A Ku Klux Klan (KKK) rally in Anaheim erupted in violence at the end of February, when three people were stabbed and 13 people were arrested. The KKK had planned a rally at Peterson Park for the afternoon to protest against immigration and Muslims, when counter-protesters showed up to confront them. Fighting broke out just moments after the KKK members exited their vehicles. According to reports, witnesses saw the counter-protesters kicking and attacking the KKK members. Then one protester collapsed, crying he had been stabbed. Additionally, two other protesters were stabbed during the melee — one with a knife and the other with an unidentified weapon.
There was next to no police presence at the rally when it first started. A KKK member in handcuffs is reportedly claiming that he stabbed the other protester in self defense. Witnesses said they saw the Klansmen using the point of a flagpole as a weapon while fighting with protesters. Another witness who was near the Klansmen reported seeing them swarmed and attacked with two-by-fours and other weapons by the counter protesters.
The Klan members who were determined to be connected to the three stabbings were arrested. All could face charges of assault with a deadly weapon, although some folks could have a self-defense claim.
Yes, Hate Speech is Protected Under the First Amendment.
Hate speech is defined as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other [immutable] traits” by the American Bar Association. No matter how disgusting or hateful, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment under the guise of free speech. This means one is free to verbally condemn Muslims and immigrants as much as one is free to condemn Republicans or socialists. It is not a crime, and one may even hold a hate-rally as this exercise of free speech, so long as the rally does not fall under the fulcrum of any of the exceptions to free speech protections.
Fighting Words and True Threats and Exceptions of Free Speech
First, there is an exception to free speech for “fighting words.” These are comprised of words without social value, directed to a specific individual, that would provoke a reasonable member of the group about whom the words are spoken to react violently or start an immediate fight.
The same holds true for “true threats” which are comprised of threats of harm, violence, or illegal conduct to a specific person based on their membership of a certain class (ie. gays, Muslims). Thus, it is still a crime to threaten or incite immediate violence to someone. See Brandenburg v. Ohio (aka imminent lawless action test).
Lastly, acts of hate may be regulated by law, while speech cannot. Acts such as burning a cross on someone’s lawn implicate other crimes such as trespass to private property, property damage, or a threat of assault. This is why assaults and batteries based on one’s gender, race, or sexual identity are considered ‘hate crimes.’
San Diego Criminal Defense and Constitutional Rights Attorney
The Law Offices of David M. Boertje is a staunch defender of criminal rights, ranging from free speech to the fifth amendment. We will fight to keep you out of jail. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, contact attorney David Boertje today.