The threat of extremism: Part one

Charlie Gstalder is a first-year English major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Westchester, NY.

I’m a proponent of free speech. But, I also feel that hate speech should be illegal. Allow me to explain.

Racist organizations and hate groups have enjoyed a resurgence in Western society. In America, Nazis are marching through the streets, and David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, has won political office. Do not think that the return of these hateful groups to public light has had no consequences, though.

Rates of reported hate crimes have been steadily rising throughout the past five years and men who share beliefs with said organizations have carried out mass shootings at synagogues, gay clubs and Black churches. Even if we disagree on proposed solutions, we should not dispute the reality that violent hatred has returned to America.

To address this issue, we must address the source: The growing acceptance of hate speech. Because of the shifting political climate and the rapid expansion of the internet and social media, hate speech is flourishing.

The likes of Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer have been spreading racist, anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric online with relatively few consequences for years. However, Jones and Yiannopoulos have recently been banned from major social media platforms and websites. As a result, one hardly hears about them anymore. By losing access, they have lost their power.

Similarly, a few years ago, Nazi website the Daily Stormer was one of the primary sources of racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic propaganda. Upon being denied domain hosting privileges by major providers, the Daily Stormer was forced to the dark web, limiting its reader base. Since this occurred, the Stormer is seldom mentioned in news coverage or common conversation.

Each of these instances prove that de-platforming those who spew hate speech works. There is no reason to believe that this principle cannot be applied to society at large. For example, one must look no further than Europe.

Following the Holocaust and World War II, many European countries passed laws preventing hate speech. Such countries still allow freedom of speech but have punishments for hate speech. Examples include France, Germany and England. If Europe is too far, our own neighbor Canada has had anti-hate speech laws for more than 40 years. None of these countries have descended into totalitarian regimes. Rather, they simply enjoy daily life free of constant discriminatory vitriol.

I understand the belief that any detraction to free speech would make America a totalitarian regime, contribute to the return of fascism or limit the free press. However, I still feel that such laws are necessary because such fears have already been realized.

Our nation is blurring the lines between the branches of government, questioning the authority of the courts, doubting the legislative capabilities of Congress and consolidating power in the executive branch. Our increasingly nationalistic sentiments, antagonization of marginalized groups, unchecked military spending and desires to return to a more prosperous era are all evidence that we are hurtling toward fascism at an alarming rate. We are already limiting the free press with the constant demonization of journalists and major news publications — every time you cry “fake news” at a statement critical of the president, you are limiting free speech.

What is most terrifying are those contributing to the practices that realize our worst fears, the ones spewing hate speech in the first place. The men I mentioned before are either fascist sympathizers or fascists themselves. We cannot allow our fears of our current problem prevent us from fixing the problem itself. We must make hate speech illegal.