Protesters and free speech



After Trump supporter Randal Thom from Minnesota was arrested for disrupting Senator Elizabeth Warren’s political rally in Storm Lake Saturday, Thom maintained his First Amendment rights to free speech were being denied.

If Thom had been standing to the side, quietly holding his Trump banner, he would have a valid point. But he wasn’t. He was causing a commotion in the crowd of more than 100 people encircling the Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts, in town to kick off her presidential run for 2020. Her fans couldn’t hear her or talk to her because he was making so much noise.

I was standing next to Thom and witnessed the whole episode. He was yelling at Warren at the top of his lungs, waving a Trump sign and bumping Warren supporters who were becoming increasingly annoyed by his behavior.

He approached within 10 feet of Senator Warren, who fortunately was under the watchful eyes of Storm Lake police accompanying her. When a scuffle broke out between Thom and several members of the crowd, police were quick to intercept him and move him out of the crowd. His next stop was the Buena Vista County Jail. Police had no idea whether he meant the candidate harm. He was certainly acting suspiciously.

Fortunately it all ended safely thanks to quick action by our police.

The First Amendment certainly protects free speech, but within reason. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously noted in a 1919 First Amendment case, “The most stringent protection of free speech could not protect a man falsely shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theater.”

When Hillary Clinton supporters protested at Trump rallies during the 2016 campaign, Trump encouraged his supporters to fight the protesters and offered to pay the legal expenses of any supporter who was arrested. Fights between supporters and protesters occurred at several of his rallies, and protesters were generally arrested for disorderly conduct, much as happened in Storm Lake.

My suggestion to both sides would be to stay away from the other person’s event. If you want to protest, do it at your own event. Protesting on the other guy’s turf is uncivil and sometimes dangerous.

Whatever happened to good manners and civility?