THE BLOG
07/07/2015 11:15 am ET Updated Jul 07, 2016

The Chilling Effect of Banishing Symbols of Hate

By Michael Meyers

On July 4th, I gave thanks for having been born in the USA -- the land of the free. But something's happening in and to our culture of freedom -- when, in the guise of soothing hurt feelings, and scrubbing "hate" -- modern-day American patriots are proposing all sorts of restrictions on the public display of "symbols of hate" and on the sale of Confederate flags.

In the wake of the massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charlotte, South Carolina by a single white guy, black and white elected officials and civic leaders all around are citing and cussin' the Confederate flag (which the mass murderer adored and donned) as the spark that led Dylan Roof to gun down nine innocent souls at church. In a national climate of grief, shock and revulsion, politicians and others blame the Confederate flag as a contributing factor to the murderous action of a sole lowlife. Many in sympathy with a beleaguered black community in South Carolina, rushed in with their support for removing the Confederate flag from its state capitol's grounds.

Many black leaders weighed in, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's president Cornell Williams Brooks, he who decried the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate and "exclusion." Brooks, in TV interviews, urged national action to counter white supremacist thinking and hate. According to Cornell Williams Brooks' interpretation, Dylan Roof's crimes were not merely the actions of an individual because the killings were done by a racist who "embellished" (wrapped himself) with the Confederate flag." It is that kind of unvarnished white nationalism and racist ideology that Brooks blamed for "hundreds of thousands" of hate crimes each year in America. Thus, Dylan Roof was no lone gunman, according to his thinking. Dylan Roof, the racist, did what he did, explained the NAACP chief, because he was indoctrinated into "racist ideology," all of which "we have to address."

The NAACP and other civil rights groups want more "vigorous investigations" of "hate groups."

Meaning?

Do they want our local police departments and the FBI trolling the Internet to spy on web sites for racist rants and anti-black sentiments and pictures? Is every symbol and expression of intolerance the litmus test for governmental "watch-lists" of the usual suspects, to keep watch on, and to round up ahead of a feared all-out "race war" -- the kind of race war imagined by Dylan Roof? If so, what's the trigger for a free society to employ such extraordinary measures to stamp out intolerant, racist or "hate" speech?

Long before the massacre in Charlotte, the NAACP had its litmus test. It declared war years ago on the flying of the Confederate flag -- which its leader condemned as a symbol of "exclusion" and racism -- over State capitols in the South. The NAACP led a boycott of South Carolina until such time it removed the flag from flying atop its Capitol and taken off the Capitol's grounds altogether. Now, feeling its Cheerios, the civil rights group exploits the national gloom and shadow of shame from the Charlotte Nine murders, and is encouraged that even Governor Nikki Haley agrees it's time for the Confederate flag not to fly high on government space. And, so the Rebels' or "Battle" flag will be taken down. But, what else must be done to satisfy the demands of the anti-racism industry, for society to show its disapproval of this and all the other symbols of hate?

The Southern Poverty Law Center has its own definition of "hate" and its own very extensive list of offensive haters. It condemns the ideology of "white supremacists" who they declaim as lovers of the Confederate battle flag; and whom they denounce for their opposition to "multiculturalism." That's some thin reed of a litmus test for "hate." SPLC's spokesmen, in a recent New York Times op-ed, sounded the alarm about the the roots of white segregationist thinking and assemblies of block-headed whites who outright hate race-mixing. Op-ed by Morris Dees and J. Richard Cohen, June 22, 2015. But isn't there an oceanic gulf between people with racist or racialist ideas and those who commit violent acts directed at people because of their hate of their skin color, religion or sexual identity? Of course there is.

How would it be OK much less "urgent" for a free society to start compiling black-lists and conducting citizen watches over people with hateful ideologies? Would the wearers of the uniforms of kooks, -- those who wear Nazi garb, KKK robes and hoods or new-styled Black Nationaists' uniforms -- and who write and post odious messages about "others" they despise -- be the first on the government's watch-lists? If so, there won't be enough agents of law enforcement to keep track of all those whites who "hate" blacks, of blacks who "hate" whites, of everybody else who's thought aloud disparagingly about "Muslims" -- the black, brown and white of "them." And what about those who oppose integration or multiculturalism? Will they too be ensnared in the web of "haters?"

And what of anti-government rants on the Internet? What of those wackos who decry the nation's forefathers as "slaveholders?" And of those literary and school critics who want expunged from our students' readings the works of DWEMs -- Dead White European Males? Are they, too, to be on the list of haters?

If we are to scrub our state capitols of the symbols of hate, how soon will it be that we start scrapping them of the statues of historical scoundrels and racists?

The expungement of hate will spread to the popular culture, not just to our book and department stores who scrub toys and such of offensive decals and pictures. Already, there are calls for the scrapping of movies like Gone With the Wind. If the sale of Confederate flags is the precedent, how long will it be before Confederate uniforms, too, are sent to the dung heaps? And then how would reenactments of the Civil War occur?

Leo Tolstoy said, "History would be something extraordinary if only it were true." True history is not scary or offensive. True history is eye-opening and jarring. If truth be told, everybody wearing a Yankee uniform during "the Great War Between the States" wasn't in favor of abolishing slavery in America. Even Abraham Lincoln hedged and told publisher Horace Greeley that "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it;..." So, the Emancipation Proclamation was as much a military strategy to defeat the rebels on the battle fields (with black manpower on the side of the Yankees) as it was a promise of emancipation from slavery for the black freedom fighters. With this keen knowledge of Lincoln's true colors, should Lincoln's be less revered or his images banished from our coinage and dollars?

As symbols go, what about the American flag itself, that, for decades, represented everything except equal rights for all Americans? Do we revere the American flag any less today because the nation's military during World War I and II were segregated by race? Because up until very recently Americans could not serve in our military if they were gay and proud? Did not the bigots of the North brandish and use the American flag in their anti-busing protests? Major merchants like Wal-Mart aren't likely to ban the sale of American flags -- or will they some day? Will it and other stores go further by refusing to carry the Koran, the Holy Bible and videos that mock religious or racial minorities if there is push back in over-sensitive communities? How responsive or flexible will our laws be bent to accommodate the campaign to stamp out hate speech and to banish the symbols of hate?

Other "advanced" societies already have anti-blasphemy laws and laws to protect from hate speech insular minorities. On our campuses, as the Foundation for Individual Rights has documented over and over again, speech zones and speech codes proliferate, even at public colleges where the First Amendment is supposed to protect persons in their free speech. The impulse behind such speech restrictions on campus is born out of a concern over hurt feelings of racial minorities and others who say others' "hateful" speech creates on their campuses a "hostile environment." See www.thefire.org.

I would hate to see a society where controversial symbols and figures are consigned to museums and mausoleums. I would hate to enter a library and not be able to find controversial books because they have been removed due to the "nature of the work," where someone has decided that their contents (including certain words) are "offensive" to this or that group.

So, where do those who want to wave the Confederate flag go to purchase it if the free market won't manufacture or put them on sale? To where do we situate the statues of Robert E. Lee or of Philadelphia's anti-black police commissioner and former mayor Frank Rizzo? Few "heroes" will survive 21st century vetting. Indeed, a major airport was named after Ronald Reagan. But his policies were assailed, during his lifetime and presidency, as "anti-black" by civil rights groups. The New Deal's Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, favored by blacks because he desegregated the US armed services, would also be consigned to the dustbins because the American Japanese still harbor resentment over FDR's Japanese internment camps and because of Truman's dropping two A-bombs that killed millions of innocent souls.

It's not that I think the debate about where and when to fly the Confederate or any other flag is not worthy; I just think it is now a distraction from the truth, the truth that the majority of the people in this great nation is tolerant. We are not a nation of haters. The truth is that these ghastly acts of murder were all committed by Dylan Roof, not the crimes of the South or even by a group of white racists. It obscures the truth that these murders were indeed racist in character but not because the murderer brandished either the Confederate or American flag.

The Confederate flag did not kill a single person among the Charlotte Nine. But, for sure, banishing the flying or sale of the Confederate flag invites the truly intolerant, and the fanatics to lay claim to expelling or defacing and smashing our very examination and sightings of history itself.