It’s OK to deny fascists a platform

Illustration by Yewei Wang

White supremacist Richard Spencer has given up. After months of touring colleges touting his white nationalist beliefs in search of recruits for the alt-right, Spencer announced in a YouTube video the show was over.

“When [the events] become violent clashes and pitched battles, they aren’t fun,” Spencer said.

The clashes he’s referring to are the result of counter-protesters who adhere to a principle called “no-platforming.” This means when someone is publicly speaking about any sort of racist ideologies, it is imperative protesters do whatever they can to ensure the speaker doesn’t get a platform to espouse their beliefs. This can be done by shouting over the speaker, blocking entrances to the event and sometimes physically confronting the speaker.

These criticisms of no-platforming can seem valid to the outside observer who sees nothing but the chaos that can arise from such tactics. However, in taking a closer look, it becomes more apparent no-platforming is an effective protest tactic that ultimately works in favor of the greater good.

No-platforming is a tactic frequently ridiculed by the media. Critics, such as centrist Democrats and just about everyone right of center, say no-platforming not only promotes violence, but also strips people of their right to free speech. Some worry no-platforming invokes a “slippery slope” where protesters will start by no-platforming white nationalists, but then move on to silencing more moderate groups, such as those who speak out against abortion.

Perhaps the most common criticism of no-platforming is that it sometimes invokes violence. While most protesters will always prefer peace to violence, sometimes small scuffles are ultimately less damaging to society than the possibility of white nationalists gaining significant power to commit mass violence against people of color. The logic is that it’s better to do whatever it takes to nip racist and hateful ideologies in the bud before you have to fight against them for survival.

People throughout the political spectrum criticize no-platforming as an affront to free speech. This is especially prescient on college campuses, where there always seems to be a new story about speech issues. But a group of protesters shouting over a speaker is not censorship. Free speech is not violated unless it is government enforced. It can be argued that protesters shouting over a speaker can also be protected as free speech. It’s also important to remember that while the First Amendment protects against censorship, it does not guarantee anyone a platform or a speaking tour.

The idea that no-platforming invokes a “slippery-slope” can be easily dismissed after looking at history. Time and time again, those who seek to no-platform white supremacists disappear after the threat is defeated. There’s a reason you only hear about these issues when there is a resurgence of nationalistic politics.

No-platforming is commonly viewed as a form of self-defense. Mark Bray, a historian at Dartmouth College, has written that no-platforming began as a way for marginalized people to protect their communities from threats. This is contrary to the idea that people are no-platforming simply because they disagree with a point of view. Bray calls no-platforming “the product of generations of transnational struggle.”

Though frequently criticized, no-platforming serves as an effective method for stemming the spread of white nationalist ideology. And beyond that, it should be impossible for white nationalists like Richard Spencer to have fun organizing.

Jimmy O’Keefe, Contributing Writer

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