Is Steve Bannon’s Speech Incendiary and Thus Illegal?

Bill Gradwohl suggests that I link to an earlier article of mine from a year ago “Is Incitement to Riot a Crime?” In opposition to Rothbard and Block, I argue that such a crime is sensible. I argued that the law does a reasonable job of distinguishing this crime from ordinary speech: “The law distinguishes inciting to riot from advocacy of ideas and expressions of belief that do not advocate violence or say that acting violently is right. This distinction is tenable, wise and good. An exhortation to burn, loot and kill is against this law. Furthermore the definition of riot mentions clear and present danger, the presence of three or more persons (a crowd), and the ability of immediate execution of threats. These all are reasonable components of the legal definition.”

Imminent threats to person and property are the heart of this crime, and it’s even possible that libertarians might agree with acting against such an imminent crime through the law as a means of self-defense. No such threats arise in the case of speech that targets one’s beliefs or to one’s favored state-imposed policies. Speech that disrespects a person may or may not be threats against their property. That gets into legal definitions of libel, slander and defamation of character in which one’s livelihood is being destroyed. The expression of hatred has to be linked to imminent or actual destruction of property before it can come under these laws.

Preventing a speaker from entering a debate or demanding that Bannon be banned from the University of Chicago are way, way off base as stacked up against the kinds of social behavior these laws are designed to mitigate. Speech in debate is clearly not the same as yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater and causing a riot in which people are trampled. Both legal and illegal immigration are issues that have been subject to government laws for a long time in many countries. Bannon’s right to express his views and argue for them are well within the realm of acceptable social behavior and well outside the realm of incitement to riot.

If Bannon slanders immigrants and causes damage to their rights by intentionally false statements, their recourse is the justice system. What kinds of things has he said? In one speech, Bannon commiserated with the families who had members murdered by illegal aliens. He argued that two groups benefited from the flow of illegal aliens: “The multinational, globalist corporations want cheap labor, and the progressive Left wants cheap votes.” One cannot make a case for slander out of these statements.

In another interview, Bannon argued that the Catholic Church favored illegal immigration: “That’s what – the entire Catholic bishops condemn him. … They have – they have an economic interest. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.” He made clear that he had no animus toward the Church (Bannon is Catholic): “As much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine. This is not doctrine at all. I totally respect the pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine. This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.”

These statements are not slander either. They are a theory that attempts to explain the position of the Church’s hierarchy on illegal immigration.

When challenged that immigrants built this country, Bannon countered with the notion that “America was built on her citizens”. He laid out his position as follows:

“Economic nationalism is what this country was built on. We go back to that. We look after our own. We look after our citizen, we look after our manufacturing base, and guess what? This country’s going to be greater, more united, more powerful than it’s ever been. And it’s not — this is not astrophysics. Okay?” The article reads “Bannon added that ‘every nationality, every race, every religion, every sexual preference’ is welcome in this ‘populist economic nationalist movement’ as long as they’re an American citizen.”

I stop here because my purpose is not to analyze Bannon’s total set of beliefs. These examples are a sample, and the sample suggests that whatever the truth or falsity in Bannon’s views, they are not incitement to riot, hate speech, slander, libel or defamation of character. He is a serious man with serious positions. There are no grounds for demanding that he be barred from debating at a university after he’s been invited by a professor who has a right to invite him.

A man can’t be rightfully driven out of university property, or society for that matter, because a bunch of students and ex-students don’t like his views or think that they are repellent or criminal or some sort of hate speech or hate crime.

Are we headed toward the banning or burning of books? How many university libraries contain a copy of “The 120 Days of Sodom” authored by Marquis de Sade? This book is available on Amazon. Is there a more repulsive work than this? Is there a book more misogynist than this one? How long before some of the same people in Antifa or following Antifa or influenced by Antifa or just plain progressive left-wingers begin to demand censorship and banning of books? The Right has quite often demanded censorship. It seems now it’s the turn of the Left. Wherever it comes from on the political spectrum, censorship is totalitarian.

The students are demanding suppression of speech. They want the authority to suppress speech, or they want to be able to influence authorities to suppress speech. The authorities once suppressed Communists and the Communist Party in America. They feared the communist ideas that much. It turns out that they themselves introduced many ideas into American society and government that are present in the Communist Manifesto. The presence of communists in the early 1900s was a great opportunity to debate the virtues of free markets and to develop a broad public understanding of why centralized governments fail the people they govern. Suppression didn’t work. It produced misunderstanding, ignorance and the adoption of mistaken ideas. The people became more communistic and the U.S. government became more communistic.

Today, immigration happens to be a hot button issue. This should be a time for debate, not for the suppression of debate.


10:05 am on February 1, 2018