Three pitched political rallies took place in Washington on June 25. And although all three purported to speak for the people on our most fundamental of rights, the experience of covering the rallies revealed sharply different views among the groups about the right to free speech.
There was the “Freedom of Speech Rally” led by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the Lincoln Memorial. There was the “Rally Against Political Violence,” led by Jack Posobiec and Roger Stone at Lafayette Square, and the “Speak Out Against Fascism,” rally headed by ANTIFA – which purports to be an anti-fascist group – at the Metropolitan Police Headquarters.
The speakers of the Rally Against Political Violence were going to be a part of the Freedom of Speech Rally until Spencer was allowed to speak, at which point they dropped out and formed their own rally.
Posobiec told Accuracy in Media his was not a political rally or a Trump rally, that he had invited Democrats, independents and others and that even ANTIFA would be “welcome to be here peaceably.”
“Peace and love is why we’re here today,” Posobiec said. “We want peace. We want an end to the violence and fighting.”
There were many discussions at the rally, most of them peaceable. A few became somewhat heated, but there were no calls for violence or to restrict speech.
Our crew was free to move about the rally without restrictions on who we interviewed or what we filmed. Speakers, including Posobiec and Mike Cernovich, made themselves available for interviews. And attendees seemed excited to have a chance to appear on camera and express their views.
The mood was somewhat more tense at the Rally for Free Speech, where speakers included a Jewish man with a Jews For Trump sign, outspoken white nationalists and others from the alt-right. They didn’t necessarily support the same things, although they agreed on the importance of free speech.
Counter-protesters lined up on the other side of temporary barriers, and the two sides shouted obscenities and other things at each other.
At one point a shirtless counter protestor began calling the rally attendees virgins. A rally member then offered the man a “Don’t Tread On Me” T-shirt, but the shirtless man ignored him and continued to call the attendees virgins.
This went on for some time, and a few people would breach the barriers throughout the day and shout at each other. But for the most part, it was not violent and no one tried to suppress the speech of others.
And again, we were allowed to move about freely and interview whomever we chose. Participants still generally were willing to give interviews, and no one tried to block our camera or otherwise prevent filming.
The scene at the ANTIFA rally was entirely different.
As soon as we arrived, we were met with cold, angry stares from about 50 people, most with their faces covered. We were quickly approached by the non-covered face of a woman who identified herself as the “media liaison.”
As the media liaison was explaining to us that this was a really where they “value free speech,” an ANTIFA man with a ponytail approached us and asked what news outlet we represented. When we said aim.org, he looked us up on his phone.
As soon as he reached the aim.org website, he immediately called us “fascists.”
The media liaison ignored the ponytailed man and said we could film on the “outside perimeter” as long as we “aren’t harassing anyone.” This upset the ponytail ANTIFA member, and he pulled her aside and began arguing with her.
Then, my cameraman and I attempted to film and tried to interview people on the outside perimeter. Despite following the rules the ANTIFA media liaison had laid out, we were forcefully blocked by several large ANTIFA members, and others began using the ANTIFA flags they were waving to block our camera so we could not film the rally.
No ANTIFA members beside the media liaison would talk to us. It appears as if members of the Washington D.C. ANTIFA are now split on how to deal with the media. Some welcome or at least are willing to tolerate media exposure. Others, such as the man with the ponytail, want nothing to do with it.
For now, the ponytail man’s contingent holds the upper hand.
For a rally where they supposedly “value free speech,” there was a distinct lack of it. And the group sought neither to advocate for free expression nor to push for peace and love.
Instead, it focused on bashing police officers and America with one speaker claiming the police “molest and rape” protestors and the ponytail ANTIFA member, who spoke later, to say, “f*ck the troops, f*ck the United States, f*ck capitalism. It’s not over until America is.”
Several speakers called the felony charges against Disrupt J20 protestors for their violent actions on inauguration day “unfair” and called for them to be dropped. Paul Kuhn, the notorious J20 organizer who plotted to plant smoke bombs inside the Deploraball and was charged with conspiracy to commit assault, attended the rally.
We know this not from our own reporting – our cameras were blocked and our access severely limited throughout our time there – but from a livestream of the only media outlet ANTIFA did allow.
What our cameras showed was a group with an angry message, aggressively seeking to block our views. So much for the “value of free speech.”