Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Pro-life organization blocked from public sidewalk – September 2018

Rochester, NY

Members of a pro-life organization, ROC Sidewalk Advocates, were blocked from being on public sidewalks near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Rochester, NY. The city cited a 2005 federal injunction as the basis for enforcing this prohibition.

Key Players

The Thomas More Society is a national public interest law firm headquartered in in Chicago. According to its mission statement, it is a nonprofit “dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty.”

ROC Sidewalk Advocates for Life is a local branch of the national organization Sidewalk Advocates. Its stated mission is “to train, equip, and support local communities across the United States and the world in ‘sidewalk advocacy’: to be the hands and feet of Christ, offering loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at the abortion center, thereby eliminating demand and ending abortion.” Jim Havens is the current program director for the Rochester branch.

Further Details

ROC Sidewalk Advocates have long gathered outside a Planned Parenthood facility on University Avenue in Rochester to offer “abortion alternatives” to women. But in June 2018, they were informed by Rochester police that they were in violation of a 15-foot-buffer-zone rule. The buffer zone was put in place by a 2005 federal injunction that originated from a “state attorney general lawsuit against Operation Rescue National and…other anti-abortion groups.” The injunction prohibits such groups from various antagonizing behaviors outside reproductive health clinics.

The Rochester police force enforced this injunction during the summer of 2018. Jim Havens, president of Rochester’s Sidewalk Advocates branch, pushed back on behalf of the organization with assistance from the Thomas More Society. They argued that since Sidewalk Advocates were not among the original defendants in the 2005 injunction case, and were not coordinating with anyone who was in violation of the injunction, they should not have to adhere to the 15-foot buffer requirement.

Outcome

City of Rochester reverses position, then reverts to original stand

Following the Thomas More Society’s legal advocacy on behalf of ROC Sidewalk Advocates, the city of Rochester informed the society that the police department would no longer enforce the injunction because the group was not acting in concert with any of the defendants from the 2005 legal matter. However, as of September 21, 2018, the city reverted to its original enforcement of the injunction. According to a letter from city officials to the Thomas More Society, it appears that Jim Havens and ROC Sidewalk Advocates have been “acting in concert with several of the defendants in that action,” and accordingly must now respect the 15-foot buffer zone rule.

External References

City decides pro-life marchers have 1st Amendment rights, WND

Rochester gives anti-abortion group green light for Planned Parenthood protests, Democrat & Chronicle

City, AG’s Office: Local protesters outside Planned Parenthood must adhere to buffer zone, WHAM

The Thomas More Society

Sidewalk Advocates for Life

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded to Tracker: October 8, 2018

 

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Pro-Trump flag displayed and quickly removed at Walt Disney World – September 2018

Bay Lake, Florida

In a busy part of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park in Florida, a man hung a flag for 64 seconds that appeared to support President Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020. He described the move as “gorilla marketing” intended to make a pro-Trump display go viral.

Key Players

Dion Cini is a self-described “ultra conservative” from New York City. Prior to displaying the pro-Trump flag at the Magic Kingdom, he had been a season-pass holder at the park for 26 years. Aside from this incident, he is known for flying pro-Trump flags on the boat that he sails around New York City waterways.

Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is a theme park near Orlando, Florida that plays an important role in the Disney franchise, attracting more than 20.4 million visitors a year. It features a daily “Festival of Fantasy” parade, which ends at a railroad station where Cini hung his flag.

Further Details

On September 23, 2018, Dion Cini hung a 15-foot pro-Trump flag from a train station near the main entrance of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The flag read “Re-Elect Donald J. Trump Keep America Great! 2020.” Scott Gustin, a reporter for Tribune Media, tweeted that the flag was aloft for only 64 seconds before Cini and an accomplice, whom he had recruited at the last minute, were stopped by security. Cini instructed the other man to run away when security began to approach them.

Cini estimated that 500 people took pictures of his stunt, which is part of his greater crusade to help pro-Trump displays go viral, such as when someone hoisted a similar flag at a stage production of Disney’s Frozen in August 2018. “My goal is to make each one bigger and better,” Cini told Fox News.

According to The Hill, a Disney spokesperson acknowledged that the event occurred but would not provide further comment. One theme park blogger noted, however, that “While the U.S. Constitution protects the right to protest in public, the Supreme Court held in the 1976 case Hudgens v. NLRB that the First Amendment does not guarantee free speech on private commercial property.” A caveat in a later case, Pruneyard v. Robins, which upheld the 1976 ruling, allowed states to grant more permissive free speech rights on private property that is freely open to the public. But, given that Disney’s theme parks are not freely open to the public, the company has the right to shut down any unapproved activity on the park’s property.

Outcome

Florida man criticised and banned for politicising Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

From local news reports to posts on Twitter, Cini received criticism for bringing politics to the traditionally non-partisan Disney park. According to WDBO, an Orlando-based radio station, the stunt got Cini banned from the park and his season pass revoked.

External References

Disney moves quickly to remove political banner from Main Street, Theme Park Insider

One of the first tweets about the incident.

A description of the event, describing that “It was over before it started”

Man describes how he hung a ‘re-elect Trump’ banner at Walt Disney World, Fox 35

Man Hangs “Re-Elect Trump” Banner at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, IheartRadio

Man Sneaks “Re-Elect Trump” Banner into Magic Kingdom, The Hill

 

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Date uploaded to tracker: October 4, 2018

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Appellate court rules in favor of protesters preaching outside Nashville Pride festival – September 2018

Nashville, TN

Two men protesting against a 2015 Nashville LGBTQ Pride Festival were ordered by police to remove themselves from the event. The two protesters sued, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, 2-1, in their favor, overturning the earlier decision against them in federal district court.

Key Players

John McGlone and Jeremy Peters asserted that their rights to Free Speech were violated when they were forced to stop preaching outside a celebration of LGBTQ community and identity, a philosophy of which they disapproved.

McGlone, an evangelical preacher from Kentucky, has been involved in Nashville Free Speech controversies in the past. In 2012, he was cited for violating the city’s noise ordinances by preaching too loudly in the streets. He appealed that decision, saying it was a violation of his Free Speech rights, but lost on appeal. That same year, he was also fined for “disturbing the peace” outside a music festival. He appealed that decision, also citing his First Amendment rights, and lost accordingly, according to the Nashville Tennessean.

Peters is involved in another, unrelated Free Speech lawsuit in which he claims his First Amendment rights were infringed when he was threatened with arrest for protesting outside of a Nashville arena.

Further Details

In June 2015, McGlone and Peters were protesting outside the Nashville Pride Festival, using bullhorns and other sound amplifiers to condemn and preach against same-sex relationships, according to The Tennessean. An off-duty Nashville police officer, who had been hired by a private firm to provide security for the festival, instructed the men to leave the sidewalk in front of Public Square Park, where the festival was being held, or face arrest. They moved across the street, but continued to preach for hours, the Tennessean reported.

The next year, McGlone and Peters filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Nashville. They argued that their Free Speech rights had been violated when they were forced to relocate, according to the Associated Press. The city countered that police actions against McGlone and Peters were not based on the content of what they were saying, but were rather due to their “interfering” with the festival’s mission, according to the Tennessean. The district court initially ruled in favor of the city in September 2017, a decision which McGlone and Peters would eventually appeal.

Outcome

Appellate court rules in favor of preaching protesters

On September 19, 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of McGlone and Peters, saying the city’s restriction of the two protesters was clearly content-based, and a violation of their First Amendment rights.

“Nashville’s explanation leaves no doubt that but for the anti-homosexuality message that McGlone and Peters were advancing as they stood on the sidewalk, they would not have been excluded,” the order said, according to the Tennessean. “How, then, can Nashville argue that its restriction of the preachers’ speech was not content based?”

The ruling also found that McGlone and Peters did not attempt to participate in the festival or to co-opt its purpose. Hence, the court said, the city’s presumed authority to remove them was invalid.

Circuit Court Judge Karen Nelson Moore dissented from the appellate court decision, arguing that the protesters’ use of bullhorns was sufficiently disruptive that the city could remove them without paying heed to their content.

External References

Outdoor preacher battles Tennessee city’s noise law, USA Today

Street preacher loses his appeal over Franklin festival incident, Nashville Tennessean

Court: Anti-gay preachers had right to protest outside Pride, Associated Press

Nashville should have let preachers protest homosexuality outside pride event, court rules, Nashville Tennessean

Notes: Street preachers take Pride protest to Sixth Circuit, Nashville Post

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded October 4 , 2018

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Nike presents Kaepernick as the face of a new ad campaign, sparking controversy – September 2018

Beaverton, Oregon

Nike’s decision in September 2018 to sign Colin Kaepernick, the National Football League (NFL) quarterback famous for triggering a wave of protests against singing the national anthem before games, ignited swift and polarized reaction. Despite condemnation from customers and President Donald Trump, the Oregon company announced days later that a commercial featuring Kaepernick would run during the NFL’s opening games of the 2018 season.

Key Players

Colin Kaepernick is an NFL football player; as of the start of the 2018 NFL season, he was not signed to any team. Initially drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, Kaepernick played for the San Francisco 49ers until 2016.

In 2016, Kaepernick gained notoriety for kneeling during the national anthem, which has been played before sanctioned NFL football games since World War II. However, as Axios reports, NFL players only began standing during the anthem in 2009; before then, they would often remain in their locker rooms. While many saw Kaepernick’s, and subsequently other players’, protests as an affront against the flag and armed forces veterans, Kaepernick insisted that its main purpose was to raise awareness of racial and social inequality, including police brutality against minorities.

Since opting out of his contract with the 49ers in 2016, Kaepernick has had difficulty being hired by another NFL team, despite widespread recognition amongst football experts that he had sufficient talent to continue playing in the league. In 2017, Kaepernick filed a complaint against the NFL, accusing them of blackballing him from being hired. In August 2018, Kaepernick scored a victory in the case, when an arbitrator allowed his case against the league to proceed.

Further Details

Since Kaepernick first knelt during the anthem in 2016, the NFL, and other professional and amateur sports leagues, have seen an explosion of similar actions by players. The movement reached a boiling point in September 2017, when more than 200 NFL players participated in the anthem protests. This evoked strong reactions from fans, Donald Trump, and companies like Papa John’s that decided pull their ads from NFL game broadcasts.

However, several firms — including Nike, Under Armour and Ford — voiced their support for athletes’ freedom of expression, according to Yahoo. “Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society,” that company said in a September 2017 statement.

In May 2018, the NFL issued a rule requiring players either to stand for the national anthem, remain in the locker room, or suffer fines. However, several team owners refused to implement the rule, and eventually the league agreed to suspend its enforcement, according to the New York Times.

On Sept. 3, 2018, Nike announced that it had signed a multi-year contract with Kaepernick, whereby he would become the face of Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. That day, it released the first of its television advertisements featuring him, which read on screen: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” A billboard version of the same ad went up in San Francisco.

Nike also planned to produce new Kaepernick merchandise, according to the Times, and said it would donate money to his “Know Your Rights” campaign.

Days after the initial announcement, Nike released a two-minute advertisement narrated by Kaepernick and featuring other prominent athletes like tennis star Serena Williams and basketball player LeBron James. It ran during the NFL’s first telecast of the 2018 regular football season, as well as during the U.S. Open tennis championship and college football games.

Outcome

Kaepernick’s Nike campaign triggers controversy from all sides

Kaepernick’s new role with Nike sparked immediate outcry across the political spectrum. “Just Do It” and “Nike” quickly became trending topics on Twitter in the United States, according to the Times, and some individuals took to the social media site to declare their boycotts of Nike and showcase the destruction of their Nike products.

Trump, who had been critical of protests by NFL players, spoke out on Sept. 5 against Nike’s decision. “Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way?” Trump tweeted. “As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!”

On September 6, 2018, The Kansas City Star reported that the College of the Ozarks — a small, Christian liberal arts school near Springfield, Missouri, with a student body of about 1,400 — would no longer use Nike as the supplier for their athletes’ uniforms. “In their new ad campaign, we believe Nike executives are promoting an attitude of division and disrespect toward America,” College President Jerry C. Davis said in a statement, according to the Star. “If Nike is ashamed of America, we are ashamed of them.”

The same month, a private Southern Baptist college in Georgia, Truett McConnell University, announced that it, too, would be cutting ties with Nike, which supplies t-shirts and other goods to its bookstore. University president Eric Caner said that Nike’s support of Kaepernick “mocks our troops.”

But Kaepernick has also received his fair share of support Both LeBron James and Serena Williams openly supported Nike’s decision to sign the controversial athlete. “Having a huge company back him, you know, could be a controversial reason for this company, but they’re not afraid,” Williams said.

While Nike’s stock price feel more than two percent the day after the announcement, the tumble was attributed to broader market anxiety, as competitors fell at a similar rate, according to the Times.

The Washington Post reported that Nike had experienced a 31 percent increase in online sales since announcing Kaepernick as the face of its campaign, and that its stock, on September 13, had hit an all-time high at $83.47.

External References

Colin Kaepernick explains why he sat during national anthem, NFL Media

Nike, an NFL sponsor, takes clear side in Trump vs NFL, Yahoo News

Colin Kaepernick’s Nike Campaign Keeps N.F.L. fAnthem Kneeling in Spotlight, The New York Times

Nike’s Kaepernick Ad Set to Air on N.F.L.’s Opening Telecast, The New York Times

The Nike swoosh is out at Missouri’s College of the Ozarks because of Kaepernick ad, The Kansas City Star

Nike enjoys 31 percent bump in online sales after debut of Colin Kaepernick campaign, The Washington Post

Story on Truett McConnell University dropping Nike, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

History of singing national anthem before NFL games, Axios

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded October 2, 2018

 

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Federal appeals court rules foundation must disclose donors to California – September 2018

San Francisco, CA

In Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) v. Becerra, a federal appeals court ruled that California, could compel charities to disclose donor lists, overturning a district judge’s decision that such a move infringed on the foundation’s First Amendment rights.

Key Players

Americans for Prosperity Foundation is a charitable group backed by Charles and David Koch, otherwise known as the Koch brothers. The pair of billionaires oversee a network of nonprofits that control hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into politics. While most know them for their unwavering commitment to reducing regulation, advancing libertarian ideas, and promoting free-market Republican candidates, the brothers are also staunch advocates of Free Speech, and have openly disagreed with some of Donald Trump’s trade and immigration policies. AFP, which is the brothers’ primary vehicle for political advocacy, has strong libertarian and conservative leanings, and has been heavily involved in Republican politics, contributing to the rise of the Tea Party and of GOP majorities in both houses of Congress. The group is classified as a public charity, making it a nonprofit entity exempt from federal taxes; consequently, AFP Foundation is not required to disclose its donors publicly. However, California requires such charities to disclose to the state attorney general (AG) the same information it does to the Internal Revenue Service, according to The Washington Post.

Xavier Becerra, as California’s current AG, now has jurisdiction over the state’s dealings with AFP Foundation, but US Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) was California’s AG when this litigation began.

Further Details

The attempt to force AFP Foundation to disclose its donors began in 2016 under Harris, who claimed she needed donor lists to determine if the group had “violated the law, including laws against self-dealing, improper loans, interested persons, or illegal or unfair business practices.”

U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real, of Los Angeles, the longest-sitting federal trial court judge in the country, issued a permanent injunction on April 21, 2016, which prevented Harris and the AG’s office from obtaining the lists. Real found dubious Harris’s claim that she needed them for investigative purposes, Politico reported. He also cited repeated previous instances in which the state had inadvertently published such donor lists, which were supposed to remain confidential in state files, Politico said.

Harris’s office immediately announced plans to appeal the ruling, with a spokeswoman saying that the disclosure of documents similar to AFP Foundation’s donor lists “is a long-standing requirement that has helped Attorneys General for more than a decade protect taxpayers against fraud,” according to Politico, which corroborated this assertion.

Real, in turn, noted that this requirement had been enforced inconsistently, and that violent threats against the Koch brothers, which he had learned about through court testimony, would only be exacerbated by the release of the documents.

The judge also made clear that his decision, along with an earlier one from the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, let stand the principle of requiring disclosure of donor lists, but allowed exceptions for groups that could prove their donors would be intimidated by such disclosure, as with the AFP Foundation.

Outcome

Federal appellate judges overturn lower court decision, rule in favor of California

On Sept. 11, 2018, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Judge Real’s decision, ruling that AFP Foundation must disclose its donors to the California AG’s office, according to The Washington Post. Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote that obtaining donors’ information was in the state’s interest and did not infringe on AFP Foundation’s First Amendment rights, because of the non-public nature of the collection and the relatively minor risk of inadvertent publication, according to the Post.

An AFP Foundation spokesman said it “intends to continue doing all it can to … protect the important constitutional rights at stake,” leading some to believe it would ask that the case be reheard by the full complement of Ninth Circuit judges, sitting en banc, or appeal it to the US Supreme Court. The foundation also claims the decision “imperils people’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech and of association,” the Post reports. Timothy Phillips, president of the foundation, testified during the case that the group felt politically targeted, given that both Harris and Becerra are Democrats.

David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, a nonprofit that opposes limits on free speech, called the ruling “appallingly wrong.”

“Basically, the panel is saying there’s no right to privacy in California if you speak on anything,” Keating was quoted as saying in a Post article. “The implications of that are pretty chilling and pretty stunning.”

But AG Becerra defended and upheld the state’s disclosure laws, saying they were intended to “protect Californians who donate their hard-earned dollars to charity.”

External References

Koch-linked group scores legal victory over California AG, Politico

CASE NO. CV 14-9448-R: Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Kamala Harris

Koch-backed charity must reveal donor list to California officials, appeals panel rules, The Washington Post

Koch group loses donor secrecy fight at appeals court, Politico

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded September 30, 2018

 

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

Iowa Democratic Party Veterans’ Caucus Prohibited From Participating in Iowa State Fair – August 2018

Des Moines, Iowa

On August 13, 2018, the Iowa Democratic Party Veterans’ Caucus (IDVC), a military veterans group, was prohibited from walking in the annual Iowa State Fair veterans parade, despite having already been approved to participate. Decisionmakers cited the caucus’s partisan nature as sufficient reason to exclude it from the parade. Such apparent bias, according to Dan Gannon, Iowa Commission of Veterans’ Affairs chair, went against the event’s intended purpose.

Key Players

The Iowa Democratic Party Veterans’ Caucus (IDVC) is the recognized voice for veterans and their families within the Iowa Democratic Party. The group’s motto is “Our Second Call To Duty,” and it advocates for policy and legislation to better the lives of veterans and their families.

Dan Gannon is chair of the Iowa Commission of Veterans’ Affairs, which was created to serve as a voice for veterans and their families. In each of Iowa’s 99 counties, there is a commissioner of veterans Affairs and a county director. Gannon, a Marine veteran who served in the Vietnam War, was also part of the unofficial group of organizers that helped plan the veterans parade.

Ron Healey is chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Veterans’ Caucus.

Kim Reynolds is the Republican governor of Iowa.

Further Details

On August 10, The Iowa Democratic Party Veterans’ Caucus received notification that it would not be allowed to walk in the annual veterans parade at the Iowa State Fair on August 13, after having previously received approval for participation, according to IDVC chair Healey.

Immediately following the announcement, Democratic military veterans claimed that Governor Reynolds was behind the prohibition of the group. But the decision to ban the IDVC from the parade was apparently made by parade officials, not the state government.

According to Gannon, the caucus was barred from participating in the parade because of its political leanings. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Gannon emphasized the nonpartisan nature of the parade. “This is not about politics; this is about veterans,” he said of the parade’s mission. Reynolds echoed this sentiment when she told a Register reporter, “You need to talk with the commission, but it has never been partisan. It should never be partisan.” She said, “This is about our veterans and it should be about saluting and celebrating them.”

The parade’s status as a nonpartisan event was brought into question by some members of the IDVC, however. For example, they noted the participation of Veterans for Peace, an anti-war group, and the Iowa Secretary of State, Paul Rate, a Republican running for re-election. Gannon defended their inclusion, however, arguing that they were still less partisan than the IDVC. Rate, argued Gannon, was already an elected state official who had established programs honoring veterans. “We don’t want a whole boatload of folks who have political messages,” Gannon said.

The decision to block the IDVC from marching marked an unprecedented step for parade organizers, who had allowed them to participate in previous years. According to Healey, the Veterans’ Caucus had marched in the 2008 parade, and Gannon himself remembered the group from 2015. In a statement, Healey wrote that such a move served only to exclude a group of veterans from a tradition designed to honor them. “By dis-inviting our veterans from a parade they have marched in for years, the Reynolds administration is telling Democratic veterans that their service is worth less than others’ for purely partisan reasons.” Some members of the veterans group still attended the parade, according to Healey, but stayed off to the side during the procession.

Outcome

Iowa State Fair Commission to Clarify Veterans Parade Rules in 2019

In an article for the Des Moines Register, Gannon apologized for changing the eligibility of the group just days before the start of the parade. He said he will make it clear in 2019 that political parties can not participate in the event.

External References

“Democratic military vets claim Republican politics barred them from Iowa State Fair parade,” Des Moines Register

Iowa Democratic Party

Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus Facebook

Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs

“Iowa official defends ban on Democratic veterans group from parade, says decision is ‘not about politics,’ Des Moines Register

“Parade Organizers, Democratic Veterans Group Clash at the Fair,” Iowa Public Radio

“Veterans’ group blocked from parade due to political affiliation,” KCCI Des Moines

Prepared by Erin Doherty ‘20

Uploaded to tracker September 28, 2018

 

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

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

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.

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.

He has faced legal action for his actions. In April 2018, Jones 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 shooting 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 Sandy Hook parent who recalled holding his dead son’s body after the 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’ 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.

Twitter faces calls to remove Jones from platform, bans Jones temporarily

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.

Prominent figures decry Jones’ social media bans

On August 18, President Donald J. Trump weighed into the debate on Twitter, though he refrained from mentioning Jones by name. “Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to policy,” 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’ 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

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’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