"Kill the Nazi!" and other examples of offensive free speech

Three cheers to the Denver Rocky Mountain News (bias alert: my old newsroom) for a interesting slice-of-life color story from the front lines of the free-speech wars at the Democratic National Convention. Also, a tip of the hat on this one to the always fine Christianity Today weblog. What if are you supposed to do if you are holding a protest against war and state-sponsored violence and somebody shows up who wants to protest violence against the unborn? In other words, should the protesters have mounted a sort-of violent counter protest against the protester who showed up, in his own way, to protest their protest? Or something like that?

Or how about this: What if the guy had been a nun who was carrying papers proving that she was both anti-war AND anti-abortion?

You get the picture.

The second deck of the headline on M.E. Sprengelmeyer's story was perfect: "Anti-abortionist tests limits of anti-war protesters' tolerance." It sort of reminded me of that old saying: "There are people in the world who don't love everybody the way that they should and I just HATE people like that." Here is how the scrum broke out.

The incident happened as thousands were gathering in the park to loudly denounce President Bush and, for some, to criticize Democratic challenger John Kerry for voting to authorize the Iraq invasion. ... As the crowds of protesters grew and grew, an uninvited guest -- anti- abortion, anti-gay activist Leonard Gendron, of Boston -- took up a position along a pathway, hoisting a sign showing a picture of an aborted fetus on one side. On the other side were the words "Homo sex is sin."

To say the least, his ideology clashed with other messages in the predominantly left-leaning crowd.

The protestors were not amused.

Gendron said he was just standing up for free speech. Protesters and camera crews swarmed in. Gendron taunted the people who were taunting him. At one point, reported Sprengelmeyer, someone yelled, "Kill that Nazi." The pushing and shoving lasted for 15 minutes. The anti-war protesters even turned on one of their own people, dragging off a man who tried to protect Gendron. Then someone really raised the stakes.

"Stop acting like the right, you folks! You're not helping the cause!" one peace protester screamed, to no avail.

Some in the anti-war crowd finally wrestled the sign away from Gendron. He slipped out of the crowd without his sign, and his opponents quickly ripped the picture off one side and tried in vain to tear the plastic coated placard to pieces.

We can only hope that more journalists visit -- with their irony software loaded and in working order -- the fenced-in "Free Speech Zone" outside the FleetCenter. There are times when I really wish I had a travel budget.

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