This is not about free speech
Canadian alt-right speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were planning to perform in Auckland on 3 August. Then Auckland Live and Mayor Phil Goff cancelled the booking, citing, like woosie social democrats do, security reasons.
That prompted neo-liberal, serial litigator Jordan Williams (he sued $1.3m out of former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig in a lengthy legal battle) and well-known racist Don Brash along with a few other millionaires and a gaggle of naïve followers, to set up the “Free Speech Coalition”. Their first (and so far only) action was to get the public to fund their legal review against the Auckland Council.
Don Brash, who not long ago wanted Te Reo banned from publicly funded radio, said that “people have a right to air racist views in New Zealand”, especially in publicly funded venues, it seems. He certainly knows a thing or two about how that is best done. “People are free to say whatever they want to say” - as long as it’s in English.
This has kicked off a major debate about whether Southern and Molyneux should be allowed to come to NZ to spread their racist crap. The mistake that people make is that they believe that this is about “freedom of speech”.
It is not. It’s about two people whose popularity is based on using their privileged position in a privileged society to portray themselves as victims of some left-wing conspiracy. Like all populists, being the victim of a conspiracy is the core of their show. It is all they have. There is no rational thought in what they say that could be argued with.
They are demanding entry into another country to then talk about how that country should tighten its borders and how dangerous it is to allow ‘other’ cultures into the country. In their video message to Australia, Southern says: “Do you want to retain your culture, retain your borders, family, identity, or will the boats keep coming, will the no-go zones keep growing and will you become another victim of multi-culturalism?” Presumably she is not talking to aboriginal families about the identity they had before a long stream of settler boats came and turned most of the continent into a no-go zone for them.
The “Free Speech Coalition” itself is having problems keeping with the free speech idea. One of its members, academic Melissa Derby, says: “Banning a pair of populists that together have over a million Youtube subscribers sets an extraordinary low bar for state censorship.”
This probably reveals more about her thinking than she might have wanted. She is saying that free speech is reserved for popular populists. Others have fewer privileges.
Others, like commentator Chris Trotter appear to be completely on drugs. He supports the coalition because: “Truth is not afraid of trigger-words. Truth does not need a safe space. Truth is not a snowflake. Truth can take the heat and most certainly should not be forced to vacate the kitchen in the face of a couple of Alt-Right populists and a politically-correct Mayor."
Populist snowflakes aside, all this talk of banning Southern and Molyneux just plays into their hands. Their image as victims of multi-cultural persecution is solidified once more. It is possible that they never really planned to come to Auckland. Their trick is to set themselves up so that they can’t lose. If they speak, they get media attention, if they don’t speak they get even more.
Winston Peters is also someone who thinks fascists should be given a stage. In a radio interview he said: “We’d allow them to come on the basis that free speech is one of the most fundamental freedoms that we have and we should be very careful who we expel on that cause, because the downstream historic record on that has been just disastrous.”
This is of course utter nonsense. It was precisely this liberal attitude that enabled fascists to get to power. In the 1930s, liberals in Spain, Germany and Italy spent more energy arguing about freedom of speech than on fighting the fascists.
Remember, fascism is not just an opinion, it’s a crime.