or just don’t care, then you and I will have to agree to disagree. My stance is that I do not want these things on my campus, and it’s a stance that comes from a very personal place. I can’t speak for my peers, I can only speak for myself: I want the Forum gone for the reasons listed in these comments. Failing to give you the boot, I at least want you to have to pay for your rooms like any other group that isn’t affiliated with the school in an official way. This is my stance.

    I’m walking away from this whole thing, at least web-precense wise. (I know that’s the second time I said it, I mean it this time.) See you friday.

  8. Jay Knott says:

    That’s the first time I have ever looked at that site – thanks to you, OCFan, I had to check your question! I’m not that Jay. There must be more than one Jay in the world. I am not on campus. I am not actively recruiting. Chill out, OCFan.

  9. OCfan says:

    Jay: Check this link out.

    http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=529863

    Are you the Jay on these threads?

    If so, this is you DIRECTLY linking the Pacifica Forum to the white supremacy movement. Stormfront and Volksfront are real, scary white supremacy organizations.

    This is active recruiting.

    Go ahead. Tell me again how you belong on campus, you piece of garbage.

  10. nike urbanism duk says:

    Please restore OSPIGG funding now so it can be cut again soon. The OSPIGGLETS are so much more sustainable than these anti-nazi nazis.

  11. Jay Knott says:

    OCFan – The more thoughtful students may see it as a question of their money being used to help a non-student group, but this isn’t really true, for two reasons. 1. It doesn’t really cost anything to let a group of people meet in a mostly empty building on a Friday afternoon. 2. At least one student, and an ex-prof, regularly attend the Pacifica Forum.

    For another group of students, the pc left, it IS about freedom of speech. They are against it. That’s why they shout ‘F*** Freedom of Speech”! The left uses emotional blackmail (“I don’t feel comfortable”, “you’re diminishing our sense of safety”) to attack presumption of innocence as well as freedom of speech and other Western values. They don’t just try to shut up right-wingers like Billy and Jimmy, they harass their left-wing critics too. They would shut down this site if they could. ‘First they came for the Forum’! There is no limit to what they would do, given power. The only question is whose interests they serve.

    And yes, you can have some of what I’m smoking.

  12. OCfan says:

    That’s funny, Ronna, you posted EXACTLY the same talking points on the Insurgent blog, press release style. I’ll post the same response I gave there here:

    The “Berkely in the 60’s” comment is redonkulous. We aren’t silencing your free speech. We just don’t want you to get campus space for free when you are clearly a non-campus entity.

    The Forum’s defenders MUST understand this distinction… I think you’re just willfully ignoring it, because the “Oh noes, you’re trying to silence our right to free speech!” line is the ONLY leg you have to stand on.

    You’re being deceptive again. I, personally, do NOT want to pay to have your talks on my campus unless you are paying to use the space. (I believe the Walnut room rents out for $50, or something like that.) Period.

    This has nothing to do with free speech. Stop trying to change the conversation. It is DECEPTIVE and it is this kind of active deception that is HELPING those of us who oppose you to mobilize our fellow students against you. Start paying rental fees, and my opposition goes away, because I fully support your right to be a nazi so long as you don’t act on nazi ideals in a violent way. (I don’t buy the line that nazi thoughts lead to violence, as I don’t think it’s ethical to punish someone for a crime they haven’t committed.)

    I’d encourage like-minded folks to join me in nipping the “free speech oppression” line in the bud with funding facts at every turn. I’m tired of arguing with these clowns, so this’ll be my last post. This is a money issue, not a free speech issue. If a “you’re an idiot, this is about the money” post is below every “You took my free speech!” post on every comment thread, maybe the Forum will realize that they need to stop playing the victim and need to start raising funds to pay their way on to campus. Perhaps a bake sale? You could sell swastika cookies down at the bookstore, right in between the ISA and the rugby team.

  13. Michael G. says:

    Though I may disagree with what someone says, I’ll pass on some advice from that playbook we call the Oregon Constitution:

    “Section 8. Freedom of speech and press. No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.

  14. Ronna Bouche' says:

    ANYBODY see the documentary, “Berkley in the 60s” ?
    Protestor-students carried signs, “Free Speech” & “Police State”. Now these college grads have all grown up,
    call themselves ‘Establishment’ and their kids continue their legacy. Except for one thing ……
    This time it is they who silence opposition; use organized intimidation, ‘tag’ people for unacceptable thoughts or beliefs. And it’s all under the guise of hate speech, hate group or hate criminal. It’s official & documented through established non-profits. Just thinking UofO students would like to know how HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF.

  15. dc says:

    Dane.

    Please validate this comment.

    “The organization

  16. OCfan says:

    Can I have some of what you’re smoking, Jay?

  17. Jay Knott says:

    Some of the Pacifica Forum’s critics asked if is truly ‘scholarly and academic’. Meanwhile, the University Center for the Study of Women in Society was holding a conference on the significance of ‘Hello Kitty’: ‘Hello Kitty is an

  18. Ross Coyle says:

    The funding issue here is what Administration is looking to rectify. Changing the way the system works so the Forum can’t just get what it wants for free because of Etter’s status.

  19. OCfan says:

    The College Republicans are a recognized student group, with student members.

    Howard Dean was brought by the College Democrats, another recognized student group.

    Both of these groups are recognized ASUO student groups, whose membership is made up of students.

    The Pacifica Forum is NOT a recognized ASUO student group, and is not made up of students.

    There’s no ‘might’ about it, your comparison is flawed.

  20. Gabrielle says:

    You must look at the free room rental this way. Any particular group, including at least one student, can reserve an open room. When I was a student the College Republicans brought David Horowitz to campus. This event brought the loonies out of the woodwork. It took all the campus security officers to ensure the safety of those there. Boy, did it start a debate! It met the expectations of the sponsoring groups. It did not represent much of the campus. Another group brought Howard Dean. Both events drew significant quantities of non-students. Just because you don’t like a group and people come onto campus for it doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be there. Just stop protesting and they’ll stop getting the forum they desire.

  21. OCfan says:

    “The incidental fee is supposed to be used to support student activities, and this is a group that the student body wants to support.”

    AAAHHH MAJOR TYPO: That should be “This ISN’T” a group that the student body…” Yikes, that’s what I get for typing at 6:30 am.

  22. OCfan says:

    Thanks Cims, you put it better than I could. I don’t want to remove the PF’s right to free speech: I just consider it a moral responsibility to exercise MY free speech in opposition of ideas that I think hurt the world. I think these guys hurt people, so I want to make sure that they know the younger generation rejects them in every way possible.

    The reason I want them off campus isn’t because of WHAT they’re saying, it’s because they’re getting it for free. I think it’s funny that the OC editorial doesn’t get the funding issue here, considering that the post under this one is an active fighting against OSPIRG using survival center space and computers. The PF gets space in the EMU for free, due to Etter’s status. That means the incidental fee is paying for staff, power, and logistics. The incidental fee is supposed to be used to support student activities, and this is a group that the student body wants to support. If they were RENTING the space (thus creating revenue for the school that could be spent supporting students) I would be a happy camper. But they are not. They get it all for free.

    I really am an OC fan, and have been more-so since the anti-OSPIRG campaign. I know the money on this one isn’t as big, but it’s still the same principle that sticks in my craw… The Pacifica Forum is probably eating up one or two students’ contributions to the I-Fee fund every term with their weekly meetings, and I suspect that you wouldn’t be able to find two students on this campus who would be happy to hear that their entire I-Fee for the term went to supporting these clowns.

    OC editors, I respect you: Call me on it if I’m wrong to be frustrated with the funding side. I support free speech, and would, indeed, fight to the death to protect the PF’s right to it. (Well, maybe not Marr. But the others? Sure.)

  23. Lucas says:

    As a journalism student, I support the right to speak freely 100% – even if there is evidence that the person who says it is clearly a dumb a— and cannot think for themselves (or any other reason). Additionally, I am in no way a supporter of any sort of oppression, period. I may disagree with Israel’s approach to the issue in their region – but to mindlessly oppose them is ridiculous.

    That said, I have to take the side of the pacifica forum for two main reasons:

    1. The Univeristy of Oregon is a public university – hence funded by the government. UO faculty/admin. (hence any person employeed at the UO)- so far as i know – cannot legally abridge anyone’s right to free speech. Oh sure, there are ways around it, but it gets to be a mess.

    2. 1st Amendment. We may not like what they have to say, but we can always choose to ignore it. Sometimes the best action isn’t lowering yourself to their level (by taking away their right to speak), but just walking away. Often, the thing with demagogues (IE – neo-nazi’s, KKK, anyone who have such a narrow view, etc. ) is that the more attention you give them, the more credibility they gain.

    If you walk away – given enough time – others will follow. They’ll eventually see how full of s–t they are.

    Peace, ~Lucas

  24. Cims G says:

    I agree the tactics were loud and disruptive, they too however, fall into the category of free speech.

    Incidentally, the disruptive tactics worked in the Walnut room, insofar as they drew out the obvious prejudice “we’re being targeted by a group of jews” (ie: Jewish conspiracy), “yes, I said a woman in this community was too ugly to rape” (ie: some women are attractive enough to rape), the litany goes on since 2006, this string of speakers has be unerring. This isn’t just a discussion group, it is exceptional because of of its more virulent presentations where such statements as above were made and others more extreme like “Death to Jews”. It is not a happy discussion group and I don’t want them banned because of who’s there or saying something, in that context.

    I would rather they left campus of their own volition or abandoned the group altogether. Which, agree or disagree with the civility of tactics, has diminished the group. In the early January meeting, several members turned away at the door, seeing protesters and in the last meeting Jimmy Marr did indeed leave during the early part of the event. The tactic is working, they and their racial, gender, religious biases are going with them (See Letter to the Weekly by Billy Rojas, Pacifica Forum member, who talks about his and the groups biases).

    While the original tactic, as planned, was a silent protest, turning backs to them when they uttered hate speech. This was planned for the Walnut room, when they moved to Agate hall, the tactics changed. Because they were on a stage, had microphones and were in a hierarchical lighted position. So disruption was considered the strongest response to their particular location.

    Also the woman who was talking about the Dali Llama and how Gaza cries out; she is a Pacifica Forum regular.

    The Insurgent blog has some writings on it.
    http://www.theinsurgent.net

  25. Jay Knott says:

    DV says: “the fact that there have been ties between…” – this is typical of the Zio/lefty pc style of discourse. The allegation is vague, unprovable and unfalsifiable – against the principles of presumption of innocence, freedom of speech, and the scientific method. Hopefully, they still teach these values at the University of Oregon. “We see a mainstreaming of white nationalist groups which we haven’t seen previously”… “believed to have links with”… It’s pathetic how people don’t see through this garbage.

  26. DV says:

    The issue at hand is not whether the Pacifica Forum has a right to air their opinions and speek freely. That right is one of the most essential of all human rights and clearly protected by our constitution. The issue is whether they should be allowed to do so on our college campus, inherently using money which we (the students) gave to this institution. The fact that there have been ties between this group and other, much more militant white supremacist groups in the northwest, like Volksfront, nonwithstanding, the students obviously do not wish for their campus to be turned into a haven for hate-speech, fascists, and self-identified neo-Nazis. The students have clearly spoken, we want the Pacifica Forum off our campus.

  27. Bystander says:

    By all means defend their right to free speech, but by all means endeavor to expose them for what they are. I am reasonably certain that they are not simply a “free speech” group, and the OC is the group most able to bring this to light.

  28. Jay Knott says:

    Contra your article, the Pacifica Forum does not ‘speak harshly of the Jews’. The Forum does not say anything, apart from ‘war is bad’ and ‘free speech is good’. That’s about it. The Forum is not a neo-Nazi group. It does not spread hate. It does not advocate violence. It is an open discussion group with an interest in war and peace. Speakers can say anything they like apart from advocating violence. Pacifica Forum has had everything from the role of Jews in the Soviet Secret Police to Ghandi. Its critics blatantly cherry-pick the evidence to support their assault on freedom of speech. It’s as clear as day – political correctness versus academic freedom. I hope contributors to the Commentator take the right side.

  29. Nash says:

    yeah i don’t know wheather or not pacifica forum should be allowed on campus either. i was writing more about the behavior of the protesters. i believe you should beat your opponents with the superiority of your arguement, not the superiority of your numbers. i understand that people get worked up about the nazis, and they have a right to be. hell, i had the urge to deck the two guys as they walked out. i completely agree with the statements Dane made, they are just the worst kind of dildos. but what i saw on friday wasn’t even an intellegent reasoned attack on facism, it was more just a mob of angry kids. i guess i just expected more from a university full of intellegent people.

    which reminds me, there was some crazy old lady there too, i’m pretty sure she was high. she would stand up at random moments and say things like; i love the dalai lama! also my friend went to the game today and the cop who had obviously picked him out of the crowd apologized to him.

  30. SK says:

    I hope when you all (Dane and CJ) write this up you differentiate between the right to free speech in general and the kind of restrictions, if any, that exist for events at the UO. My assumption is that there are grounds on which the UO can deny groups the right to meet (like if NAMBLA or the Klan wanted to get a room for an event), but that these don’t apply because of Etter’s position.

    Also, you might be interested in what’s been going on at the protest group’s facebook page. One of the admins (Devon) has been banning people and deleting posts because they disagree with her about minor issues (not the basic point that PF should be actively opposed or even whether they should be permitted on campus). A couple of the folks who have been banned have screenshots of all of it. It’s actually pretty funny that a bunch of people together to protest fascism (among other things) are so quick to silence and ban people with minor disagreements. Yeah, I know, it’s just a stupid facebook group, but still.

  31. CJ says:

    Ha ha, you know me and my liberal bias. My article on the protest will be in Tuesday’s ODE.

    And yes, one of the protesters did indeed shout, “Fuck free speech, and fuck you!”

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