On Baseball Bats, Heads, and Free Speech

(Content note: rape culture)

So, if you haven’t heard (though I can’t see how you haven’t), a very horrid preacher was shouting “you deserve to be raped” at a bunch of high school students. A 19-year-old woman walked up behind him and whacked him upside the head with an aluminum baseball bat.

This has raised an interesting conversation, as many (myself included) have utterly no sympathy for him, and have, in fact, made fun of him over it. In fact, I commented, and then posted on my Facebook, the following:

To be completely fair, I think we need to ask some important questions…

What was he doing there, at that time of day, just being all provocative, and not even with a chaperone? Things happen when you go out like that. I mean really… he shouldn’t have expected any less.

And what was he wearing, anyways? Did he have on a provocative shirt, showing off too much?

And before you say it, no I’m definitely *not* victim blaming. All I’m saying is that there are ways he could have minimized his risk, and really… shouldn’t he be held responsible at least for his own actions?

Of course, many others have responded about Freezed Peaches, and about how people have the right to say anything, even things that are horrendous (like shouting “you deserve to be raped” in public to a bunch of high school girls). Myself and many others went back and forth about this on the comment thread for the article linked above. And then I finally posted this on Facebook and then in the comments of the article:

Okay so here’s the thing… there’s this idea of “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

See… for me, there’s a line. That line is bigotry. You start spouting any kind of racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, xenophobic, and/or fascist bullshit, and I’m out.

I will not commit violence against you, of course. I’m against violence. But I will no longer defend you, especially not to the death; my life ain’t worth your bigotry. If you start being a bigot, I reserve the right to say “fuck you; you’re on your own” and walk away.

And I really don’t care if you feel some type of way about that, either. That’s how I feel about it and I don’t see that changing… ever.

I also reserve the right to feel some schadenfreude if you face some sort of non-legal repercussions for your bigotry. I may disagree with a misogynistic, pro-rape, victim-blaming asshole getting whacked over the head with a bat, but I’m not gonna cry crocodile tears over it, either.

Before I continue, I would like to say this:

I honestly do not think she should have whacked him over the head. It was a mistake and she is facing consequences for it (although there will be more on this in a minute). I am anti-violence, at the end of the day. I’m not a fanatic about it, of course. There are many, many situations where I understand violence (for example), and of course, I have the privilege to tut tut about violence in a way that many, many others can’t. But, for me, it’s a last resort sort of thing, and should be avoided if at all possible.

So now that I have that moralizing out of the way…

I still find it utterly impossible to be upset that this preacher got hurt. In fact, even though I don’t agree with him being whacked over the head, I find myself supporting Ms. Brubaker, even with money!

Yes, that’s right. You can donate to her legal fees right there at that link, and I highly recommend it. There is a distinct argument to be made that she was acting in self-defense, possibly triggered by his vile, disgusting, violent words.

And I think people need to finally accept that our right to free speech is not unregulated. The right to free speech does not guarantee you a platform, nor does it guarantee you safety from social repercussions. The reality of the free speech clause of the First Amendment is that it only protects you from the government. That’s why, for example, when you get banned from Facebook, or… perhaps… from a particular social justice blogging network… or when you get disinvited from speaking at a college or a conference… your free speech simply isn’t being violated. All the free speech clause in the First Amendment really does is stop the government from locking you in prison because you said you didn’t like the President and couldn’t wait to vote him out… for example.

Telling a bunch of high school girls that they’re whores who deserve to be raped, however, is not protected by the First Amendment. They’re considered “fighting words”, and also violent speech, and you will suffer consequences for that speech (like being banned from the school premises… or being whacked over the head with an aluminum baseball bat).

As much as I disagree with what Ms. Brubaker did, I hope she can use the fact that the preacher was shouting rhetoric designed to incite violence and hate speech to show that she was merely defending herself. In fact, I have to admit that I’m torn on whether or not I think she should face consequences at all. On the one hand, I can see why she has to. But there is a strong argument to be made that she shouldn’t. In fact, let me quote a little of what stavvers says in that link here:

Well yes. Hitting people is wrong. But do you know what else is wrong? Encouraging rape. Threatening to rape. Enabling rape.

Holding up a sign saying “You deserve rape” is a direct threat to all women. A physical intervention is not just an act of self-defence, but an act to defend all women.

I fully agree with stavvers. The preacher is not innocent, here, and I fully expect him to face consequences for his own actions, too. He does not have the right to shout at high school girls that they are whores who deserve to be raped. And he better face consequences for that.

Because honestly, while I am iffy about the precedent letting Ms. Brubaker go without at least a slap on the wrist would set, I am utterly terrified of the precedent not punishing the preacher would set. As far as I’m concerned, viewing the preacher as purely a victim, and letting him go to do this again and again, is much, much worse, because he creates a very terrifying atmosphere for girls and women wherever he goes, and he should not be allowed to get away with that.

(ETA: Thank you to mck9 and smrnda for pointing out my mistake. I originally called what the preacher was shouting “hate speech”, saying that was not protected by the Constitution. It’s actually “fighting words” which are not protected. Hate speech is.)


  1. Menyambal says

    That preacher is supposed to believe that lusting in his heart is the same as adultery -- therefore, screaming that someone deserves to be raped should be, if we respect his religion, the same as rape. She had every right to defend herself, and could have done him the courtesy of clouting him in the groin, just to treat his beliefs seriously.

    My applause to you for the “upside the head” phrase.

  2. mck9 says

    Telling a bunch of high school girls that they’re whores who deserve to be raped, however, is not protected by the First Amendment. It’s considered hate speech, as well as violent speech…

    You are wrong on the law. Hate speech is protected speech.

    Some kinds of speech are not protected by the First Amendment, such as libel, slander, fighting words, or an incitement to likely and immediate illegal conduct. Hate speech is assuredly not on this short list of exceptions, even if you think it should be.

  3. says

    mck9 @ #2:

    I was wrong, but in a different way… they’re considered “fighting words”, which does encompass hate speech, and is not protected.

  4. smrnda says

    I read some people who stated that the preacher was merely expressing the idea that the girls should be raped, and that (therefore) it is not a threat. Some of this is combined with comments about ‘irrational females’ who cannot distinguish between the expression of support for an idea and a threat to follow through.

    Though with that, I think that the idea that there’s this vast chasm between the two and that they are in no way connected is just wrong. First, we all know how the passive voice is used in writing to obscure agency. “It was found to be the case that students at the Catholic school were abused, sexually or otherwise” obscures the *who*. If someone walked into a bank and said ‘if I said I had a gun, would you hand over the money?’ Threats are assessed by behavior and proximity, not just the explicit language used.

    Second, if the idea is ‘he’s just looking to engage in free speech’ -- if he’s doing that, and isn’t intending to threaten anyone, he can move elsewhere.

    Third, I tend to think this is best looked at from the ‘fighting words’ rather than hate speech. There’s no hate speech laws in the USA but fighting words are well established.

  5. lorn says

    First impression, we really need to get into the details of how he was dressed and how this may have provoked the application of force. There is also the good odds his language may have been expected to have pushed any normal person over the edge, but we can get into that after we spend a week or two talking about his dress and manner.

    For whacking the guy with a bat she should, clearly and obviously, be sentenced to a week of batting practice. Given that he is still able to move around under his own power, she clearly needs to work on her swing. I think with a change in grip, and perhaps stepping into the swing, I feel she can unlock the full persuasive power of the bat.

    Okay … I know I’m wrong … but it is how I feel. Violence isn’t the answer but it sure seems appropriate in this case. Advocating rape of teenagers, any person for that matter, crosses a line and if people react violently … I don’t condone it, but I do understand the urge.

  6. ledasmom says

    I am not exactly happy that he was hit with a bat but, if somebody had to be hit with a bat, he’s definitely my choice.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    as an old person, I find the sound of aluminum bats striking something to be just … wrong

  8. says

    Let’s call a spade a spade. That bat-to-head guy is NOT a preacher — He’s a troll : a rabble rouser. The same kind of low-life that a drug dealer at a school would be. … nobody would be objecting to his bloody body lying in the gutter if they found some heroin in his pockets , would they? He was peddling hate to kids. Instigating violence against high schoolers. Spreading his rat poison in front of some very impressionable youngsters. Did he hope that some loose cannon among them would take action? Priming the next Boston Strangler or Oklahoma Bomber?
    He was asked to leave -- told to move away -- more than once … that should have been a really big hint that his ranting & raving was out of control. Any normal adult would take the hint !
    I agree with Lorn that the young lady needs more batting practice.
    If an arsonist cremates himself when trying to burn down a building, is that a crime, or is it justice?

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