Lazenby: Nugent And The War On Speech
By Amy Lazenby || Today I find myself in the unlikely position of defending self-proclaimed “Motor City Madman,” conservative activist, and constant defender of the Second Amendment, Ted Nugent. I’m not defending the man himself, but rather the comments he made at an NRA convention last weekend while stumping for the presumptive Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, and his First Amendment right to make them. I do not support the NRA (not all of us gun owners do, believe it or not), but I do support the the right to free speech, particularly political speech, even political speech that I disagree with. At the convention, Nugent engaged in the usual Obama administration and Supreme Court bashing that we’ve heard from him for a while (you can see video of his comments here), wherein he calls the administration “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating.”
Then there was the particular comment that earned him a visit from the Secret Service last week, which was, “If Barack Obama becomes the President in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” There is a federal law that states that it is a crime to make “any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States,” and many people thought that Nugent’s statement was such a threat and that he should be arrested and charged with that crime. It wasn’t, and he wasn’t. The Secret Service met with Nugent last Thursday, because, according to agency spokesman Brian Leary, the agency respected freedom of speech, but also had a responsibility to “investigate intent.” Nugent denied making threats of violence toward anyone, and Leary stated that “the Secret Service interview of Ted Nugent has been completed. The issue has been resolved. The Secret Service does not anticipate any further action.”
Actual threats against the President of the United States, regardless of his or her political party, should never be tolerated, and the Secret Service was right to investigate the intent of Nugent’s statement to ensure that there was no actual threat to the President (threats made against President Obama have jumped 400% from those made against George W. Bush, so it’s not like they were grasping at straws in their desire to investigate).
Likewise, actual threats to free political speech in our democratic society should never be tolerated. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” The courts have uniformly applied that standard to political speech ever since. So, fortunately for Mr. Nugent, if he had been arrested and charged, the Supreme Court that he hates so much would have had his back on this one.
I disagree with pretty much every political statement Ted Nugent has ever made, and I think that most of what he says is vile, but I defend his right to say it. I wouldn’t want to live in a country where he couldn’t make those statements, because that would mean that I couldn’t say a lot of the things that I say. While I would argue that any attacks that I have made on public officials are not attacks on the officials themselves but on their policies, I understand that others may take a more personal approach in their criticism of elected officials, and they are allowed to do so, under the First Amendment.
Unfortunately, the real attack on the First Amendment is coming from our Congress, which just last month passed H.R. 347, aka “The Trespass Bill,” which makes protest of any type a potential federal offense with a penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison, providing it occurs in the presence of politicians who are under Secret Service protection, or during an officially defined ‘National Special Security Event’ (NSSE).
You can read up on why this is such a big deal here.
This bill passed by a vote of 398 to 3 in the U.S. House (Rep. Ron Paul abstained) and was passed by the practice of “unanimous consent” in the Senate, and the President signed it into law. That means every single member of the South Carolina delegation agreed to this federal abridgment of our First Amendment rights.
We should call them and ask they why.
Amy Lazenby is a commentator for FITSNews. Follow/ contact her on Twitter @Mrs_Laz.