Freedom and political dissent in Portland
Two weeks ago, this column offered a brief history of the freedom of speech in America. The essence of the column was that all public speech is lawful when there is time for more speech to challenge it and that the remedy for hate speech is not censorship, but more speech.
Last week, this column addressed the unconstitutional behavior of federal agents in Portland, Oregon, most of whom are out among peaceful demonstrators interfering with free speech, travel and assembly.
Also last week, a newspaper in New Jersey, the editors of which might have disagreed with the essence of this column -- that the First Amendment requires the government to protect political dissent and prohibits interfering with it -- published my column with the two and a half most important paragraphs removed.
Was I disappointed that a column that was represented as mine had such a substantial portion missing that the printed version failed to make its point? Yes. Anyone would be. Newspapers should not be in the business of censorship.
Neither should the government.
The federal forces in Portland are doing far more than protecting a federal courthouse. They are listening to people's phone calls and capturing their text messages and emails without warrants. They are materially interfering with lawful dissent.
It is one thing to build a wall or a fence around a courthouse and man it with armed guards. It is quite another to wade into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators with tear gas of such intensity and ferocity -- its active ingredient is 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile -- that it is prohibited in wartime by treaties to which the United States is a signatory.
Here is an eyewitness account of events in Portland last Friday night from Marissa Lang, a Washington Post reporter:
"The tear gas started early Friday night, interrupting a line of drums and dancing, chanting protesters, an artist painting in oils underneath a tree in the park and a man with a microphone speaking about the issues of racial justice and policing at the center of these nightly demonstrations.
"'Hey guys, don't panic, don't panic,' the man said from the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center, one block over from the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. 'All you first-timers out here, it's just tear gas. Everybody just relax.'