Politics & Policy

We Should Fear Free-Speech Curbs More Than Exposure to Racist Manifestos

A man places an American flag amid flowers a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, August 4, 2019. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)
People can decide for themselves what to make of hateful words, whether in Mein Kampf or a murderer’s manifesto.

As horrifying as the killings by the El Paso and Dayton shooters are, let’s not make free speech another casualty of these murders.

In the wake of the El Paso shootings, many commentators have attacked the Drudge Report for publishing the killer’s alleged 2,300-word manifesto entitled “The Inconvenient Truth.” The document states the killer drew inspiration from white racial-supremacy theories found in a manifesto written by the murderer of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last March.

The document gets specific in its hate. It denounces the “invasion of Texas” by Hispanics, the “cultural and ethical replacement” of whites, and “race mixing” as “selfish.”

Former Fox News reporter Adam Housley, who lost a niece in a mass shooting in California last year, tweeted: “Would the racist diatribe of this slimeball have been published if he hadn’t murdered anyone? Nope. So we publish now and wonder why others then copy.”

In another tweet, Housley added that the manifesto “needs to be public….it does not need to be published and promoted.” But if something isn’t published, how public is it?

In addition to understanding the twisted motivations of mass killers, a reason that it’s important to allow ordinary citizens to access their writings is that the media can’t always be counted to provide a full interpretation or context of their motivations.

How many Americans know that the El Paso killer also made it clear that he hates automation and corporations, and blames them for a stagnant economy even while he blames Hispanics for environmental degradation? His solution harkens back to the most fanatical views of zero-population-growth advocates: “If we can get rid of enough people,” he wrote, “then our way of life can become more sustainable.” Ambitious left-wing projects such as universal health care and Universal Basic Income “would become far more likely to succeed if tens of millions of dependents are removed.”

We’ve already learned that the shooter who killed nine people outside a Dayton, Ohio bar, early this morning described himself as a “pro-Satan “leftist,” and that he was a registered Democrat who supported Elizabeth Warren and hated President Trump and law enforcement. Who knows what else we may learn about the complexity of his background and thinking?

The El Paso killer expressed admiration for the Christchurch killer’s manifesto, perhaps because they were on a similar wavelength. The Christchurch killer clearly hated minorities, but his racism was rooted in environmentalist concerns:

The environment is being destroyed by over population. . . .  We Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world. The invaders are the ones over populating the world. Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation, and by doing so save the environment.

This is not to minimize the racist white-supremacist views expressed by either killer, but merely to say they don’t neatly fit into a Right-–Left paradigm. But that’s not a message many people want to hear.

Last March, John Lott, head of the Crime Prevention Research Center and author of the book More Guns, Less Crime, sent out this tweet trying to debunk claims that the Christchurch shooter was a right-winger.

New Zealand killer’s manifesto says that he did attack to get more gun control/gun bans in New Zealand and the US, Killer was a socialist, environmentalist who hated capitalists and trade.

After this post, Twitter blocked Lott’s Twitter account without explanation.

Lotte later noted that the killer had even called himself an “eco-fascist” and had written, “The nation with the closest political and social values to my own is the People’s Republic of China.” Lott then included a link to send people to a story on his website that explained why his tweet was accurate. “The link conclusively proved what I said was truthful,” he told me.

Lott appealed to Twitter and asked for specifics. He was informed he had lost his appeal, but Twitter officials still gave no reason for blocking his account. Off the record, a Twitter representative explained to me that their move likely resulted from the company having to comply with regulations that the New Zealand government imposed, banning publication of quotes from the Christchurch manifesto. But the Twitter representative did not explain why Twitter had not blocked left-wing tweets linking to avowedly racist quotes from the manifesto. Sounds like a PC double standard to me.

New Zealand’s restrictions on use of the manifesto are indeed draconian. It has made it a crime to possess or distribute it anywhere in the country. “People who have downloaded this document, or printed it, should destroy any copies,” warned David Shanks, the chief censor in New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also has pressed Facebook to deny access worldwide to the manifesto, and she has promised to “look at the role social media played” in reporting on the attacks. “They are the publisher, not just the postman,” she charged.

Nor is New Zealand the only country where free speech has been chilled. In June, Michael Cooper, a Conservative Party member of Canada’s Parliament, was permanently removed from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights after reading an excerpt from the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto.

During a hearing on online hate speech, Cooper had read a passage from the manifesto to counter claims by a Muslim witness that linked conservatism with racism and violence. The passage merely quoted the shooter’s statements that he was not a conservative but rather an admirer of China. After protests at Cooper’s speech escalated, the hearing was hastily adjourned — Cooper was unable to finish his remarks.

All of this amounts to an attempt to intimidate people from engaging in a full discussion about the motives of some of the mass shooters.

No one is denying that white supremacism is on the rise, but people should not have their eyes and ears covered over with cotton wool by those who think they can’t handle the full story. As blogger C. J . Harris Kretzer tweeted:

People have a right to read the “manifesto” for themselves if only to judge the killer’s motives for themselves as opposed to trusting the media’s interpretation of the killer’s motives. I like to have original source material to view and judge for myself.

Indeed, Mein Kampf, Hitler’s infamous manifesto, is freely available in most countries. Even German authorities recently legalized its publication, saying that people needed to understand the nature of evil and how it expressed itself. Restricting access to the rantings of mass killers only makes their writings a form of “forbidden fruit” — all the more sought after because they are censored.


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