This past Saturday, Proud Boys demonstrations in downtown Portland quickly turned violent when the right-wing group clashed with anti-fascist counter-protestors. Police are unsure which group started the violence, but there were perpetrators on both sides who left several injured, including conservative journalist Andy Ngo. He reported moving closer to the front of the march before being hit “very hard in the back of my head.” When the police did not immediately come to his aid, “the punches and kicks kept coming from every direction.” Ngo and other sources have reported that the violent protestors used milkshakes filled with cement, raw eggs, and pepper spray to inflict damage upon their political opponents. The Portland Police Bureau declared the gatherings “civil disturbance and unlawful assembly.” Those arrested were charged with harassment, assault, and disorderly conduct.
Peaceful demonstrations are no new phenomenon in the United States. They have existed since the Founding and are protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, when peaceful demonstrations stop being peaceful, they result in “complete anarchy and lawlessness,” and Ngo described Saturday’s incident. This demonstrations-turned-violent can only be called riots, and their participants only called criminals. As the country becomes more and more polarized and Americans have begun to view each other as enemies, the number of these riots has increased. Some blame the current president and his strong rhetoric for the increase in polarization, others blame the Democratic Party’s move further and further to the left. Both certainly play a role, but a third factor to consider is a growing movement, led by radical leftists, in opposition to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is the first of five rights enshrined in the First Amendment, and it encompasses the remaining four – freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government. These last four all relate back to the basic concept that an individual’s words, whether they are written in a newspaper, read in a church, spoken at a rally, or addressed to the government, are not inherently dangerous. Of course, there are exceptions, and certain kinds of speech are rightfully banned, but as a general rule the right of an individual to speak is protected under the Constitution, even if – and sometimes especially if – his words are controversial. When leftists categorize speech they disagree with as “hate speech” or potentially offensive phrases as “micro-aggressions,” they set the stage for such speech to be regulated or banned. The term “micro-aggression” is also noteworthy when discussing the increase in violence towards political opponents. If certain kinds of speech are made equivalent to aggression, then aggression – actual, violent aggression – is the logical response to such speech. When the line between speech and violence blurs, these two equally dangerous consequences occur: one, free speech is limited, and two, violence is justified. This country strives for good balance freedom and safety, but if Americans embrace either one of these consequences, they risk losing both.
Ruth Moreno is a contributor to TheRichValdes.com