"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Monday, May 29, 2006

Blackshirts vs. Brownshirts
Could there be cracks in the conservative movement between the fundamentalist whackjob faction and the fascist goon faction? I've never, ever been a fan of the knuckledragging uberpatriots at Free Republic, but I have to admit that the hateful Rev. Fred Phelps almost makes them look like a gang of Rhodes scholars . Given the propensity of the Freepers for physical confrontation and the loony tune nature of Phelps' homophobic would-be martyrs, its only a matter before some heads get broken. Fortunately for both groups, that is probably the least vulnerable and least used part of their bodies.

Frankly, given the offensive nature of Phelps' banners ("Thank God for Dead Soldiers") and the fact that he and his gang of bible-thumping dingbats are demonstrating at military funerals attended by large numbers of the dead soldiers' comrades in arms, I'm frankly amazed he hasn't already had a placard kicked up his ass sideways. I guess it's an odd tribute to military discipline.

There was an interesting discussion the other day on Penn Gillette's radio show about Phelps' church group demonstrating at soldiers' funerals and proclaiming to the world that "God hates fags" and that "He" is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuals by inflicting such events as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on America. Gillette, an avowed libertarian and anarcho capitalist was bemoaning the passage of law to ban demonstrations at national cemetaries, saying that the answer to nutjobs like Phelps is not restrictions on free speech, but more speech -- counterdemonstrations. He opined that anyone should have the right to say anything they want to anyone else, anywhere and anytime, no matter how provocative.

In principle, I agree. Aside from such illegal acts as slander, libel and uttering threats, all of which have fairly clear legal definitions, people should be allowed to express opinions in the way they see fit. But when does such provocative free speech become harrasment or incitement to riot? Is there any difference between Phelps' offensive antics and anti-abortion demonstrators screaming abuse at women entering abortion clinics or the Nazis marching in Skokie and causing riots in Ohio? Or even peace marchers screaming "murderers" at the White House? And in the case of speech that is clearly intended to provoke violence or illegal acts, should the speaker be held criminally responsible. If I get right up in your face and harrass, annoy, insult and needle you relentlessly, if I literally beg you to take a swing at me until you do it, should I have recourse to the law? If I urge people to take up arms against the state, it's called treason. What if I urge them to take up arms against their neighbours? Is that protected speech? Should it be?

What galls me is for the last five years the U.S. government has restricted speech critical of the President and the war -- hearding protesters into Orwellian "free speech zones," arresting everyone on the street in NYC during the Republican convention in 2004 and even arresting and removing people with antiwar T-shirts from audiences to be addressed by the president -- but they are only now getting around to Phelps and his merry little band of hate peddlers.

Some argue that Phelps is a nutbar extremist who cannot be considered representative of the Christian right. They are wrong. I seem to remember Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell saying pretty much the same things just after 9/11. Yet numerous Republicans take money from both men and their organizations -- Sen. John McCain just spoke at the graduation ceremony at Falwell's private university. The game the right is playing in the U.S. at the moment is trying to put an acceptable face on extremism to woo the uninformed more middle of the road voter.

For what its worth, I don't think the government should prevent Phelps from speaking or demonstrating where ever he wants. I don't thing antiwar demonstrator should be caged up in free speech zones a mile away from where ever Dick Cheney is speaking either. But I wonder if the government really has a responsibility to protect people who enjoy poking wolverines with pointed sticks while wearing a pork chop necklace. Should the government cage all wolverines and allow them to be poked with impunity? Should we rely on the wolverines' civility and restraint? Should we ban all poking or just the poking of mammals?

Or should we just shrug off the deeper philosophical questions, get a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy the inevitable double shot of schadenfreude of seeing a bunch of Freepers beating Phelps and his pals senseless and then getting hauled off to jail for doing so?

1 comment:

Alison said...

The scary thing about Phelps is that the things mentioned here are not even his worst offences.

I still meet people who argue he must be a plant to deliberately discredit theo-cons by pretending to be one.