If you’ve been left with the impression that the public square, as a place for expressing your thoughts and opinions, now belongs to people who hate and attack other people’s children, your perceptive powers are adequate to the moment.
The incident at the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday demonstrated that if the radical left has its way, it won’t be safe for 16-year-olds to assemble peacefully and express an opinion or support a cause in public. It won’t be safe, that is, if the radical left disagrees with the cause.
This goal isn’t confined to the radical left, for that matter. Something I haven’t seen emphasized enough in criticism of the mainstream media is that their behavior in this instance, in the aggregate, hasn’t just been bad journalism. It’s been a continuation of the attack on the Covington Catholic High School boys, who were on the Mall for the March for Life (although at the time of the incident they were merely assembled waiting for transportation).
The “Black Hebrew Israelites” group abused the boys by shouting vicious slurs at them. Then Nathan Phillips and a handful of other men with him descended on the boys to harangue them, with drum-beating and chanting inches from their faces.
Once a cherry-picked, deceptively showcased video of this interlude had gone viral, and the boys’ school and families had begun receiving death threats, the mainstream media didn’t just fail in the duty of their profession by reporting the event in the false terms framed by political activists.
They sent a reporter to interview Nick Sandmann, a high school student, and ask him among other things if he recognized “his own fault in any way” in the incident.
“Do you feel from this experience that you owe anybody an apology? Do you see your own fault in any way?”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 22, 2019
The question-begging premise of this insidious inquiry is a continuation of the political attack. It wasn’t necessary for any legitimate journalistic purpose to ask Nick Sandmann prejudicial questions. But Savannah Guthrie did it anyway, because trying to put a 16-year-old on the defensive is a tactic to scare him and everyone else away from free speech.
The purpose is the same as that of the radical-fringe activists. It’s to intimidate people and shut them up. The MSM inquisitors, with their deceptively mild and domesticated tone, are merely using a different tactic.
This is where we live now: in a nation in which radicals are trying to take over the streets by driving the rest of us out of them. The police aren’t a magic wand to wave at this problem. They can’t be everywhere. And in too many places – Portland, Seattle, San Jose, and Boston, just to name a few from the last three years – the police are even being ordered by the heads of local government to withhold protection from the groups the political leaders disagree with.
In the case of the Covington Catholic students, I noticed something else. I noticed a seemingly complete absence of adult men with the kids, someone to step in and do what Nick Sandmann has been accused of doing: stare the radicals down.
You harass other people’s kids, that’s the least that should happen to you. Be stared down (and fended off) by an alert group of dads? – dads who look like you don’t want to mess with them, when you start calling their kids “f****ts” or think about getting in their kids’ faces to bang a drum? No kidding. That’s exactly what should happen.
It’s understandable that adult men who support the March for Life, but didn’t plan to be there for the rally, weren’t thinking that anyone was going to need that quiet but effective form of defense. Most of us aren’t social-media reporter Andy Ngo. We haven’t seen first-hand what’s happening to peaceful demonstrators and even uninvolved bystanders who are increasingly being harassed by radicals in our streets.
It isn’t only right-wing demonstrators who are coming in for this treatment either, and certainly not only white adults who could and should form a defensive shield. In some of the videos I’ve seen, demonstrators on the left have also been harassed and driven from their peaceful gatherings by leftist radicals. And one of the great unreported stories of the Ferguson and Baltimore riots from several years ago is the number of times sensible black men stepped in to defend people from leftist radicals (or just violent thugs taking advantage of the chaos provoked by leftist radicals) and calm things down.
It’s not a race issue; it’s about defending the public square for the law-abiding, so that teenage children – and free speech – are safe, and won’t be driven out of it.
Free speech requires overwatch. Human nature hasn’t changed; our nature demands free speech urgently for ourselves, but is often offended by it coming from others. Law, in and of itself, can only mediate this problem so far.
Free speech requires norms as well as laws, one of the norms being that you don’t exercise it by verbally assaulting children. You may have a right to bang a drum, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to do it inches from a teenager’s face. It doesn’t have to be made a punishable offense to do that, however – what a fool’s errand that would be – if the enforced norm of the adult world is that you will encounter the teenager’s father, or a courteous but implacable posse of his father’s deputies, if you make the attempt.
We’ve gone a long time without having to remember that. We’ve been relatively safe in our streets for decades, because of the legacy of societal overwatch from our adult men in years past. But that norm is fading now. It needs restoring.
Hardly anyone has the time or motivation to try to do this for people other than his own nearest and dearest. That’s understood. But next year, when high school students show up for the March for Life, I hope they’ll be escorted by phalanxes of dads and other male chaperones, ready to stand overwatch as long as it takes to keep free speech free. Now is the time to take the streets back, while it can still be done peacefully. The reward of their kids knowing that this is what dads do, and what their dads will do for them, is beyond price.
Notice that none of this is about silencing anyone else. The Black Hebrew Israelites can still knock themselves out. Nathan Phillips can still bang his drum.
But they can’t penetrate the phalanx of men on overwatch, to intimidate those weaker than themselves and make the cost of other people’s freedom of expression too high to pay. They won’t even want to try.
Such a self-assigned overwatch would be an excellent form of leadership and a great blessing of service, not only to the dads’ own children, but to their whole nation’s future.