Free speech under attack in America

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I am writing this article the evening before Mr. Richard Spencer is scheduled to address an audience at the Phillips Center on the U of F Campus in Gainesville. He is billed as a white nationalist according to virtually all local mass media sources. 

Personally, I do not support any organization where race is a prerequisite to membership. Therefore, I do not support Mr. Spencer’s National Policy Institute. Wait a minute, where is the race element in the title NPI? According to Wikipedia, ‘’the National Policy Institute is a white supremacist think tank based in Alexandria Virginia.” If Mr. Spencer is a white supremacist I will have nothing to do with him as I don’t and will not have anything to do with any race based groups, but I am uncomfortable with the double standard that is becoming very common in today’s society. Can you imagine if someone organized a Gainesville White Professionals organization? 

The problem here is that I have not heard or read a single word from Mr. Spencer or the NPI. It seems to me that he has been tried and convicted in the court of mass media opinion, and if we’re paying attention, we should be learning how biased the mainstream news is toward the liberal agenda. How can the journalist in me get to the truth? I guess I’ll have to go to Gainesville and see what the fuss is all about. 

Upon arrival on the U of F campus around 2 p.m., I noticed the news helicopters and drones overhead and a steady flow of people headed in one direction. There was a lot of energy in the air, and I admit that even as a retired teacher and veteran, I was a little anxious. But as I used to tell my students, “sometimes in life you need to face your dragons.” So, I pushed ahead. 

The event was held at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the circus had definitely come to town, complete with some very colorful characters carrying signs and wearing and shouting slogans. It was hard to judge how many people were there, hundreds for sure, possibly more than a thousand, I really don’t know. Clearly, the majority of people that I could see would fit into the LGBTQ-Plus category nicely. They were all carrying signs and most of them were indicating an opposition to Nazis. I did not see any Nazis. Some were wearing the Star of David as in World War II Europe.

I was clearly in the minority as a neutral columnist. 

There were almost as many state police officers on duty as there were demonstrators, and they were ready for action. I stepped up to the line of officers and asked one of them how to get in because there was no clear direction to the entrance as the lively crowd swirled around. As I stepped up to the officer to get some directions he said in his best command voice “Stay behind the line.” I hadn’t noticed the painted line on the pavement. As I said, “OK” and raised my hands in surrender fashion he said, “Don’t touch me.” I said, “OK” again. I was a little off balance as this was my first protest experience having joined the Marine Corps in 1969 I missed most of the protests in my generation. The officer that I spoke to was backed up by another with a video recorder capturing my encounter. As it turned out, the trooper sent me in the wrong direction. I ended up behind a barricade in another forbidden zone where I was then redirected by another officer over the barricade and back out into the morass of people fighting perceived Nazi evil with signs and chants. Tolerance for a different opinion was in short supply with the entire group. Thank goodness for the police officers who were there in strength with adequate numbers to ensure a peaceful demonstration. It could easily have gotten out of hand. 

I worked my way into the entrance line to the event. At that point, there was another layer of security manned by the state police who evaluated each individual before granting entrance to the walkway to the theatre. My turn finally came as it seemed everyone was pushing for access. The officer looked me over and politely said, “No hats.” Rats, my prized USO ball cap would be lost to the cause. OK. I was willing to pay the price. Then he said, “No pens or pencils.” Double rats. I had brought my prized pen and pencil set that was given to me for a promotion somewhere along my pre-teaching corporate career. That was a deal breaker. No way would I give them up, so I took the police-lined walk away from the gate, almost defeated.

I needed a solution to my pen problem so I quickly looked for a trustworthy soul to hold my gold pen set (good tools-good results) so I could accomplish my mission. I approached a young man who was not carrying a sign and was wearing a press pass. He agreed to help me and I quickly returned to the entrance line. 

It seemed like everyone was there to shut Mr. Spencer’s message down, whatever that message might be. The NPI paid over ten thousand dollars for the opportunity and nobody would listen. Once again, I progressed to within an arm’s length of accessing the entrance and my goal. But just then, word came down that the presentation was about to start and the gate was closed. You can imagine my disappointment. Not only was I unsuccessful in my mission to obtain first-hand information, I had given my prized pen and pencil set to a complete stranger and spent the afternoon with a bunch of bad actors whose sole purpose was to deny someone his right to free speech. Disappointment did not cover how I felt. But I try to worry about those things that are within my sphere of influence. I retreated from the gathering and left campus via the approved gate. 

As it turns out Mr. Spencer for all practical purposes was denied his right of free speech at every turn by the protesters in the audience and was shouted down repeatedly during his presentation. I would have been frustrated by the conflict staged inside the theatre by the protestors as I was saddened by the activities outside. Free speech other than the demonstrators’ was in short supply at U of F that day. 

My revised plan to make an accurate analysis of NPI is to acquire the information I seek via the internet. Hopefully I won’t have to trade one confusing morass of misinformation for another. Truth and honest dialogue seems elusive now days. We’ll see. Peace to all.