How often have you heard those fiercely principle free speech activists say that? Too often. How often do they actually mean it? Rarely.
Here’s a perfect example.
On March 3, a small team of conservative activists converged on Revolution Books in Berkeley, Calif. live-streaming their actions on Facebook with this description: “Infiltrating Berkeley’s Marxist Hive.”
“Fucking Commie scum,” shouted one conservative activist, taunting the bookstore employees who met them at the door. He wore an American flag on his shoulders and a “Make America Great Again” hat. “We’re gonna burn down your bookstore, you know that right? he said.
I’ve been to Revolution Books in LA, and they also have stores in New York and Chicago that I know of. I like the people there. They also have a thoughtful and wide range of books, and they’re about more than just selling books — they’re community activists, and they work hard to support the poor, ex-cons, anyone. They’re about as Christ-like an organization as you’ll find anywhere, far more so than most churches. So it’s shocking/not shocking at all to see the MAGA crowd threatening to burn them down, and actually making prolonged assaults on their right to exist.
Marxism is at the heart of the bookstore, founded upon the ideals of Bob Avakian, the chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party and author of The New Communism. These values make the store a favorite target of conservative activists, and 2017 brought a wave of intimidation and confrontation. Last September, conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos made a brief visit to Berkeley, an event that drew police from around the region. That evening, a band of between 30 and 40 right-wing activists stormed Revolution Books. The attackers also recorded that episode on video, rattling windows and confronting patrons.
Following that initial incident, activists orchestrated eight more visits to the store—posting their exploits in online videos. In one clip, a protester elbows a bookstore supporter in the face, smashing his glasses.
The harassment extends beyond physical confrontations. Right-wing activists also “dox” their targets, sharing opponents’ personal information online. In digital forums, these activists have released contact information for bookstore employees, patrons, and supporters. Revolution Books has received up to 60 calls a day from people mocking or threatening the store.
OK, I can’t get into Bob Avakian myself; if you don’t either, fine. But that shouldn’t matter. How can you use free speech to such an extent that you demand that Nazis be given free reign, while threatening and harassing people who sell books? The alt-right has killed people; Revolution Books offers them employment, help, and information. Yet I’ve heard almost nothing until now about this kind of abuse.
The “free speech” pretense is all a lie.