Lindsay Shepherd, who gained nation-wide attention for her victorious battle against administrators at Wilfrid Laurier University, is back in the news cycle. This time she's inviting a white nationalist to speak on the university's campus.
The invitation was made on behalf of The Laurier Society for Open Inquiry, a group Shepherd co-founded, as the first date in their "Unpopular Opinions Speaker Series." The speaker, Faith Goldy, is a self-described "Catholic Nationalist for Christ the King & Country" who was fired from the far-right outlet Rebel Media by Ezra Levant in August 2017 for going "too far." Her violation was appearing as a guest on a neo-Nazi podcast in Charlottesville on the weekend a white supremacist killed one protester and injured at least 19 others.
In December 2017, Goldy appeared on an alt-right podcast, and said the 14 Words ("We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,") a popular slogan for white supremacists.
The outcry against Goldy's upcoming appearance led Laurier to make a public statement. Rather than preventing the speech from taking place on their campus, or even condemning Goldy's ideas, the university said they will provide an "environment for respectful debate and [encourage] members of the university community to allow these debates to take place in a manner that is free of disruption."
In other words, Laurier will allow their platform to be used by a white nationalist, helping to normalize her viewpoints with whatever legitimacy the institution has left.
No-platforming is the best tactic the average person can take part in to ensure fascists are beaten back
Laurier is wrong to do so. Most people and institutions, including the Canadian Charter, agree free speech has limits. Far-right, white nationalist discourse has traditionally been the most obvious example of speech that goes beyond these limits, because it calls for the radical reorganization of society based on explicitly racist principles, and supports the worst movements in modern history.
Once the limit of free speech is surpassed, the speech must no longer be tolerated, and instead should be actively opposed. The question then becomes how should these views be combatted?
No-platforming is the best tactic the average person can take part in to ensure fascists are beaten back. This means that when it comes to the far-right: producers shouldn't ask them to be guests on radio, television or podcasts; media outlets shouldn't publish their writing; any panel, debate or lecture organizer shouldn't invite them; all of their public appearances and rallies should be opposed. This is because ideas that lay the groundwork for genocide shouldn't be debated, but rather shut out, and those spreading them barred from recruiting.
In this specific case, because Laurier is giving Goldy a platform, it means protesters should do their best to peacefully disrupt her speech, or prevent it from taking place entirely.
Anyone who fails to believe no-platforming is the most effective way to fight the far-right just needs to look at what's happened to Richard Spencer.
Spencer is a white nationalist who has been building the alt-right movement for years. Yet at every step of the way, his public appearances have been met with resistance by antifa, a coalition of autonomous left-wing groups that combat fascists.
As a result, on March 11, he announced that he will stop his college campus tour, and cancel any and all upcoming speaking engagements. The reason, according to Spencer, is that the relentless protests against his appearances mean they're no longer "fun." As a result, Spencer said "antifa is winning," because their tactics have left the far-right "up the creek without a paddle."
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This isn't a coincidence. As Natasha Lennard writes in The Intercept, "While writers for the New York Times opinion section may seek to paint the antifa position as little more than punch-seeking thuggery, the strategy of creating serious consequences for white nationalists who would organize is based on a well-grounded understanding of the desire for fascism and how it spreads." This understanding comes from more than 85 years of experience, as the first antifa groups came together in 1932 to oppose the rise of the Nazis in Germany.
Karl Popper, a member of Humanists UK's advisory council in the twentieth century, on the paradox of tolerance. pic.twitter.com/0Rhl1CgVYM— Humanists UK (@Humanists_UK) January 11, 2018
Rehabilitating far-right figures can be left to deradicalization centres that make this work their life mission. The more pressing goal, especially for the average person, is to defang the far-right, by doing whatever is needed to reduce the harm they can cause to society.
The first step in doing so is no-platforming them, in order to marginalize far-right leaders, make it unpleasant for members and potential recruits to operate in public, and combat the ongoing normalization of far-right ideology, which leads to fascism.
While Laurier is unwilling to take the steps needed to combat the far-right, others should do so. Those who can't, or won't, stand against the far-right shouldn't demonize those who will, as these protesters are doing a service for us all.
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