Fifteen years ago today, “white nationalist” terrorist Benjamin Smith went on a shooting rampage, murdering two people out of a deranged hatred for their skin pigmentation. Later that day, Smith died and went to Hell after a chase with police. Fifteen years after his acts of pure evil, it is worth revisiting the issue of free speech, brought to the forefront by Smith’s distribution of racist literature and the disturbing attacks on his First Amendment rights.
Following are four editorials I wrote in 1998 and 1999 about this issue:
- Proposed admissions standards are anti-freedom — September 20, 1999
- Benjamin Smith’s legacy: less freedom? — September 1, 1999
- Free Speech must not be trampled — November 15, 1998
- White Nationalists deserve free speech too — June 29, 1998
In the days after the rampage, I considered removing the two articles I had written defending Smith’s free speech rights from my website. I ultimately did not, and that was the right decision. It is here where our commitment to free speech is truly tested – speech that is almost universally despised. If one racist is forced to shut up by government or by a state institution, no one else is going to be harmed and we do not have to listen to his nonsense any more.
But if we believe in free speech, we need to defend all speech from state censorship – even the speech we find most objectionable. We need to do so not only because the principle is important, but because the precedent set by allowing censorship is dangerous. Once the precedent is established that the state or a state institution can engage in censorship, all speech is in danger. The answer to hate speech is always more speech.