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PoliticsJuly 12, 2018

All the times our new Free Speech Coalition really hated free speech


A newly formed Free Speech Coalition has raised $50,000 in one day to support the rights of two racists to speak at the Bruce Mason Centre. Hayden Donnell catalogues a few times some of the coalition members have been less fervent in their defence of free speech.

David Farrar has written about his inclusion in this post here – noting that while he wrote in support of the free speech coalition, he was neither a part of it nor a donor to it. While our piece does make that distinction, our editorial team on balance acknowledges that it’s an important one, and that he has a fair point.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say racist stuff at a council venue of your choosing”
– the Free Speech Coalition

It’s hard to get people to give money to worthy causes. Climate change. Poverty. Fuel taxes. There are so many issues, and we’re all stretched thin. But this week we’ve found out there’s still one cause that can compel hordes of mostly rich, white people to enthusiastically part with large sums of cash: making sure racists can book council facilities.

The orgy of philanthropy was prompted by Auckland mayor Phil Goff demanding the cancellation of an event featuring Canadian speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern at the Bruce Mason Centre. A Free Speech Coalition led by Don Brash launched on Monday, with the aim of raising $50,000 to mount a legal challenge to Goff – and the council’s – decision to abort the event. The coalition raised the money in a day.

But who were they defending? Brash told Radio New Zealand he didn’t really know. He would’ve been annoyed if he’d bothered to find out because it turned out the people whose speech he was trying to protect were despicable racists. Molyneux peddles the grotesque, debunked race science of writers like Charles Murray. He believes black people, and particularly poor black people, are inherently less intelligent than white people, and has repeatedly warned of “rapey” immigrants invading Western society. Southern was once detained by the Italian Coastguard for trying to stop a ship saving refugees from drowning.

Nevertheless, the Free Speech Coalition was pressing on for freedom. “If Mayor Phil Goff is allowed to cancel the bookings of people who want to do hate speech, what’s to stop Mayor Judith Collins cancelling bookings from people who want to do good things?” left-wing supporters asked. “If racists can be banned from council halls, who will be next? Me?” right-wing supporters opined. They want to make sure racists and white supremacists are not only allowed to share their views in New Zealand – they are – but that public agencies like Auckland Council will be compelled to offer them a public platform. To take that stance, you have to be confused (bad), racist (very bad), or a free speech absolutist who objects to any curbs on speech that isn’t directly threatening or violent, no matter how offensive or potentially harmful it may be (a potentially defendable position). Happily there is plenty of evidence to suggest many of the coalition members fall into that latter group. They truly believe all views should be supported…

Except for when Don Brash, after hearing Te Reo Māori on Radio New Zealand, called for the publicly funded station’s bosses to remove that “pointless” speech from the airwaves.

Or when he obtained a High Court injuction to delay the publication of Nicky Hager’s 2006 book The Hollow Men.

Or the time Free Speech Coalition supporter David Farrar called for the government to take away Homebrew Crew’s grant money after they released an anti-government song, saying “They’re entitled to call [John Key] what they want, but I’d rather not have the taxpayer fund it”.

Or when time Farrar wrote sympathetically about efforts to sanction Kim Dotcom for leading a “fuck John Key” chant.

And when he wavered on whether Immigration New Zealand should deny a Visa to Odd Future on the grounds of incitement to violence.

There was also when Free Speech Coalition member Jordan Williams sued Colin Craig for defamation over some ridiculous pamphlets.

And when Williams called on Eleanor Catton to return her grant money after she was critical of the National government.

Or when Free Speech Coalition member Stephen Franks called for legal penalties against people who burn flags, saying flag burning is “not speech” and shouldn’t be protected.

And when Free Speech Coalition supporter, Cameron Slater, praised Ethnic Communities Minister Sam Lotu-liga for his “nice strong words” after he said Muslim cleric Shaykh Dr Mohammad Anwar Sahib anti-semitism and misogyny could be banned as hate speech – one of countless examples of Slater looking to curb the free speech of radical or anti-semitic Muslims…

It’s definitely uncomfortable to see a politician dictating what speech is permissible in council venues, and there is legitimate debate as to whether Goff has done the right thing. It’s also uncomfortable to see white supremacists drumming up support inside a public venue in New Zealand’s most diverse city. Arguably the council should apply speech limits stricter than “precursor Nazi rallies at the North Shore’s biggest public venue”.

As you can see though, the Free Speech Coalition disagree, and they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is by paying thousands of dollars in legal fees on behalf of racists. They have always really believed in free speech, with limits only on direct threats of violence…

Except for when they’ve done and said things that make it look like many of them do want limits on speech. Because if you don’t make an exception for those things, it can look like some of them aren’t free speech absolutists at all – and that they just want the boundaries of acceptable speech moved to include overt racism and white supremacy. And that would be truly offensive.

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