The political and cultural divisions currently plaguing our country have stimulated an outpouring of hate. Playing on our appreciation of the right to freedom of expression, extremist groups and individuals are spreading their vitriolic, bigoted, and abhorrent beliefs by using Zoom during public meetings of government, flooding the internet with white supremacist and neo-Nazi propaganda, and distributing bigoted and hateful flyers, as recently happened here.
It’s so bad that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently decided to eliminate Zoom participation for public comments during their meetings. By law, the public must be given the opportunity to address the board and other governmental bodies during meetings, but by using that opportunity to spread hate, bad actors are disrupting meetings and the workings of government. In this way, freedom of expression is being used in an attempt to eliminate the freedom of expression of others.
The City of Sonoma recently adopted its own policy on public comments during meetings, namely, that if a speaker using Zoom to participate begins spewing hate speech, they will be cut off. While this risks a possible legal challenge, it’s unlikely to happen, and the City obviously feels it’s worth the risk. We agree. It’s time to “throw down the gavel” at hate.
In early October, parts of town and the valley were littered with antisemitic flyers. These flyers were filled with ugly falsehoods, lies, stereotypes, and accusations. They are the 2023 version of anti-Jewish tropes employed by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and just as repulsive. Gratefully, most people never opened the baggies holding the flyers to read the material and simply discarded it as the junk it was. Unfortunately, the flyers are offered online through a network of neo-Nazis and can be ordered online for the price of $50 for 500 pieces. Talk about repulsive.
Confronting hate isn’t easy; it takes bravery. Hate induces fear, and fearful people stay quiet and keep their heads down. Speaking out can mean inciting threats, doxing, physical and emotional harm. Staying quiet, however, brings great risks of its own; in the absence of confrontation, hate speech and hate propaganda go unanswered and are allowed to fester unopposed.
We see this dynamic playing out on the national stage, where election workers, court employees, district attorneys, judges, and even librarians have been threatened and need protection from physical harm. We’d like to think that such things can’t happen here, but that’s not true. It does happen here, and is happening here. It is up to each of us to take a stand.
White supremacists and Neo-Nazis represent a tiny minority of the population. Their views are abhorrent to the rest of us, but as unpleasant as it is, we need to get just as loud about confronting their hate as they are about spewing it. Their use of freedom of speech is intended to infringe upon the freedom and lives of others, just as Hitler and the Nazis of Germany, once in power, used democracy in the 1930s to eliminate democracy.
America and yes, Sonoma County, is at an inflection point. Unless stopped, the twisted behavior of a tiny minority of racist, misogynistic, bigoted, and hateful people will increasingly control society, government, and ordinary life. To reiterate, for those of us who naively believe it can’t happen here, we say,” please wake up.” . The freedom you lose may be your own.