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Free speech has limits, and it’s no license for violent actions: Editorial

Posted 8/16/17

“For a while people were worried about the ‘knock-out game’ when that was going around a couple of years ago,” attorney Matt Menges said at a recent concealed-carry firearms training event, …

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Free speech has limits, and it’s no license for violent actions: Editorial

Posted

“For a while people were worried about the ‘knock-out game’ when that was going around a couple of years ago,” attorney Matt Menges said at a recent concealed-carry firearms training event, referring to a deadly so-called game that involves assaulting others without warning. “Now people are more worried about civil unrest like riots and protests.”
Those comments seemed a bit far-fetched when we read them following the Aug. 3 event held at Hummelstown Chemical Fire Company No. 1.
Not so after the chilling events of the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
More than 200 people attended the three-hour program organized by state Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara Township, who represents the 106th House District.
Menges, an attorney at Trinity Law firm of York who also serves as Dover Township supervisor in York County, was one of the speakers. He said he’s given countless number of talks throughout central Pennsylvania about the gun laws over the past five years. The main thing he’s seen people worry about, he said, is change.
Change, indeed. While the country is always evolving, we haven’t faced the kinds of challenges we have now in many, many years.
We seem to be very divided.
We are free speech advocates. We support the right of white nationalists to gather peacefully to protest the removal of a statue showing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. We support the right of counter-protestors to state their case.
But what happened in Charlottesville is not a matter of free speech. It’s a matter of violence, pure and simple. And the right to free speech is not a right to act in any way you see fit.
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, allegedly plowed into the counter-protestors, injuring dozens and killing Heather D. Heyer, 32, a paralegal from Charlottesville. Let’s also not forget the two state troopers who died. Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates were monitoring the activities. Their helicopter fell and burst into flames.
While we hope what happened Saturday is an anomaly, we fear things will get worse before they get better. White nationalists, neo-Nazis and racists of all types appear to be emboldened, thanks in no small part to the tepid response that President Donald Trump offered, both Saturday and then again Monday.
How bad could things really get, though, right? This is the United States. Don’t we usually come to our senses before things really get out of hand?
We noticed this item, however, from newyorker.com. They spoke to Keith Mines, who has spent his career — in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department — navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq and Somalia, according to the website.
“Mines concluded that the United States faces a 60 percent chance of civil war over the next 10 to 15 years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from 5 percent to 95 percent. The sobering consensus was 35 percent. And that was five months before Charlottesville,” the story on newyorker.com stated.
Could we really reach that point?
Yes. We could.
If you asked us a couple of years ago, we would have said “no way.” But those changes we mentioned before are flowing through the United States. You can blame Trump. You can blame social media and the Internet for giving crackpots who don’t deserve a voice the chance to be heard. But we are here now, at this point in our history, and the path we are heading down, a lack of civility, of understanding, of decency and care of our fellow humans, chills us.
We take heart at all of the rallies that happened in Dauphin, Cumberland and Lancaster counties Tuesday, aimed at celebrating diversity. We appreciate that white supremacists seem to be upset with Trump and feel “deserted by their president” (according to The Associated Press).
We urge you to be one of the cooler heads, to work toward a better future. Let’s not walk too far down the road of hatred. Let those who would tear us apart know, as Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia told white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members: “You are not wanted here.”

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