Should it be illegal to praise white supremacy? | The Tylt
U.S. Congressman Steve King has long supported neo-Nazi and racist viewpoints. From following avowed anti-Semites on Twitter to endorsing a political candidate with neo-Nazi ties, King's viewpoints are well-documented. In a recent New York Times piece, King is quoted as saying, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” While King sees nothing wrong with the language, many people, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, consider it hate speech. Should such speech be illegal?
Should it be illegal to praise white supremacy?
According to the American Library Association, while King's speech does fit the definition of hate speech, it falls just short of the current requirements for criminality.
“Hate speech” doesn’t have a legal definition under U.S. law, just as there is no legal definition for rudeness, evil ideas, unpatriotic speech, or any other kind of speech that people might condemn. Generally, however, hate speech is any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate, or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons. (Free Speech and the Development of Liberal Virtues: An Examination of the Controversies Involving Flag Burning and Hate Speech, 1998)
In the United States, hate speech enjoys substantial protection under the First Amendment. This is based upon the belief that freedom of speech requires the government to strictly protect robust debate on matters of public concern even when such debate devolves into distasteful, offensive, or hateful speech that causes others to feel grief, anger, or fear. Under current First Amendment jurisprudence, hate speech can only be criminalized when it directly incites imminent criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group.
Patrick Healy, the New York Times politics editor, tweeted a quote from King in which he denies being a racist while praising the supremacy of the white race.
In that same Twitter thread, however, Healy points out language like this has caused members of King's own party to disavow him as a racist.
Despite this behavior, the Washington Post reports King has won his seat handily for years. A member of King's own party, Randy Feenstra, just announced his intentions to challenge King in the primary in 2020.
His recent opponents have not been particularly threatening. Cyndi Hanson, an educator who challenged King in the 2018 primary, was the first to admit that she was an “underdog with little name recognition,” as the Sioux City Journal reported. In 2016, King handily defeated Rick Bertrand, a Republican state senator whose attack on the incumbent as ineffective and out of touch failed to get enough voters to split with him.
Feenstra’s bid may depend on whether Iowa voters have grown weary of his combative identity as politics have further fractured over the last four years. The state’s Republican governor, for her part, has said she won’t endorse him this time around.
“The last election was a wake-up call for it to be that close,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in an interview with an NBC affiliate in Des Moines. “That indicates that it does open the door for other individuals to take a look at that.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center's categorization of white nationalism is far more straightforward than the legal definition.
Adherents of white nationalist groups believe that white identity should be the organizing principle of the countries that make up Western civilization. White nationalists advocate for policies to reverse changing demographics and the loss of an absolute, white majority. Ending non-white immigration, both legal and illegal, is an urgent priority — frequently elevated over other racist projects, such as ending multiculturalism and miscegenation — for white nationalists seeking to preserve white, racial hegemony.
King's views clearly fall within this definition.