Free Speech Under Physical Attack

freedome of speechIf you don’t believe the Holocaust happened, stop reading now. If you believe the U.S. government secretly blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11, stop reading now. If you believe that slavery was not the root cause of the Civil War, stop reading now. If you think the moon landing was fake, stop reading now.

Okay, if you made it this far I’m not saying you are sane, but at least you are not a kook. If you ignored my warning and do believe any of those things, you are entitled to your opinion. I just don’t want to hear it, that’s all. You see, one of the beautiful things about America is that you generally get to have your own opinion about things. Except when you don’t.

Even if you believe those things, chances are you won’t get your car firebombed. Recently a person with a Trump sticker on his car had it firebombed. Because you can’t support Trump in Vancouver, Washington. Or if you have Trump signs in your front yard in McKinney, Texas, your home will be vandalized with a giant swastika. Or your business gets vandalized in San Diego, CA, because of your Trump support. Those are criminal acts and should be abhorred by all freedom loving Americans, regardless of affiliation.

There is a difference between consequences for “free speech” and criminal retribution? The Dixie Chicks thought trashing President George W. Bush was a good idea, and they caught a lot of grief over it, and lost sales for a while. But that is, and was, and will be their right. The Red Hen Restaurant owner in Lexington, VA, thought that allowing Sarah Huckabee to eat in her restaurant went against her values, so she asked the ensemble to leave, which they did. She might have come out ahead or behind, but that is her right, and consequence. Yelp reviews, Facebook posts and word of mouth are free speech consequences, which we all enjoy. But no one deserves any criminal retribution for their political beliefs.

Burning a car, trashing a business, vandalizing a house, doing a roundhouse kick to a pregnant lady, instigating fights and blocking streets illegally is criminal activity and must not ever be permitted in this great country over speech. The mayor of Portland, OR, inexcusably defended lawlessness this past week. Mayor Ted Wheeler sought to distance himself from his city’s police department by saying that he approved of their tactic of standing back and watching ANTIFA control city streets, bash in car windows and generally haze Portland citizens and visitors. He seems to think that he can get away with making it a police decision, not his decision. Tell that the city’s convention business when conventions quit coming. Tell that to the city’s restaurateurs when people quit coming downtown to eat. There will be a price to pay for allowing unopposed criminal activity to occur within your city.

A local example is the Macon Mall. Once the crown jewel of Middle Georgia, it anchored a shopping mecca of tremendous size. The area is now a desolate wasteland. They even tore down half their mall building to no avail. Sure, e-commerce has had a huge impact on malls all over America, but the Macon Mall area suffered due to the criminal activity and blight before e-commerce was a factor. I believe that the final nail in the coffin was the massive fight in 2007 at the Food Court. The well-publicized fight of unsupervised teens led to an image that the mall could never undo. Despite Macon PD putting a precinct there, the fight was the final straw for the shopping public. The mall, the city and the community knew that day was coming but everyone was afraid to say or do anything. Now the area will likely never recover.

A city, county, state and nation must stand up to criminals. We can disagree about our president’s decisions. We can lament a mayor’s poor choices. But we cannot accept violence in opposition to someone’s speech, no matter how repugnant we personally find it. We must win back our right of free speech by exercising it. And when we do, we have the right to expect the executive branch to both protect us as best as they are able, and for the prosecution to prosecute those that attack us. Anything less is Un-American.

Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He writes about the law, rock’n’roll and politics or anything that strikes him. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at to comment on this article or suggest articles that you’d like to see and visit his website to view prior columns.

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