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In light of white nationalism and counter-protests, we revisit the First Amendment

by AirTalk®

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A protestor, who was marching on 5th Avenue against white supremacy and racism, is arrested by New York City Police (NYPD) officers, August 13, 2017 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The events of the last week – the violence during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville this weekend, the far-right planning rallies across the U.S. and the spotlight swiveling to Antifa, the militant left, which advocates fighting fascism with violence – are bubbling over into a larger conversation about the scope of the First Amendment.

Here it is, in full:


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The militant left, or Antifa, advocates the use of direct action, such as breaking up white nationalist rallies and violence, if necessary. In their view, white nationalist hate speech incites violence, which validates a violent response. But hate speech is protected under the First Amendment, just like any other speech.

So what are the legal limits of protesting hate speech? Is violence ever justifiable and in what situations? What are the strategic and legal approaches to fighting movements that protesters view as morally reprehensible?


Jody Armour, professor of Law at the University of Southern California

Eugene Volokh, professor of law at UCLA

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