Updated below (on Wednesday, August 16, 2017)
“No one should get fired for his [or her] political beliefs,” writes fellow leftist Ted Rall in his latest column, adding, “Not even a Nazi.”
“I am disturbed by the news that some of the white nationalists who attended the violent ‘Unite the Right’ hatefest in Charlottesville [this past] weekend are being outed on social media,” Rall continues. “Attendees have been on the receiving end of threats and doxxing. [The definition of doxxing, if you’re not familiar with the term, is here.] It was reported that a restaurant worker in Berkeley was canned after he was exposed on Twitter.”
Indeed, I also found it at least a little disturbing to read in the news that a guy who works (well, worked) at a hot-dog restaurant named Top Dog should lose his job (even if it’s a shit job, as it sounds like it is) not for any violence or other crime that he perpetrated, but for having been present and photographed at a political event.
“Firing a worker for [his or her] politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, McCarthyism is immoral and McCarthyism ought to be illegal,” Rall opines, and I tend to agree.
“Top Dog gets plaudits for firing a fascist; next time, the victim could be a garden-variety Democrat,” Rall reminds us and further reminds us that “Nothing in our outdated Constitution prevents an employer from firing you on account of your politics. In 2004 an Alabama company even fired a woman for having a John Kerry for president bumper sticker on her car.”
The difference, of course, is that someone with a John Kerry bumper sticker is much, much less likely to ever commit violence or otherwise violate another’s rights than is an avowed neo-Nazi, but, as Rall reminds us:
We live in a capitalist society. Except for those born rich, we must work or else starve. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will employment. And jobs are hard to find.
Under these conditions, without workplace free-speech protections, employees must think twice before they attend a rally, post a controversial memo, join a party or slap a bumper sticker on their vehicle.
Are you willing to risk unemployment, poverty and perhaps homelessness — not just you, but also your spouse and children? If the answer is “yes,” God bless you. History is made by people like you.
For many others, though, the answer is “no, I can’t afford free speech.” The upsides of free expression are intangible while the downside risks are terrifyingly brutal. …
The American workplace is a fascist state. It’s time to overthrow the millions of little Hitlers who think the fact that issuing a paycheck turns their employees into slaves subject to thought control.
Just don’t talk about this around anyone who knows where you work.
Rall acknowledges that “A business has the right to control its employees’ behavior in order to protect its image. Particularly in a liberal stronghold like Berkeley, but anywhere really, no one wants a waiter wearing a swastika tattoo or spouting racist views.
“But,” Rall continues, “if Top Dog restaurant can fire a racist dude for racist views he expresses thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to prevent Google from firing a software engineer for sexism — or [your employer from firing] you for whatever you happen to believe.”
We on the left do need to reflect upon our tactics beyond how good they might make us feel in the moment. Our gleefully gathering neo-Nazi scalps might come back to haunt us, as we are persecuted for our own political views in the tit-for-tat punish-people-for-their-political-views-by-making-them-unemployed environment that we have helped to create.
We on the left need to be careful not to become just like the enemy on the right. Firing left-wingers for not toeing the right-wing line long has been an evil tactic of oppression used on the right; they can’t just execute their left-wing employees, so how about trying to destroy them financially? It’s the next best thing!
All of that said, no one who appears in public has the right to privacy. If you participate in a march or protest or gathering of any size in public, there is a good chance that someone will take a photo or photos or video of you, and perhaps post them online, and you can’t claim that your right to privacy has been violated if someone does.
And then, of course, once an image or images of you have been posted online, online warriors on the right or the left can then identify you and out you, including post personal information about you that really is no one’s business.
Unfortunately, that is the risk that we take in a highly polarized political environment in which so much is posted on the Internet.
But still we must think about the long-term consequences of our actions. Because we can do something — and because others are doing it or because we figure that if we don’t do it, someone else probably will anyway — doesn’t mean that we should do that thing.
What of the young man who lost his probably-minimum-wage job? Has his job loss at the hands of the left taught him something valuable? Is it more likely that his job loss and public shaming will only entrench him further in his neo-Nazi views or that it actually will make him rethink his political views and how they might harm others?
Since the intention very apparently was not to induce him to see the error of his ways but only was to harm him in a retaliatory spirit and then to wave his scalp online for all to see — the person who outed him via the very presidential medium of Twitter bragged, “the first person I exposed no longer has a job” — I don’t see that the tactic will result in his rehabilitation.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a real problem with the neo-Nazis. The mere sight of the Confederate flag makes me viscerally fighting mad; my feeling is that that symbol of treason, oppression and hatred should not be displayed in public.
But many if not perhaps even most of these neo-Nazis are salvageable. Most of them are young and misguided and, let’s face it, frightened and socially awkward, and most of them are in the same boat as are most Americans, like the guy who probably wasn’t exactly getting rich working at a hot-dog restaurant.
When and if the neo-Nazis physically harm others, such as the young man who ran many people down with his car on Saturday, killing one young white woman who had been a supporter of social justice and of Bernie Sanders* — and the young man very apparently** has significant mental-health problems, as you very probably have to have to be able to mow people down in your car –– then we must process them as the criminals that they are, but if we can prevent them from getting to that point in the first place, then we should.***
And my best guess is that going after their livelihoods isn’t going to rehabilitate them, but is only going to make them worse.
P.S. The Associated Press reports that around the nation Confederate statues are being removed from public spaces, voluntarily and involuntarily, and that’s a great thing.
Again, these statues glorify hatred, oppression and treason, and tax dollars should not pay for that, and nor should anyone have to see these monuments to hatred, oppression and treason (or the Confederate flag, which symbolizes the same things) in public spaces.
Hate speech (including, of course, symbolic speech like flags and statues), speech that exists largely if not primarily in order to terrorize others (usually already oppressed minorities) isn’t, in my book, free speech. Hate speech isn’t speech that is meant to express ideas or used as artistic expression; hate speech is speech that is weaponized.
Update (Wednesday, August 16, 2017): The Associated Press reports:
The president of the University of Nevada, Reno says a UNR student who gained notoriety for rallying with white nationalists in Virginia will not be expelled or lose his university job.
Peter Cytanovic, who also goes by the name Peter Cvjetanovic, was photographed with a group of demonstrators on Friday carrying a torch on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where a rally turned deadly the next day.
UNR President Marc Johnson said Tuesday the school “unequivocally rejects the positions and ideology” espoused by the white supremacists. But he says UNR also stands for the basic principles of the Constitution, including free speech and the right to peacefully assemble. [Emphasis mine.]
He says campus police and the Office of Student Conduct concluded there is no legal reason to expel Cytanovic or terminate his employment.
Indeed, had UNR expelled Cytanovic or fired him from his university job, he probably would have had a great lawsuit against the university, as it would be the state government of Nevada firing him for having exercised his rights under the First Amendment.
(To my knowledge, while private employers have wide latitude in violating our free-expression rights — and routinely do so with impunity — with government employers it’s something else. However, every employer should have to recognize the rights given to us under the Constitution.)
To my knowledge, there is no evidence that Cytanovic participated in any violence or otherwise broke any law on Saturday, and therefore, as UNR concluded, there was no legal cause to punish him.
We don’t get to try to destroy someone’s life simply because we don’t like his or her viewpoints, although I’m guessing that Cytanovic is now a pariah among his fellow students at UNR.
*Bernie Sanders, unlike neo-Nazi enabler “President” Pussygrabber, whose first, knee-jerk reaction was to stupidly and inaccurately blame “many sides,” Bernie was quick to put the blame where it was due; on Sunday morning, Sanders tweeted, “Our condolences go out to the family of Heather Heyer, who was killed by a terrorist as she protested neo-Nazism and white supremacy.”
**Yahoo! News reports of James Alex Fields Jr., who long has had a fetish for Nazi Germany:
… [Samantha] Bloom, a single mother who is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair, raised Fields on her own after a drunk driver killed his father, an uncle told the Washington Post.
Records from 911 calls reveal that Bloom had called police at least twice to accuse her then-teenage son of assaulting her and wielding a knife. Records from the Florence Police Department in Kentucky show that Bloom told police in 2011 that Fields, a young teenager at the time, had stood behind her wielding a 12-inch knife. During another 2010 incident, Bloom said that Fields had hit her head and locked her in the bathroom.
Bloom also told police Fields was taking medication to treat temper issues. …
***No, my viewpoint is not that we should coddle them. In fact, my own strong preference is to not have anything to do with anyone who I know is a white supremacist/white nationalist, and I don’t know anyone who is one.
But at the same time, I don’t have to try to identify people online and then ensure that they lose their jobs.
I don’t have to associate with these people, and I don’t, but I don’t have to try to go after their meager livelihoods, either, and I don’t.