'If they wanted to protect their own rights to speech, they had to protect these guys rights too'

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[Ira Glasser (executive director of the ACLU from 1978 to 2001):] [22.30 min] If they [ACLU activists] wanted to protect their own rights to speech, they had to protect these guys [members of the Ku Klux Klan] rights too, because the only alternative was to give the government the discretion to decide whose speech to permit and whose speech to prohibit. And they realized as social justice activists themselves that they would never be the ones to make that decision. And that most often he gave the government a discretion to decide whose speech to permit and whose speech to prohibit, they would end up on the short end of the stick, so it was like an insurance policy. If they wanted the right to free speech, they had to deny the government the power to decide. And the only way to do that was to defend the rights of people no matter what they said and no matter who they were. Whenever the government made uh exercise the power that the government should never have. And that's what the first amendment meant. [...]

[55.09 min] [T]he young generation of activists who seem to believe that the cause of social injustice requires opposition to the first amendment or the free speech because they are so frequently confronted, not by ten or fifteen lunatics in Skokie but by massive amounts of what they see as racist speech, supported by the president of the United States, representing maybe millions of people, encouraging things like what happened in Portland, Garland and Wisconsin in Kenosha, and they don't have any history. They don't know about John Lewis, they don't know about Margaret Sanger, they don't know about the early labor union activists. All they know is that they are passionate about racial justice other kinds of social justice issues. And everywhere they look they are confronted by a national political leadership that is encouraging bands of bigoted racist sexist hordes as they see it. It's nut surprising to me that what they would think is well we gotta stop these people. They're gonna hurt us, they're gonna stop us, we gotta stop them before they stop us. And they come to think that their fight for social justice and the right of free speech is our antagonists because they take their won right of free speech for granted. And they see their opponents free speech as a threat and they want it stopped.

You know the analogy that I always use talking about this is poison gas. When you've got some real enemies out in front of you and they seem to be advancing on you, and they seem maybe to even outnumber you and you have some poison gas and you've got them in your sights, it's very tempting to use it. You want to use it, so you start using it. And then the wind shifts and the gas gets blown back on you. And that's what happened poison gas, and that's what happens with speech restrictions, because you always think these would be a good thing to stop those people but then the political winds shift and pretty soon the power to stop those people becomes the power to stop you. And that's the Hosea Williams story, and that's the John Lewis story and that's the story of the Zionist kids in England who in the 1970s supported a hate speech code in university campuses in England that banned racist speech and then a few years later the political wind shifted and the Zionists got banned because the majority decided that Zionism was a form of racism.

source: 'Is the Traditional ACLU View of Free Speech Still Viable? Ira Glasser Speaks Out.'; Transcript of interview Ira Glasser by Glenn Greenwald; theintercept.com/2020/10/20/is-the-traditional-aclu-view-of-free-speech-still-viable-ira-glasser-speaks-out/; www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGI4fc_VB7c; The Intercept_; 20 October 2020