Posts tagged ‘KKK’

How The Left Is Changing the Meaning of Words to Reduce Freedom -- The Phrase "Incite Violence"

A surprising number of folks on the Left of late seem to be advocating for restrictions on free speech -- Howard Dean is among the latest.  One of the arguments they use is that, they say, it is illegal in one's speech to "incite violence".  Folks like Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh have responded with legal analyses of this statement, but I want to point out something slightly different -- that in the way the Left is using this phrase, the meaning has been shifted in very dangerous ways.

First, some basic legal background, and on First Amendment issues I find it is always safe to run to Eugene Volokh for help:

To be sure, there are some kinds of speech that are unprotected by the First Amendment. But those narrow exceptions have nothing to do with “hate speech” in any conventionally used sense of the term. For instance, there is an exception for “fighting words” — face-to-face personal insults addressed to a specific person, of the sort that are likely to start an immediate fight. ....

The same is true of the other narrow exceptions, such as for true threats of illegal conduct or incitement intended to and likely to produce imminent illegal conduct (i.e., illegal conduct in the next few hours or maybe days, as opposed to some illegal conduct some time in the future). Indeed, threatening to kill someone because he’s black (or white), or intentionally inciting someone to a likely and immediate attack on someone because he’s Muslim (or Christian or Jewish), can be made a crime. But this isn’t because it’s “hate speech”; it’s because it’s illegal to make true threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone and for any reason, for instance because they are police officers or capitalists or just someone who is sleeping with the speaker’s ex-girlfriend.

So it is illegal to "incite violence" though this exception to free speech is typically very narrow.  As I understand it, a KKK speaker who shouts from the podium, "look, a black guy just walked in, everybody go beat him up" would probably be guilty of inciting violence if the crowd immediately beat the guy up.  A BLM speaker who shouted as part of his speech that the crowd needed to fight back against police oppression would likely not be guilty of inciting violence if, some months later, one of the audience members assaulted a police officer.

But what all of this has in common is speakers telling their supporters to go out and commit violence against some other person or group.  The violence incited is by the speakers supporters and is specifically urged on by the speaker.  But this is not how the Left is using the term "incite violence".  The Left is using this term to refer to violence by opponents of the speaker attempting to prevent the speaker from being heard.  For example,  when folks argue that Ann Coulter cannot speak at Berkeley because she will "incite violence", they don't mean that she is expected to stand up and urge her supporters to go do violence against others -- they mean that they expect her opponents to be violent.

This is a horrible newspeak redefinition of a term.  It is implying that a speaker is responsible for the violence by those who oppose her.  By this definition, the socialists of 1932 Germany were guilty of "inciting violence" whenever  Nazi brownshirts tried to brutally shut down socialist meetings and speeches.

I am not sure why the Left is so good at this - perhaps because most of the media is sympathetic to the Left and is willing to let them define the terms of the debate.  The Left has successfully performed a similar bit of verbal judo with the claim that Russians "hacked" the last election.  By calling leaks of Democratic private correspondence "hacking the election", they have successfully left the impression among many that the Russians actually manipulated vote totals, something for which there is zero evidence and really no credible story of how it might have been done.

Next Up: Book Burnings

Three trends on college campuses all came together in the case of Keith Sampson:

  • Rampant political correctness
  • A newfound "right" for protected groups to be free from being offended, a right that now seems to trump free speech
  • The fetishization of symbolism over substance, and the belief that other people's reactions to an act is more important than the nature of that act itself.

Here is an excerpt from his story:

IN November, I was found guilty of "racial harassment" for reading a public-li brary book on a university campus.

The book was Todd Tucker's "Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting
Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan I was reading it on break from my
campus job as a janitor. The same book is in the university library.

Tucker recounts events of 1924, when the loathsome Klan was a dominant
force in Indiana - until it went to South Bend to taunt the Irish
Catholic students at the University of Notre Dame.

When the
KKK tried to rally, the students confronted them. They stole Klan robes
and destroyed their crosses, driving the KKK out of town in a downpour.

I read the historic encounter and imagined myself with these
brave Irish Catholics, as they street-fought the Klan. (I'm part-Irish,
and was raised Catholic.)

But that didn't stop the Affirmative
Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis from
branding me as a detestable Klansman.

They didn't want to hear
the truth. The office ruled that my "repeatedly reading the book . . .
constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and
insensitivity to your co-workers."

A friend reacted to the finding with, "That's impossible!" He's right. You can't commit racial harassment by reading an anti-Klan history....

But the $106,000-a-year
affirmative-action officer who declared me guilty of "racial
harassment" never spoke to me or examined the book. My own union - the
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - sent an
obtuse shop steward to stifle my freedom to read. He told me, "You
could be fired," that reading the book was "like bringing pornography
to work."

Taking Preventative Action to Ensure No One Is Kindof Sortof Maybe Offended

If you have not seen it, the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI) reaction to a university employee reading a history book almost defies parody.  As far as I can tell, someone got offended or maybe was concerned someone might be offended because the Klan was in the title (notwithstanding the fact that the book is apparently decidedly anti-Klan).  This makes the whole "niggardly" controversy seem well-targeted in comparison.

However, I think Jacob Sullum misses the mark when he says:

To clarify, then, Sampson was not in trouble because of the book he
chose to read. He was in trouble because of what he might have been thinking while reading the book.

In fact, this is still not correct.  In fact, Sampson was in trouble because of what other people might think when they see him reading a book that has "KKK" somewhere in the title.  Pathetic.  Another lunatic step in trying to establish a "right not to be offended" at universities.

Be Afraid

Per the BBC News:

More than 5% of the net's most popular domains have been registered using "patently false" data, research shows.

A US congressional report into who owns .com, .net and .org domains found that many owners were hiding their true identity.

Congress has just discovered that people, knock me over with a feather, do not always include all their correct personal private  and personal confidential information in online web databases that can be read by everyone:

The report found that owner data for 5.14% of the
domains it looked at was clearly fake as it used phone numbers such as
(999) 999-9999; listed nonsense addresses such as "asdasdasd" or used
invalid zip codes such as "XXXXX".

In a further 3.65% of domain owner records data was missing or incomplete in one or more fields.

I personally am a fan of (555) 555-5555 in filling out web forms.  For years, I never, ever put my correct phone number in the WHOIS registry, and only correctly filled in enough blanks to get my credit card authorized.

As is usual with every privacy reduction effort, it starts with an honest desire for better law enforcement:

Increasingly whois data is being used by law enforcement
and security companies to find out who is running a website involved in
spamming or some other scam....

The GAO recommended that more effort be made to verify
the information by domain owners and that greater use be made of
commercial software tools to check who runs a website.


I get the law enforcement issue, but I think it is dwarfed by the privacy and free speech issues.  There are a lot of really good non-illegal reasons not to want the detailed personal and private information of web site owners plastered all over public data bases, and there are particularly good reasons that web site owners might not like the government to know who they are.  Like every blogger in China, for example.  I don't think that US Government bodies (or major corporations, or political groups, or fringe groups like the KKK) are above seeking some type of retribution (e.g. audits) against folks online who criticize them, and I am sure China and Saudi Arabia are not above it.  If you start a web site criticizing your current employer, do you really want to reveal your name?  I for one thought for a long time about whether to blog as myself or anonymously.

As for hunting down phishing and other such scams, liscencing web owners in a way similar to say gun owners is not necesary.  Scams are illegal because somewhat is defrauded of money, and that money leaves an easier trail to follow than any electronic trail, even with better ICAHN data.  You can use zombie computers and other techniques to defeat most electronic tracing, but the money WILL end up in the bad guys hands and can be found.

Next up:  Requiring background checks before you can register for a web site.

A Guide to Ad Hominem Attacks

Over the last year or so, ad hominem political arguments have really begun to drive me crazy.  I don't think that they are any more prevalent, but since I have begun blogging and tried to really get underneath the factual underpinnings of certain issues, these ad hominem arguments have become more irritating.

What do I mean by ad hominem arguments?  Here are several examples:

Ad Hominem Classic

The classic Ad Hominem attack is one that substitutes a (mostly) irrelevant personal attack on the author of an argument instead of logically or factually disputing the argument itself.  I could pick from about a thousand examples a week from the blogosphere, but a good recent example were conservative attacks on Robert Byrd's admittedly over-the-top defense of allowing filibusters for judicial nominees.  Almost every response I saw to Byrd was careful to remind readers that Bird was a KKK leader forty plus years ago.  Though certainly unsavory, it is unclear how being a KKK member is relevant to the argument about the filibuster rule (the only real connection, though irrelevant to refuting Byrd's arguments, is that Byrd used a filibuster rather famously to try to head off passage of the Civil Rights Act in the early 60's).  If anything, one might argue that Byrd's historic white supremacist activities might make him more rather than less favorable to judicial nominees.  If anything, the one relevant fact about Byrd that might have some bearing on the argument is that he is often considered a constitutional expert, and has been cited as such a number of times by Republicans when it suited his purpose.

Ad Hominem Shorthand

This is a staple of Blog comments.  Examples include "Bush is a Fascist", "Bush is a Liar", "They're Moonbats" etc.  These arguments usually do nothing to enhance an online argument.

Ad Hominem Motivation / bias

A good example is "of course you oppose abortion - you're Catholic".   While bias or group affiliation may be a pointer to potential weaknesses in a person's argument, they are not weaknesses in and of themselves, and pointing out these biases or affiliations does not constitute refutation of an argument.

Ad Hominem Protected Group Status

This is the reverse of the one above.  Rather than trying to refute the argument by pointing out the group affiliation of the other person, you are instead trying to short-circuit the argument by taking advantage of your own group affiliation.  A good example is of those in "protected" groups (blacks, women, etc) responding to arguments by saying you are just being racist / sexist.  This is a very popular tactic on campus's, where members of protected groups use campus speech codes to try to declare certain arguments illegal "hate speech", thereby eliminating the necessity of actually having to respond to or refute the argument.

Ad Hominem Source of Funding

This charge is increasingly prevalent in the blogosphere, as both liberals and conservatives accuse the other of "astroturfing", or offering political opinions for payola.  While source of funds for writing and research are important points of disclosure, the fact that an argument has been subsidized by this or that group does not automatically negate the argument.  For example, global warming activists love to point to studies that refute warming claims by claiming the study was paid for by the power industry, or the oil industry, or whoever.  While this should make one skeptical, it does not constitute sufficient refutation of logic and data, though it is often used that way.

Ad hominem guilt by association

This is perhaps the weakest of all ad hominem attacks.  It attempts to undermine an argument not by pointing out flaws in the person making the argument, but by pointing out flaws in other people making the argument.  For example, conservatives like to dispose of anti-war arguments by pointing the the wackiest of anti-war protesters, and saying "see, you are just one of these moonbats".  More recently, liberals have tried to undermine reasonable people arguing for not removing Terri Shiavo's feeding tube by pointing to how unsavory and unreasonable other people have been in the same cause.  Can't we just admit that for any argument one wants to make, there is someone out there who agrees but who one would not want to be associated with.

*    *    *

Anyway, I probably left a few out.  I don't know if it is still the case, but in British legal arguments there used to be a distinction between hard evidence directly refuting an argument and "pointers", or items that might cause one to be suspicious of the opposite party's arguments, but which don't actually constitute proof.  In this context, ad hominem arguments can be thought to sometimes provide a useful pointer, but they should never be mistaken for a true refutation of the facts.

For more, Wikipedia has a good article.