Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Far-right groups repeatedly clash with counter-protesters in Portland – June 2018

Portland, OR

Summer 2018 saw numerous clashes break out in Portland, Oregon, between antifa, or “anti-fascist,” protesters and right-wing activists. The far-right group Patriot Prayer was involved in at least three rallies-turned-skirmishes with far-left counter-protesters. After violence broke out on August 4, 2018, Portland police were accused of using excessive force against those protesting a Patriot Prayer demonstration.

Key Players

Antifa is a loose network of anti-fascist protesters often associated with far-left movements. Members of Rose City Antifa, based out of Portland and one of the oldest and most organized groups of the antifa network, were among those involved in the clashes, according to the AP.

Patriot Prayer is a far-right group also based in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 2016, it has been involved in many of the area’s recent political riots. The group’s leader, aspiring U.S. Senator Joe Gibson from Washington state, told reporters that the group’s primary goal is to defend “love and freedom,” values to which, he said, liberals are the greatest threat. Though Patriot Prayer is not designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a white supremacist or hate group, its events regularly draw members from right-wing organizations that look to promote Free Speech by eradicating “political correctness.“

Further Details

Clashes between far-right protesters, often affiliated with Patriot Prayer, and antifa counter-protesters erupted at least three times during the summer of 2018.

The first took place on June 3, when members of Patriot Prayer — joined by members of the white nationalist group Proud Boys, who often participate in Patriot Prayer marches — held a rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza, a park in downtown Portland. The event, according to the SPLC, was advertised as a final farewell for one of the Proud Boys’ most prominent members, who was set to return to his homeland of American Samoa. No clear political message had been outlined for the rally, and no formal speeches planned, as was standard for other Patriot Prayer demonstrations. Instead, Gibson and the departing Proud Boy egged on Patriot Prayer members as they paraded through downtown Portland, antagonizing groups of counter-protestors along the way. According to the Associated Press (AP), videos of the clash went viral in the following days, drawing national attention to Portland. Four people were arrested as a result of the demonstration.

The second incident occurred on June 30, when a permitted Patriot Prayer march quickly erupted into violence, prompting Portland police to intervene. According to NPR, Patriot Prayer members had assembled in downtown parks early that Saturday afternoon. A roughly equal number of antifa protesters gathered nearby to confront them.

In the moments leading up to the march, a row of police, clad in riot-gear, divided the two groups as they hurled insults at each other. Before long, according to NPR, insults escalated into projectiles (rocks, bottles, construction equipment, etc.), forcing police to break rank, cancel the permit, and declare the situation a riot. They used flash bangs and rubber bullets to break up the crowds. Some claim tear gas was also used, but the Portland police deny this. NPR reports that five people, including a patrol officer, were taken to the hospital. One sustained serious, but non-threatening, injuries.

A third encounter occurred on August 4 between far-right demonstrators and antifa counter-protesters. According to the AP, “dozens of the extreme-right protesters were bussed to Portland” from Vancouver, Washington, and gathered in a downtown park. Hundreds of counter-protesters stood across the street, separated by a wall of law enforcement officers. Soon after the Patriot Prayer protest began, individuals surrounded the police cars and began throwing projectiles, including rocks and firework mortars, according to ABC News. The violence led police to announce that the crowds must disperse. Several individuals, including a local reporter, sustained minor injuries, and four people were arrested.

“City officials have struggled with striking a balance between free speech and keeping events from spiraling out of control,” wrote the AP in the wake of the clashes.

Outcome

Portland police chief reviews use of force

After the August 4 clash, many accused Portland police officers of using excessive force, including stun grenades and rubber bullets. Some also claimed that police especially targeted antifa groups and other counter-protestors, an allegation the Portland Police Bureau denies.

“The intent of law enforcement today was to provide a safe environment for all participants, non-participants, and community members while ensuring the peaceful exercise of the First Amendment,” the police department said in a statement, according to ABC News.

The Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, along with the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, called for an official investigation, saying the police “targeted Portland residents peacefully counter-protesting against racist far-right groups,” according to the AP.

David Rogers, the head of Oregon’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), expressed similar concerns. “The Portland Police Bureau’s response to protest is completely unacceptable in a free society,” Rogers said in an August 5 statement. “The repeated use of excessive force, and the targeting of demonstrators based on political beliefs are a danger to the First Amendment rights of all people. We call on the Portland Police Bureau, Mayor Wheeler, and Chief Outlaw to immediately end the use of weapons, munitions, and explosives against protesters.”

On August 5, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw announced the beginning of an investigation to determine if force was used within designated policy guidelines, according to the AP.

External References

Violent Protests Again Draw Attention to Portland, Oregon, AP

Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys roll into Portland ready for a fight, SPLC

Police Declare A Riot After Far-Right And Antifa Groups Clash In Portland, Ore., NPR

Oregon police chief orders review of use of force at protest, AP

Protesters clash with police, each other in dueling rallies held in Portland; 4 arrested, ABC News

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded September 12, 2018

 

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones removed from social media platforms after calls for misinformation crackdown – August 2018

Austin, TX

In August 2018, Alex Jones — a prominent far-right figure from Texas involved in several defamation cases for perpetuating conspiracy theories — was removed from multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Youtube, and Spotify. According to the The New York Times, the move came after pressure increased on technology companies to address their role in spreading false information and political division. Twitter, however, decided to keep Jones’s content posted; days later, Twitter acceded to growing criticism and temporarily suspended Jones for violating its content policies. He responded by deleting tweets that appeared to violate those standards, which led to accusations that he was destroying evidence related to the Sandy Hook defamation case. Weeks later, Twitter removed Jones permanently.

Key Players

Alex Jones is a broadcaster based in Austin, TX, who often perpetuates conspiracy theories and misinformation on various platforms, including his radio program, The Alex Jones Show, and his website, InfoWars.com.

InfoWars receives about 10 million monthly unique views, according to Quantcast, an American firm that tracks website audiences. His radio show airs daily on more than 60 stations nationwide.

Jones gained notoriety for promoting conspiracy theories about the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which he alleged was a “giant hoax” where “no one died”. He would later stir controversy by claiming that a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant was headquarters for a child sex-trafficking ring run by prominent Democrats, and that a survivor of the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a crisis actor.

Although Jones has occasionally been known to describe his conspiracy theories as “performance art,” he has faced legal repercussions for his actions. In April 2018, he was sued for defamation by a man who claimed Jones and InfoWars had falsely identified him as the gunman in the Parkland shooting, according to the New York Times. That same month, three parents of children slain in the Sandy Hook massacre filed defamation suits against Jones for insisting the shooting was a hoax, which led to some parents being harassed. For example, an individual was sentenced to five months in prison after making death threats against Leonard Pozner, one of the Sandy Hook parents who filed a suit against Jones, according to the New York Times.

The suits, which seek millions of dollars in damages, specifically focus on certain comments Jones has made. For example, in an April 2017 segment of his radio show, Jones claimed that a CNN interview with a Sandy Hook parent by journalist Anderson Cooper was falsified. In another segment, Jones questioned the veracity of a parent who recalled holding his dead son’s body after the Sandy Hook shooting. The lawsuits characterize such comments as “a continuation and elaboration of a yearslong campaign to falsely attack the honesty of the Sandy Hook parents, casting them as participants in a ghastly conspiracy and cover-up,” according to the Times.

Further Details

On July 25, 2018, two Sandy Hook parents published an open letter in The Guardian. Their message: that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should take more substantive steps against the propagation of conspiracy theories surrounding mass shootings, as well as the harassment of and threats to victims’ families that often follow.

“Our families are in danger as a direct result of the hundreds of thousands of people who see and believe the lies and hate speech, which you have decided should be protected,” the parents wrote. “What makes the entire situation all the more horrific is that we have had to wage an almost inconceivable battle with Facebook to provide us with the most basic of protections to remove the most offensive and incendiary content.”’

The next day, YouTube, the video-sharing platform on which, by that point, Jones had amassed more than 2.4 million subscribers, removed four videos from Jones’s InfoWars channel, saying their depictions of shoving “liberal” children into the ground and labeling of young people in drag as “Satanists” violated the company’s graphic content policy, according to USA Today. The company also prohibited him from broadcasting live on the platform for 90 days.

“We have longstanding policies against child endangerment and hate speech,” YouTube said in a statement. “We apply our policies consistently according to the content in the videos, regardless of the speaker or the channel.”

That night, Facebook suspended Jones’s account for 30 days after removing four videos from pages he runs, including his own profile and the InfoWars page. The company said the videos violated its community standards against hate speech and bullying. Facebook also noted that Jones’s pages were nearing the limit on the number of violations they could commit, and ran the risk of being permanently removed, according to NBC News. Facebook’s ban prevented Jones from posting to his profile page, but still allowed others to access both it and the InfoWars Facebook page. According to NBC News, not even a full day had passed before Jones appeared in a livestream on the InfoWars page.

Outcome

Numerous social media, video sharing platforms remove Jones

In the first week of August 2018, several top social media and other technology companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Spotify, wiped Jones’s content from their platforms.

On August 5, Apple took down several of his podcasts, saying that “Apple does not tolerate hate speech, ” according to the New York Times. The next day, Facebook removed four pages controlled by Jones, including one with nearly 1.7 million followers, the Times said. Facebook said Jones’s pages violated its policies by “glorifying violence” and perpetuating dehumanizing language against various minority groups.

That same week, YouTube, which is owned by Google, terminated Jones’s popular video channel, citing the company’s ban on hate speech. Spotify, a music streaming service, soon followed suit. A week later, the video sharing website Vimeo removed content published by Jones and InfoWars, according to Newsweek, saying the clips violated their ban on “discriminatory and hateful content.” Smaller social media companies, including Stitcher, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, also removed InfoWars content.

While many large tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, were at first slow to remove Jones from their platforms–instead choosing short-term bans or removal of specific content–his continued policy violations appeared to erode their patience over time.

Jones reacts to social media removals

In the immediate aftermath of these bans, Jones called for his supporters to resist “sociopaths” whom he blamed for his content’s removal; in fact, he suggested the bans were part of a plot by Democrats, “globalists,” and “corporatists” to silence his ideas, reported the New York Times. By August 7, Jones’s InfoWars app had seen a dramatic spike in its Apple App Store rankings.

Jones characterized his removal from so many media channels as a “war on free speech,” according to the Times, saying he was being “de-platformed” for his beliefs.

Amid calls to remove Jones, Twitter suspends, then bans, him

Calls spread online for Twitter — one of the most notable platforms that had not removed Jones — to do so as well. On August 14, it temporarily suspended his account for a week, citing a video he tweeted, urging his supporters to ready their “battle rifles” against the media. Before long, however, his account was back online.

In the wake of these suspensions, USA Today reported, Jones and InfoWars directed supporters to Tumblr, another social media platform. “They can take our Facebook, Apple, Spotify, Tunein, Youtube, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Flickr, Vimeo, Sprout, Mailchimp & Disqus but they’ll never take our………..Tumblr!” InfoWars tweeted, shortly before being suspended by Twitter.

On August 17, Jones was accused of destroying evidence pertinent to the Sandy Hook defamation case when he deleted social media posts, including tweets, related to his view of the massacre of children and teachers. In an InfoWars broadcast, Jones said he instructed staffers to delete such posts in response to reports that several seemed to violate Twitter’s community standards, according to NBC News.

Weeks later, on September 6, Twitter announced that Jones and his website Infowars had been permanently removed from the site for violating its policies against abuse, with content such as a livestream of Jones verbally harassing a reporter, according to The Washington Post. Twitter also noted that the decision to implement a permanent ban also took into account that it was not Jones’s first violation.

Prominent figures decry Jones’ social media bans

On August 18, President Donald J. Trump weighed into the Infowars debate on Twitter, though he refrained from mentioning Jones by name. “Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to policy (sic),” Trump wrote. “Too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad, and that cannot be allowed to happen.”

Liberal comedian Bill Maher also spoke out in favor of Jones’s right to Free Speech, according to The Hill.

“I don’t like Alex Jones, but Alex Jones gets to speak. Everybody gets to speak,” Maher said on an August 17 episode of his HBO show. “If you’re a liberal, you’re supposed to be for free speech…That’s free speech for the speech you hate. That’s what free speech means. We’re losing the thread of the concepts that are important to this country.”

External References

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones backs off ‘Pizzagate’ claims, Washington Post

Alex Jones settles Chobani lawsuit and retracts comments about refugees in Twin Falls, Idaho, Los Angeles Times

Sandy Hook Parents Sue Alex Jones for Defamation, New York Times

An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg: our child died at Sandy Hook – why let Facebook lies hurt us even more?, The Guardian

Facebook suspends profile of Infowars founder, says ban is ‘close’, NBC News

Alex Jones and Infowars Content Is Removed From Apple, Facebook and YouTube, New York Times

Vimeo Removes Alex Jones’s InfoWars Content: ‘Discriminatory and Hateful,’ Newsweek

Alex Jones Urges Infowars Fans to Fight Back, and Send Money, New York Times

Bill Maher criticizes social media bans: ‘Alex Jones gets to speak’, The Hill

Twitter Suspends Alex Jones and Infowars for Seven Days, New York Times

Before Twitter suspended Alex Jones, Infowars was already directing users to Tumblr, USA Today

Alex Jones destroyed evidence in Sandy Hook case, claim says, NBC News

On Twitter, Trump accuses ‘social media’ of limiting free speech of conservatives, Washington Post

Twitter has permanently banned Alex Jones and Infowars, The Washington Post

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded September 6, 2018

 

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

National Football League releases new rules regulating players’ actions during anthem – May 2018

New York, NY

Following the National Football League’s (NFL) spring league meeting, commissioner Roger Goodell announced on May 23, 2018, that team owners had voted unanimously to approve new rules concerning player conduct during the playing or singing of the national anthem before games. Many players had been kneeling during the anthem since 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first to do so. According to Kapernick and others, the gesture is intended as a form of protest against social injustice in America. The issue quickly escalated into a national debate after President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter during a May 24 interview on “Fox and Friends,” suggesting that Kaepernick and other protestors were un-American, and that they should be fired from their jobs for their actions.

Key Players

The National Football League, which includes Commissioner Roger Goodell and 34 team owners (of 32 teams), holds regular meetings in which members  vote on league-wide policies. Team owners unanimously voted by a show of hands to approve three new rules during the May 23 meeting. Two concerned on-the-field play, but the third dealt with how players should act while the anthem is being played. There were two abstentions, one by San Francisco 49ers owner John Edward York and the other by Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis.

NFL Players, including teammates Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, and Seattle Seahawk Jeremy Lane, decided to use their national platform to draw attention to alleged police brutality and systemic racial inequality in the United States. Protests included kneeling, sitting, linking arms, and raising a clenched fist during the national anthem.

Further Details

After Kaepernick knelt before the 49ers’ final preseason game on September 1, 2016, other NFL players began following his lead. In addition to individual protests, players banded together into groups, occasionally even coordinating with their whole team to protest, as the Seattle Seahawks did just two weeks after Kaepernick’s initial anthem protest. Demonstrations like these continued into the 2017-18 season.

On May 23,2018, Goodell announced that the league owners had voted to approve broad new measures related to anthem protests, but they had not consulted the NFL Players’ Association about their decision. The new rules stipulated that “All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem… personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the anthem has been performed.” In addition, the new rules established punitive measures in the event  they are violated, including fines from the league and “appropriate discipline” to be determined by the NFL commissioner.

The Players Association released a statement shortly after the new rules were announced, asserting that they had not been consulted, and that “NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.” The statement ended with this promise: “Our union will review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

However, the policy was suspended on July 20 after it was discovered that the Miami Dolphins planned on implementing a team rule that any improper anthem conduct would result in suspension for up to four games.. Many viewed this as harsher than the punishment outlined in the new league rule, and noted that the penalty exceeded that given to players found guilty of domestic violence.

Outcome

The NFL and NFL Players Association come to standoff, resulting in suspension of controversial anthem policy

As of September 6, the official start of the 2019 NFL season, talks between the NFL and NFLPA were still on hold. While the agreement remains in a standstill, players are allowed to kneel, raise fists, or sit during the anthem, as some did during the 2019 preseason.

External References

NFL owners approve national anthem policy for 2018, NFL website

Roger Goodell’s statement on national anthem policy. NFL website

The public response from the NFLPA, posted on Twitter.

The Five Hours That Forced the NFL to Reconsider Its Anthem Policy, Sports Illustrated

NFL, NFLPA Reach ‘Standstill Agreement’ Over National Anthem Policy. Sports Illustrated

NFL National ANthem Protests: Compromise Unlikely Before Start of Season, Deadline

 

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel  ‘20

Uploaded September 6, 2018

Trump Disinvites Philadelphia Eagles for Post-Super Bowl White House Visit – June 2018

Washington, DC

Following their 2018 Super Bowl win, the Philadelphia Eagles were invited to the White House for a celebration and the opportunity to meet the president, as is customary for winners of the football championship. President Trump abruptly called off the visit, however, after hearing that many of the players would not attend and the team planned to send only a small delegation to the event.

Key Players

President Donald Trump invited the Philadelphia Eagles to visit the White House after they won the 2018 Super Bowl, but he withdrew the invitation on short notice after learning that many member of the team had declined his invitation. He instead held a celebration featuring the United States Marine Band for Eagles fans who had obtained tickets to the celebration.

The Philadelphia Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl, and were subsequently invited to celebrate their victory at the White House. When many of the team’s players decided not to attend, out of protest against the president’s policies and the team offered to send only a small delegation, Trump angrily disinvited the whole team.

Further Details

On February 4, 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in the 52nd Super Bowl, taking home their first Lombardi Trophy after almost four hours of intense play.  Since the Pittsburgh Steelers did so in 1980, it has been customary for winners of the United States’ most-watched sports event to celebrate their success by visiting the president at the White House.

Almost three months after the Eagles’ victory, neither they nor the White House had any word on whether the team would visit. In a confidential meeting with National Football League owners and players, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was recorded criticizing Trump, saying his presidency had been “disastrous.” The recording leaked to The New York Times in late April, and several star players had already told news sources they would not attend such a celebration if it did occur, due to political differences with President Trump. However, on May 17, the White House announced it would indeed host the team on June 5.

In addressing why he and many of his teammates planned to skip the event, Torrey Smith explained to The Times that, since he would never go to a party hosted by someone who was racist, sexist, and had insulted his friends —  “why is it any different when this person has the title of President of the United States?” Chris Long, known for his outspoken political views, and teammate LeGarrette Blount both indicated that they would also forgo the visit, just as they had done a year earlier as members of the 2017 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. At least two dozen Patriots players skipped that meeting, according to The Times, including quarterback Tom Brady, a Trump supporter, who cited “family matters” as his reason.

By June 4, the day before the scheduled 2018 celebration, only two Eagles players and a handful of coaches had committed to attending. As a result, President Trump released a statement rescinding the invitation. “The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow. They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country,” the statement read. Following the event’s cancellation, prominent athletes and team members took to social media to defend the Eagles. Torrey Smith wrote on Twitter: “So many lies. Here are the facts 1. Not many people were going to go 2. No one refused to simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem 3. The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.” Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter, “I’m skipping this political stunt at the White House and just invited the Eagles to Congress.” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney voiced a similar sentiment: “These are players who stand up for the causes they believe in and who contribute in meaningful ways to their community. They represent the diversity of our nation—a nation in which we are free to express our opinions. Disinviting them from the White House only proves that our President is not a true patriot, but a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party . . . no one wants to attend.”

Public reactions were polarized. Many viewed such White House visits as a privilege and an opportunity for NFL players to show their patriotism, while others argued that the players had a right to use their platform to express their political views. Often brought up in these discussions was the fact that none of the Eagles players had actually knelt during the national anthem that season (some players did, however, raise their fists or lock arms), which made many question the soundness of President Trump’s reasoning.

Outcome

President Trump invites Eagles fans to the White House for an alternate celebration

In his statement, President Trump offered Eagles fans who had planned to accompany their team to the White House “a different type of ceremony—one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.”

However, many who witnessed the ceremony, including SB Nation, a Vox media-owned sports blog, raised doubts as to whether any Eagles fans were actually present. And according to Think Progress, a news website run by  the DC think tank Center for American Progress, “multiple interns from at least one federal agency were invited to the event shortly beforehand and attended. . . . The interns, who were not from Pennsylvania and did not talk about the Eagles or the president, received souvenir American flags.”  This was apparently a departure from previous practice.

External References

The Eagles Will Visit the White House After All, The New York Times

President Trump’s statement cancelling the Eagles’ visit, White house Press release

Trump Abruptly Calls off Philadelphia Eagles’ Visit to the White House, The New York Times

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s Statement on Eagles’ Cancelled White House Visit

Senator Bob Casey’s Twitter post in response to the cancellation.

Inside the Confidential N.F.L. Meeting to Discuss National Anthem Protests, The New York Times

Tom Brady Skips Patriots’ White House Visit Along With Numerous Teammates, The New York Times

How Did Athletes Visiting the President at the White House Become a Tradition? Rolling Stone

White House Used Interns to Fill Out Crowd Trump’s Replacement Superbowl Event, Think Progress

President Donald Trump replaced the Eagles’ Super Bowl celebration with a rally seemingly no fans attended

 

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel  ‘20

Uploaded August 31, 2018

 

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

President Trump calls for tougher libel laws – January 2018

Washington, D.C.

Following the January 2018 release of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book Fire and Fury, President Trump called for more stringent libel laws in the United States, claiming that current restrictions concerning defamatory statements and actions lack effectiveness. His apparent aim was make it easier for people to seek “meaningful recourse” in court in the event of slander or libel, according to Politico.

Key Players

Michael Wolff is an award-winning journalist who authored Fire and Fury, published in 2018. Wolff interviewed current and former aides and advisors to Donald Trump, all of whom insisted on anonymity. The book was controversial because it put into question the competency and efficiency of the president and his White House staff.

Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States. Over the course of his campaign and into his presidency, Trump has harshly focused on the media and their representation of him, leading to his heightened interest in libel laws and what he regards as inaccuracy in reporting.  He has commented on the need for stricter libel laws on multiple occasions. At his first cabinet meeting of 2018, Trump said current laws were a “sham and disgrace,” and that people “can’t say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into [their] bank account[s].”

Further Details

Trump discussed the issue on the campaign trail in February 2016, when he said he would look into “opening up” current libel laws. At a campaign rally in Fort Worth, Texas, he said that if he won the election, he would “open up…libel laws so when they write purposefully negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” He later backtracked on this statement, saying: “Somebody said to me on that, they said, ‘You know, it’s a great idea softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.’”

The president also called for changing libel laws on Twitter in March 2017. Trump tweeted about The New York Times, writing, “The failing @nytimes has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change libel laws?” Politico reported that this tweet could mean the president might “consider using the legal system to retaliate against news coverage he dislikes.”

Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, thanks to various insider sources, exposed many of the chaotic goings-on at the Trump White House. This portrayal frustrated the president, leading to him calling for a stiffening of libel laws that would make it easier for people who thought they had been defamed to sue publications or individuals.

Outcome

Inability to take action

Trump has made no progress on this front, largely because Congress is generally uniform in agreement on the issue and will not take it up. Further, many libel laws are enacted at the state level, where Trump has little influence or reach, as Politico points out. Thus, while Trump may continue to assert that tougher libel laws are necessary, it is unlikely that the current laws on the books, as interpreted by the courts, will change any time soon, according to various publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Times.

External References

Trump revives promise to toughen libel laws, New York Post

Trump says administration will take ‘very strong look’ at stricter libel laws, The Washington Post

Trump Renews Pledge to ‘Take a Strong Look’ at Libel Laws, The New York Times

Donald Trump: We’re going to ‘open up’ libel laws, POLITICO

In Twitter attack on New York Times, Trump floats changing libel laws, POLITICO

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded August 31, 2018

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Newseum draws backlash for selling Trump apparel – August, 2018

Washington, D.C.

The Newseum is a private, non-governmental Washington, D.C., museum whose mission, according to its website, is “to increase public understanding of the importance of a free press and the First Amendment.” It occupies a prominent location on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the US Capitol. In addition to exhibits that highlight the press’s historical importance and how it connects with everyday people, the Newseum also has in-house and online gift shops where visitors can purchase press-related and political memorabilia. After the Newseum began selling hats and T-shirts bearing slogans made popular by President Donald Trump, members of the press heavily criticized the decision.

Key Players

Daniel Funke is a reporter for The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to best practices and ethics in journalism, located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Funke covers fact-checking, online misinformation, and “fake news” for the institute’s daily newsletter, Poynter. He broke the story of the Newseum’s sale of Trump-related paraphernalia.

Sonya Gavankar is director of public relations at the Newseum. At first, she defended the museum’s decision to sell the political apparel.

Further Details

On August 3, 2018, Funke published a story in Poynter about the Newseum’s online store. The article focused on hats and T-shirts bearing the slogans “Make America Great Again” and “You are very fake news,” the latter a reference to a broadside President Trump has used repeatedly against the media since beginning his 20016 presidential campaign. “You don’t have to look very far to see how Trump’s favorite catchphrases are being used to delegitimize the press,” Funke wrote.

The Newseum at first defended the decision to sell the products, with Gavankar telling Poynter that one of the Newseum’s “greatest strengths” is that it not only champions a free press but also Free Speech.

A swift backlash followed from journalists on social media. Members of the press criticized the Newseum’s decision, some questioning whether it was appropriate to promote an epithet the president commonly uses to delegitimize the media and sow skepticism about their work.

Michael Barbaro, New York Times journalist and host of “The Daily” podcast, called the decision “a very bad idea” in a Twitter post on August 3. “You exist to honor, examine and protect the news media, not embrace the bywords by which others seek to undermine it,” he wrote. One of the Newseum’s most prominent attractions is a memorial wall with the names of all the journalists who have been killed, or have disappeared, while doing their job.

Washingtonian, a local D.C. magazine, also condemned the decision, writing that “[The use of the term is] a cynical political strategy that reflects years of work performed by very well paid people whose goal was to paint the news media as a political faction—as well as a rallying cry for people who view newsgathering errors not as the inevitable result of human endeavor but as confirmation of malice.”

But Gavankar said the Newseum viewed the slogan differently. In an August 3 statement to CNN, Gavankar said “Fake news is a word that is in our popular culture now and this is intended to be a ‘satirical rebuke’ and appears in our store with T-shirts that include a variety of other ‘tongue-in-cheek’ sayings.” Moreover, she told Poynter that “The MAGA hat and the FBI hat are two of our best-selling items.” (The Newseum also sells a hat with the acronym for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter suggested that turning a profit may have been the museum’s true motivating factor, writing in an August 3 tweet that “the Newseum says this is about championing ‘free speech.’ The more cynical read: The museum is deep in debt, strapped for cash, and tourists like these trinkets.” Stelter appeared to be referencing a February 7, 2018, report in The Washington Post on the museum’s financial woes, which include fundraising shortages and a $300 million debt burden for its main benefactor. Stelter’s colleague, CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, has frequently had the phrase “fake news” shouted at him as an insult while covering Trump rallies.

Outcome

Newseum pulls political apparel from online shop

The day after the story broke, the Newseum announced it would no longer be selling the “You are very fake news” T-shirts, saying it had “made a mistake” and would, therefore, apologize. “A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people,” Gavankar said in a statement to TIME magazine that was also posted to the Newseum’s website, drawing on another phrase Trump has used to excoriate the news media. The Newseum said it would continue selling other Trump-related apparel.

Following the lightning-fast resolution of the uproar, however, the suggestion emerged on social media that the financially strapped Newseum had been censored by the very people who defend Free Speech most aggressively. As the Washingtonian put it, some might see the sale of anti-media memorabilia as “admirable.”

If we present all sides of an issue, the thinking goes, we’re actually strengthening democracy,” as the magazine explained that point of view. “That sort of balance—the kind of thing that characterizes a metropolitan daily’s op-ed pages—certainly defines most of the items available in the museum’s gift shop, whose offerings are long on political souvenirs.

External References

“The Newseum is selling MAGA hats and ‘fake news’ T-shirts,” Poynter

“The Newseum is selling ‘Fake News’ T-shirts,” CNN

“Newseum pulls ‘fake news’ shirt after backlash,” POLITICO

“Newseum apologizes for selling ‘fake news’ T-shirts,” The Hill

“Washington’s Newseum Pulls ‘Fake News’ Shirts After Pushback From Journalists,” TIME

“People Are Furious at the Newseum for Selling “Fake News” T-Shirts. The Newseum’s Defense Is Making Things Even Worse,” Washingtonian

“Newseum pulls ‘fake news’ shirts after outcry from journalists,” The Washington Post

“‘A slow-motion disaster’: Journalism museum in talks about possible building sale,” The Washington Post

Newseum statement on store merchandise

About the Newseum

Prepared by Jesus Rodriguez ‘19

Uploaded August 23, 2018

 

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Connecticut selectwoman kneels during Pledge of Allegiance to protest Trump – July 16, 2018

Haddam, Connecticut

In a show of protest against President Donald Trump, a Democratic selectwoman on the local governing board of Haddam, Connecticut, highlighted political divisions by kneeling in council chambers during a July 16, 2018, board meeting.

Key Players

Melissa Schlag was elected in 20127 as the lone Democrat on the three-person board of selectmen of Haddam, a town roughly 30 miles south of Hartford whose nearly 7,000 residents voted for Donald Trump by a narrow margin in the 2016 presidential election. She began kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance on July 16, 2018, the day of Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

Art Linares is a Republican state senator in Connecticut who bested Schlag when she ran as a Green Party candidate for the state senate in 2012. He was one of the first to call on Schlag to resign after her symbolic protest.

Tim Herbst is a Republican candidate in the 2018 Connecticut gubernatorial race. Prior to that, he served as first selectman for Trumbull, CT, from 2009 to 2017. He also joined calls for Schlag’s resignation.

Further Details

At the U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki, Trump appeared to reject American intelligence community findings that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections; the president seemed to give greater credibility to Putin’s claims that Russia had not meddled in the U.S. democratic system, according to The Washington Post.

The widespread uproar that followed the now-infamous press conference following the summit prompted Schlag to take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance, which is recited at the beginning of every public meeting of the Haddam board of selectmen. Schlag said she was “inspired” by protests in the National Football League, where since 2016 players have knelt during the national anthem before football games, to register a symbolic protest against American racism and police brutality.

In a letter posted to her Facebook page, Schlag explained the decision as stemming from her opposition to Trump’s performance at the summit. as well as the administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy that resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 immigrant families in the summer of 2018. “As long as Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States,” she wrote in a letter posted to Facebook, “I will kneel. I will kneel for all the people, regardless of party affiliation, and continue to fight for their rights. This is not the America I grew up in, or the country we should be, but I will work every day to get us back to that place.”

At first, CNN reported, Schlag did not receive any backlash. But at the following week’s meeting, the chamber was packed with military veterans who shouted at her as she protested. The meeting had to be moved to a different room to accommodate the large crowd, reported The Washington Times.

On July 25, in a “Fox & Friends” interview, Herbst called on Schlag to resign immediately. “One of the things the flag stands for — it stands for our freedom, it stands for our democracy. It stands for the fundamental ideal that we can have differences of opinion, but we all stand in respect of our flag because many people, including my 93-year-old grandfather who’s a veteran, fought in defense of the very liberty that the flag resembles [sic],” he said.

Linares, the Connecticut state senator whom Schlag ran against in 2012, also called for her resignation, saying that while Schlag has an individual right to protest, she should not be exercising it during meetings, because she is an elected official “who represents the community.”

Schlag ignited further criticism after a video surfaced online from the July 23 meeting, in which she can be overheard calling her own town “racist and fascist.” Schlag has since apologized for that video and said that she meant only that some in her town fit that characterization, according to The Hartford Courant. She added that she was speaking to a supportive friend at the time and was under a great deal of stress.

Outcome

Herbst and Linares hold “Stand for the Flag” rally

On July 30, nearly 150 people attended a rally organized by Herbst and Linares on Higganum Green, a park in Haddam three-quarters of a mile away from the firehouse where the board was meeting at the time. According to The Middletown Press, Herbst and Linares said they held the event to support the American flag and the values it represents.

Critics create Facebook page blasting Schlag

Schlag’s critics created a Facebook page titled “Time for Haddam CT Selectman Melissa Schlag to Resign.” Despite only 65 people having “liked” and followed the page, it has become a forum for residents to air grievances about her, with some attacking Schlag as “repulsive,” a “disgrace,” and “a crud.” Others have called on her to leave the country and go live in Mexico. The page’s administrators have also said that Schlag was only elected to her position because the town’s charter prohibits one political party from monopolizing all representation on the board of selectmen, and they argued that the town should repeal that provision.

Schlag continues to protest

Schlag is still protesting the administration’s policies during the Pledge of Allegiance at board meetings, and she has said she will continue to kneel until Trump leaves office. Some Haddam residents support her, saying she is well within her rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Her term on the board of selectmen ends in 2019.

External References

“In a town where 51% voted for Trump, one official takes a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance in protest,” CNN

“‘Do that on your own time’: Official’s decision to kneel during pledge divides her small town,” The Washington Post

“Connecticut official faces calls to resign after kneeling during pledge to protest Trump,” The Washington Times

“Haddam Selectman defends decision to kneel during Pledge of Allegiance,” WFSB

“Kneeling For The Pledge: Connecticut Reacts To A Fight Over The Flag,” The Hartford Courant

“Haddam Selectwoman Who Knelt During Pledge Offers Apology For Comments,” The Hartford Courant

Lawsuit against Tim Herbst, Filed By Estranged Brother-in-law, Cost Trumbull $25k,” The Hartford Courant

After Haddam Selectwoman Takes A Knee During the Pledge, Political Firestorm Rages On,” The Hartford Courant

“Hadam selectman faces harsh criticism, condemnation for taking knee during Pledge of Allegiance,” The Middletown Press.

Melissa Schlag, Ballotpedia

Town of Haddam, Connecticut meetings calendar

Melissa Schlag’s campaign website

“Time for Haddam CT Selectman Melissa Schlag to Resign” Facebook page

Prepared by Jesus Rodriguez ‘19

Uploaded August 20, 2018

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Canadian professor threatens to sue online critic for libel – June 2018

Toronto, Canada // Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

Jordan Peterson, a Canadian professor who has stirred controversy online for his stances on political correctness and feminism, threatened to sue an American professor for her criticisms online, which were factually unverifiable and which Peterson called “defamatory.” As Peterson demanded, the American professor deleted the statements and issued an apology, calming the legal threats.

Key Players

Jordan Peterson is an academic figure noteworthy for, among other things, his stance on free speech. A psychology professor at the University of Toronto, Peterson has gained traction online for his critiques of “political correctness,” the idea of white privilege, and feminism.

“The masculine spirit is under assault,” he said in an interview with the New York Times.

These beliefs have often won him favor among conservative audiences, including alt-right circles. In September 2017, for example, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer retweeted Peterson’s notorious lecture on his belief that women have an unconscious desire to be dominated.

Peterson has also gained relative fame and fortune through his public brand. His January 2018 book, “12 Rules for Life,” had sold more than 1.1 million copies by May 2018, according to the Times. And, thanks to his popular Youtube channel, which boasts 1.3 subscribers as of August 2018, Peterson receives more than $80,000 monthly in donations.

Peterson is currently involved in a defamation case against Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, over comments made by three of its staff members. The staff in question reprimanded a teacher’s assistant (TA) for playing a video of Peterson discussing his controversial views on the use of gender pronouns for transgender individuals. They told the TA, during a subsequent meeting, that Peterson’s stance targeted transgender students and compared the video to showing “a speech by Hitler,” according to the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper. One professor present questioned Peterson’s intellectual credibility, saying he lacked “substantial academic evidence.”

But, unbeknownst to the supervisors, the TA had been recording their discussion  and would soon release the audio to the media, resulting in widespread university criticism and Peterson’s litigious response. The suit, which seeks $1.5 million in damages, according to the Globe and Mail, claims that the three university staff members who made the critical comments about Peterson were maliciously defaming him.

In August 2018, the university filed a statement in court, claiming that Peterson knew about and consented to the release of the tape; the statement also asserts that Peterson has experienced “significantly increased financial and professional success” since the release of the recording, according to The Sault Star, an Ontario daily.

Wendy Lynne Lee is a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. Lee, who leans left, is also a staunch free speech advocate who once defended the use of flag-burning as a form of protest in a post on her blog, according to Mic.

Further Details

On May 31, Lee tweeted sharp criticism of Peterson to her roughly 300 followers.

“Jordan Peterson: incel misogynist. Committed white nationalist,” Lee wrote, referring to “his [descent] into rank bigotry.”

“Incels.” short for “involuntary celibates,” are members of a growing, self-identified online community.  Incel ideology revolves around a hatred of women, who incels believe owe them sex but ignore them because of women’s shallowness. The online movement gained national attention in April 2018, when Alex Minassian killed 10 and injured 15 in a van attack in Toronto, a seemingly motiveless crime until investigators discovered that he had self-identified as an incel.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Minassian has since become, in the wake of these attacks, an incel movement icon.

But Lee’s claims that Peterson is an incel and white nationalist are dubious. As the married father of two children, Peterson cannot accurately be defined as an incel, as Mic points out. Peterson has also publicly denounced identity politics, according to Mic, meaning that he would not affiliate with identity-driven movements such as white nationalism.

On June 13, Peterson’s attorney sent an email to Lee, threatening to sue her for libel unless she deleted her “defamatory statements” and tweeted an apology, per documents provided to Mic.

Outcome

Lee deletes tweet, apologizes

That same day, Lee, in order to avoid legal action, complied with Peterson’s requests by  deleting the tweet and issuing an apology on Twitter, which read as follows:

“AS PER THREAT TO SUE FOR LIBEL, I HEREBY APOLOGIZE TO JORDAN PETERSON FOR REFERRING TO HIM AS AN INVOLUNTARY CELIBATE (INCEL), A MISOGYNIST,  A COMMITTED WHITE NATIONALIST, AND SOMEONE WHO HAS DESCENDED INTO RANK BIGOTRY,” she tweeted.

Lee later expressed her dismay at the request, but said she feared legal action.

“I find it absurd,” Lee told Mic. “Many have actually said these things about Peterson and at much greater length.”

Peterson’s lawyer said that, had Lee not complied, he would have filed the lawsuit in Canadian court, where proving libel charges requires lower standards than in the United States.

The attorney noted that, while Peterson would not sue all of his online critics, “anyone calling Dr. Peterson that is at risk of being sued for defamation,” according to Mic.

External References

“I laugh at the death of normies”: How incels are celebrating the Toronto mass killing, Southern Poverty Law Center

Inside the online world of ‘incels,’ the dark corner of the Internet linked to the Toronto suspect, Washington Post

Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy, New York Times

Jordan Peterson sues Wilfrid Laurier University for defamation, The Globe and Mail

Free speech champion Jordan Peterson threatens to sue professor over Twitter name calling, Mic

Jordan Peterson profited by releasing audiotape he alleged defamed him: Defence, The Sault Star

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Originally Uploaded August 20, 2018

Updated September 11, 2018

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Atlantic’s new opinion columnist, Kevin D. Williamson, fired two weeks after controversial Tweets and podcast interview unearthed – Washington, D.C. – April 2018

Washington, DC

After joining The Atlantic as a columnist on March 22, 2018, conservative writer Kevin D. Williamson was let go two weeks later, when a podcast from 2014, in which he elaborated on his previously expressed hard-line anti-abortion views, was revealed by Media Matters, a nonprofit group that says it monitors “conservative misinformation” in U.S. media.

Key Players

Kevin D. Williamson is a journalist who wrote for National Review, a right-leaning magazine, for 10 years, until he was hired by The Atlantic as an opinion columnist. His critics discovered bigoted tweets and other offensive comments in his prior record.

Jeffrey Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, who made the contested decisions to hire, and subsequently to fire, Williamson. In a March 22 memo sent to Atlantic staff, Goldberg explained his rationale for hiring the polarizing writer. On April 5, Goldberg wrote another memo, saying “The Atlantic is not the best fit for his [Williamson’s] talents.”

Further Details

Having served for a decade as roving correspondent for National Review, Kevin D. Williamson joined The Atlantic in March 2018 to contribute to a new section on “ideas, opinions, and commentary.”

In an internal memo obtained by Slate, Goldberg explained his rationale for hiring Williamson, saying that “I have disagreed with him more than I have agreed with him,” but that he was impressed with Williamson’s thoughtful, witty, and clear writing style — and that Williamson would be an asset to the organization’s ideological diversity. “If we are going to host debates, we have to host people who actually disagree with, and sometimes offend, the other side,” Goldberg said. “Kevin will help this cause.”

Many disagreed, however. Following Williamson’s hire (and the one article he managed to publish on April 2, 2018), liberal critics lambasted Goldberg and The Atlantic through Twitter posts and newspaper editorials. Journalists pointed out Williamson’s track record of publishing racially charged and misogynist essays. Abortion rights group Naral Pro Choice America started a Twitter campaign (#FireKevin) and complained to The Atlantic about his having been hired.

Criticism was also directed at tweets that Williamson had posted on September 28, 2014, in which he asserted that women who had abortions were, in fact, committing murder, and could be charged with homicide. When questioned in online comments whether he thought the appropriate punishment for those who had elective abortions would be life without parole, he clarified that, “I have hanging more in mind.”

The next day, Williamson brought up and defended his position on “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” the podcast he co-hosts with National Review editor Charles C. Cooke. He would later clarify these remarks in a March 26, 2015, speech at Hillsdale College, saying that he is “generally against capital punishment,” “always against ex-post-facto punishment,” and “always against lynching.”

Conservative Williamson supporters, worried that his history of inflammatory comments would put him at odds with The Atlantic and its audience, warned in March 2018 that firing him would be tantamount to silencing him, and thus hamper his Free Speech. But when Media Matters, a progressive nonprofit watchdog group, published transcript evidence of Williamson’s remarks from the 2014 podcast, Goldberg could no longer withstand the uproar.

According to The Huffington Post, Goldberg told Atlantic staff in an email that he was firing Williamson. He said that, although he thought Williamson’s tweets in 2014 had simply been “intemperate,” the podcast discussion proved that they actually represented Williamson’s “carefully considered views.” Goldberg further explained, “the language used in the podcast was callous and violent. This runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”

Outcome

Kevin D. Williamson fired from columnist position for the Atlantic

Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg fired commentator Kevin D. Williamson only two weeks after he was hired. Williamson responded by publishing numerous opinion pieces, including in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. “…in this case, I obscured the more meaningful questions about abortion and sparked the sort of hysteria I’d meant to point out and mock,” Williamson wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “What matters more is the issue of how the rage-fueled tribalism of social media, especially Twitter, has infected the op-ed pages and, to some extent, the rest of journalism.”

External References

The Atlantic Cuts Ties with Conservative Writer Kevin Williamson. New York Times.

Why Would the Atlantic Hire Kevin Williamson? Slate.

Kevin D. Williamson’s Tweet about Capitall Punishment and Abortions. Web.archive.org.

The “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” Episode in which Williamson Doubles Down on His Comments. ricochet.com

The End of Rational Public Discourse – Kevin Williamson’s Speech to Hillsdale College. Youtube.com.

Kevin Williamson also said on his podcast the people who’ve had abortions should be hanged. mediamatters.org.

Atlantic Fires Kevin Williamson After Suddenly Realizing He Believes The Things He Says. The Huffington Post.

When the Twitter Mob Came for Me. Wall Street Journal.

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Uploaded August 20, 2018

 

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Boston tavern blasted online after serving ‘free speech group’ with possible hate affiliations – June 2018

Boston, MA

In June 2018, a tavern in Boston, Massachusetts, was heavily criticized online after serving patrons who had come from a “free speech” rally hosted by a group with far-right affiliations. Critics claimed the patrons in the restaurant were openly wearing hate symbols and intimidating other customers, but the owners of the restaurant denied that characterization. Eventually, the negative online rhetoric grew so intense that Yelp, an online review forum, removed reviews on the restaurant’s page about the incident, a common practice the company uses for establishments involved in controversy.

Key Players

Noelle and Sean Somers have owned the Green Dragon Tavern, located near Boston’s Freedom Trail, which connects numerous historic sites, for 25 years. It was named after a historical tavern — which some historians have called the “Headquarters of the American Revolution” — where the Sons of Liberty and other rebels against English rule of the American colonies often met. Though the contemporary Green Dragon publicizes itself as “a favorite haunt of Paul Revere…and John Hancock,” and claims to have “a long and rich history, playing an important part in the freedom of Boston during the War of Independence,” according to its website, it is located at a different address from the original and is apparently unrelated to the historical establishment in any official capacity.

The Boston Free Speech Coalition (BFSC) is an activist group that describes itself as non-partisan, saying it stands “for free speech in all forms from all sides of the political spectrum.” However, several of the group’s recent activities, including pro-gun rights events and a “March Against Sharia Law,” indicate that it has a right-leaning agenda.

The group has held several “free speech rallies” over the past year, in conjunction with the conservative group Resist Marxism; these events have also sometimes taken a far-right tack, and have included speakers who accused the advocacy group Black Lives Matter of being a terrorist organization, according to Boston.com.

An August 2017 rally organized by the BFSC — which took place soon after the violent “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — originally had speakers with white supremacist and other racist ties scheduled to speak, according to The Boston Globe. One of these was Augustus Invictus, an activist involved in the Charlottesville rally who had gained white supremacist support while vying for a Florida Senate seat in 2016; Invictus was disinvited from the Boston rally in 2017, due to his “willingness to support violence, as well as his Holocaust denial,” one member of the BFSC told the Globe.

Further Details

On June 2, 2018, the BFSC and Resist Marxism organized a pro-free speech and pro-gun rights rally outside the Massachusetts statehouse entitled “June 2nd for the Second.” Though neither group’s primary focus is Second Amendment gun rights, the rally was intended to protest proposed “red flag” legislation that would allow for the temporary confiscation of firearms from individuals considered to pose a threat to themselves or others. On July 3, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed that “red flag” legislation into law.

Following the June 2 rally, a group of attendees went to the Green Dragon Tavern for lunch. Whether the patrons openly displayed any apparent affiliations with hate groups at the time remains unclear. But in a review of the restaurant on Yelp, one person claimed, “I was there and a group of about 20 idiots openly wearing swastikas and other white supremacist symbols walked in. They were purposely intimidating other patrons even after management was informed several times and they did NOTHING!!”

However, Noelle and Sean Somers both insisted that the rally attendees were not wearing anything to suggest they were affiliated with a hate group, and did not appear to be intimidating other customers. “The group was quiet, non-descript. They weren’t wearing anything to show hate or anything of that nature,” Noelle Somers told Boston 25 News.

A group of people who were not patrons of the tavern arrived outside the restaurant and, declaring to the manager that the Green Dragon was serving neo-Nazis, demanded the rally attendees be kicked out.

“None of these people were patrons. Not once did a patron within our establishment voice concern,” Noelle Somers insisted.

The manager approached the rally attendees inside to ensure they were not promoting hateful ideologies or threatening other restaurant patrons, but the group outside was unsatisfied by this effort, according to footage from a security camera that was shared with media outlets, including CBS Boston.

“They did say they had a large network and they would take us down” if ejected, Somers told Boston 25.

Within a week of the incident, the establishment received more than 125 negative comments on social media platforms such as Facebook and Yelp. as well as calls for boycotts, according to CBS Boston. “This bar knowingly served Neo-Nazis, which put other customers in danger. I don’t know what the management was thinking,” read one Yelp review. The Boston Feminists for Liberation wrote on Facebook that the tavern had been “playing host to members of women hating, gay bashing, white supremacist groups,” reported Boston 25.

The Somers made efforts to clarify their position and clear their restaurant’s name, including calling a press conference on June 8. “We have never and will never tolerate hate, and for it to be portrayed that we do is just disgusting,” Noelle Somers said. “If there is any racist propaganda put out or doing a Nazi salute or someone saying something racially, in any way shape or form to another person, they will not be allowed in,” she told CBS Boston.

The tavern owners said they were dismayed not only by the negative online rhetoric, but also by the subpar monitoring efforts of the platforms their critics used, particularly Facebook and Yelp. In their view, the companies’ complacency allowed critics to launch a misinformation campaign against their restaurant.

“We have been victimized by a coordinated social media smear campaign that has damaged our family business. Protest groups have falsely accused us of catering to Nazis, which is outrageous and disgusting,” the couple wrote Newsweek. “We now demand that media platforms such as Yelp, Twitter and Facebook incorporate stricter editorial policies to prevent false information from spreading in the future.”

Outcome

Yelp issues an “active cleanup alert”

Yelp soon responded to the onslaught of dozens of negative reviews of the Green Dragon Tavern related to this encounter, according to Boston 25. Yelp’s policies dictate that posts unrelated to an establishment’s quality — such as those about its politics or controversies it is involved in — are irrelevant to the site’s purpose and should be removed. These policies are intended to help protect the reputation of establishments embroiled in conflict or receiving significant media attention by ensuring the posts substantively discuss the establishment’s intended service.

“When local businesses make the news or do something controversial, their Yelp business page can be affected. Many people come to Yelp to share their views about the news. Media-fueled reviews typically violate our Content Guidelines, one of which deals with relevance,” the online review forum told Newsweek.

Such alerts remain active until the page’s traffic returns to normal. As of July 24, 2018, the alert for the Green Dragon Tavern was still active: “This business is being monitored by Yelp’s Support team for content related to media reports,” the warning read.

External References

Who is the Boston Free Speech Coalition behind Saturday’s rally?, The Boston Globe

Boston free speech rally draws supporters, protesters, Boston.com

Gun activists protest proposed ‘red flag’ legislation, The Boston Herald

Restaurant Accused of Serving Nazis After Free Speech Rally Fights Back, Newsweek

Boston tavern owners say they’ve fallen victim to online bullies, Boston 25 News

Boston Bar Fights Back Over ‘Slander’ For Serving Neo-Nazi Group, CBS Boston

Baker Signs ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill, CBS Boston

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded July 26, 2018