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17 Feb, 2020 18:01

American Civil Liberties Union has abandoned civil liberties for crowd-pleasing gestures, former director warns

American Civil Liberties Union has abandoned civil liberties for crowd-pleasing gestures, former director warns

The ACLU, once the flagship US civil liberties organization, has abandoned its post right when it’s most needed. Unlike other groups that have sold out for political expediency, it can't be easily replaced.

Most Americans, if they’ve heard of the ACLU, know of the infamous 1977 case in which the organization, then dominated by New York Jews, defended the right of a fringe group of less than two dozen neo-Nazis to march in full swastika-speckled regalia through an area of Skokie, Illinois, heavily populated by Holocaust survivors. Laws the town had tried to pass to prevent the display were struck down as unconstitutional. While unpopular at first, the decision proved to be a PR coup demonstrating the ACLU would stand by its principles, no matter what. Americans couldn't ask for a more dedicated crew safeguarding their rights.

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But former ACLU executive director Ira Glasser recently told UK outlet Spiked he doesn't think the ACLU would take the Skokie case again - certainly not after the hasty legal retreat they beat after defending the ‘Unite the Right’ marchers in Charlottesville. “They might take the same case for the Martin Luther King Jr Association, but they wouldn’t take it for the Nazis,” Glasser told the outlet on Friday.

[Such] ambivalence and confusion…adds up to a dilution, a weakening, of the First Amendment advocacy that the ACLU exists for.

Instead of “defend all speech, as long as it’s legal,” internal ACLU memos leaked to the public in the wake of Charlottesville have urged staffers to keep in mind “the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values” before taking a case. In other words: wrongthinkers need not apply.

People have found themselves smeared as “Nazis” for simply supporting the rights of inflammatory figures to speak, with even legal experts who should know better declaring all speech by “hate groups” – an increasingly inchoate category – to be equivalent to violence. Rather than step up to do its job defending the silenced, the ACLU has backpedaled furiously away from the fray.

Worse, there’s no one waiting in the wings. 2020 is a terrible time to be a free speech advocate. Even as the First Amendment is under attack from all sides by Big Tech monopolies, a censor-happy academic-industrial complex, and a power-mad government eager to crack down on politically-inconvenient statements in the name of fighting ‘hate speech,’ there are no other groups in the ACLU’s league ready to pick up the torch. Given the strides the “thought police” have already made in the UK and Australia, whose citizens lack a First Amendment to protect them, this is alarming, to say the least.

Glasser, who led the group from 1978 to 2001, blames a "generational shift," led by young people who "see the First Amendment as an antagonist to social justice." Certainly, his replacement at the helm of the ACLU, Anthony Romero, has struck gold by allying the group with the ‘Resistance’ against US President Donald Trump. In 2017, the ACLU brought in 25 times the previous year’s donations and saw membership quadruple. But instead of using those resources to fight for Americans’ free-speech rights, the group has joined easier, safer fights – in some cases literally shilling for the Democratic Party while maintaining an unconvincing veneer of nonpartisanship.

Perhaps no case better represents the ACLU’s about-face on civil liberties than the legal drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Glasser was furious to see the organization he ran for over three decades buying over a million dollars in ads condemning Judge Brett Kavanaugh as a sexual predator unfit to serve on the Supreme Court, essentially “arguing that an accusation was the equivalent of a finding of guilt.” Innocent until proven guilty is one of the cornerstones of the American legal system, yet here was the ACLU rushing to “Believe All Women” instead.

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If there were other groups with the ACLU’s legal muscle, hard-fought reputation and storied history protecting Americans’ civil liberties, the organization's decline would be a sad footnote in the history of notable institutions selling out. But there's only one ACLU, and the anti-speech crusaders who think they're fighting fascism will soon learn they've been duped into acting as its foot soldiers.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.