No reasonable person is alright with the existence of hate groups and we should, when confronted with them take a firm stand and denounce their ideology. But how? Many have come to the conclusion that hateful extremism is on the rise and much of it is fueled by social media. Consequently, there has arisen, from both the left and right, calls to regulate and “deplatform” obnoxious and “hateful” figures. This has resulted in the recent purge of figures such as Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan from their presence on social media. This comes after a ramping up of such purges of extremist groups. Is all of this concern warranted and is removing them from social media the best way to combat what are clearly hateful ideas?
Right upfront we should be careful in assuming that the problem is growing exponentially. We are always in danger of overreacting if we misjudge the extent of any problem. Exaggeration is a favorite tactic of government and its allies in taking more power for themselves. It would seem also to be the case in this instance as well. Now, I am not saying there is no problem. Clearly there are hate groups out there that have caused real harm and death. Additionally it is clear that most of these hate groups are on the political right. That does not mean that there is a significant increase in such crimes. In fact, the long-term trend of these crimes, as with crime in general, is down. Obviously, those in power want to tell you the opposite because that ostensibly lends support to the notion that more power must be given to the government. In reality, why with all the power they currently have we should ever think about giving them more if they come to us telling us that they have failed to stem the tide of crime is beyond me. So, while any hate group is to be detested and any violence should be combated, we should realize that the problem is not quite what the powers that be claim it is.
All that being said, are we better off if we allow the government to censor and punish these groups by deplatforming them and marginalizing their visibility on social media and in the public square? One caveat; I take current efforts by Facebook, Twitter, etc, to push these groups off their platforms as being done because of pressure from the government. Yes, they have the right to set terms of service for the networks they privately own, but we should be very uncomfortable when this is done “voluntary” at the behest of the U.S. government. Even so, if done voluntarily is this a prudent policy? I think not for several reasons.
First, it is not social media that is creating this phenomenon. We have a long history with hate groups before the invention of modern internet-based forms of communication. Think of the Know Nothings of the 19th. Century; or the KKK or the John Birch Society. We have had terror hit us before the internet; think about the Black Panthers in the U.S. in the 1960s or Baader-Meinhof in Germany in the 1970s. How about the 1972 terror attack on the Israeli Olympic team? We saw a bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 as well as the murders committed by Ted Kaczynski as well as the Oklahoma City bombing. These groups did serious damage without the benefit of modern social media. This being the case, regulation of social media by the government would seem to be misplaced. Granting government power over our free speech rights is always a bad idea but especially when it would not produce any practical benefit.
Second, one of the reasons these groups succeeded in the past was precisely because they were more or less hidden from the rest of society. Nobody was watching these clandestine groups gather to prepare for their violent actions. The counter argument is that social media makes it easier for like-minded haters to find each other but it also makes it easier for the opponents of hate to see them as well. Pushing them off social media will simply push them back into the shadows where a lot less eyeballs will be upon them.
Third, marginalizing these groups is very likely to make the problem worse. By pushing these groups out of the public square, you will only feed their sense of persecution, paranoia and victimhood. All of their worst conspiratorial fears will be confirmed. This has the potential to produce serious blowback. Seeing their voices silenced and their groups pushed to the margin they may very well conclude that they have nothing to lose and that this action represents the government’s final solution to them as an identifiable social/racial entity. At that point they may figure they have nothing left to lose by going full on violent. People who think they have nothing to lose are exceedingly dangerous.
Finally, while we can agree on many of the groups, we call haters; Nazis, Communists, the KKK and various white nationalists, who should really be the guardian of defining a hate group? Keep in mind we are not talking about acquiescence to violence. That is always proscribed and must be deterred or punished. However, regarding non-violent hate groups, do we really want the government in charge of defining all who are “undesirable”, or would we rather leave that to a free society at large? One does not have to be paranoid to see that the government would be incentivized to target all groups who oppose government policy whether truly hateful or not. They have repeatedly done this throughout U.S. history, not to mention all over the rest of the globe. Today it may be the KKK, tomorrow religious fundamentalists (I use that example intentionally because I disagree with them), eventually it might be the Kiwanis or the Rotary that gets targeted. One person’s terror group is another’s freedom fighter, so are we really comfortable giving government this kind of control? In the name of God, I hope not.
As always, the best solution is to defend, promote and extend the blessings of a free society. The best way to combat vile ideas is with better ideas. Light is a great antiseptic and shining light on these hateful groups and their violent ideas will go far to promoting the values of peace and toleration. By refusing to turn over more power to an already over-powerful government we will be more closely living out our Gospel call and doing God’s work in combating hate, in God’s way, peacefully. By taking this stand we just might, at the same time shine some antiseptic light on that most hateful and violent entity of all; the government.
Praise be to God