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Reclaiming Freedom of Speech

On a beautiful spring day in London, thousands gathered to demonstrate for free speech. In an event ignored by the mainstream media, the “Day for Freedom” drew thousands who marched past London’s famous Speaker’s Corner before taking over Whitehall – the major government thoroughfare in the city center – with a series of speeches and performances by prominent free speech advocates.

The event was planned and hosted by anti-Islamification activist and former presenter for The Rebel Media, Tommy Robinson.  Robinson has been widely reviled by the British press and was permanently banned from Twitter for violating their rules on “hateful conduct.” While Twitter declined to publicly specify the exact content that resulted in the ban, Robinson claims it was for posting that “Islam promotes killing people.” He added on his website that:

Twitter. Our police. Our courts. Our Prime Minister. Our entire government and media. All of them raise one hand in support of freedom of speech while they rip it out from under us with the other. You are being lied to, we all are. There is a concerted effort to suppress free speech in the U.K.

Robinson has taken on the mantle of free speech spokesman, recently appearing at Speaker’s Corner to deliver a talk on behalf of Austrian activist Martin Sellner, who was detained and denied entry into the U.K. ahead of the scheduled speech. Sellner’s girlfriend, U.S. born journalist Brittany Pettibone was also deported ahead of a planned interview with Robinson, as discussed by LN’s Onar Åm.

Robinson, Pettibone, and Sellner appeared in a video promoting the Day for Freedom event, joined by a range of other controversial figures and right-wing speakers, depicted with duct tape over their mouths before dramatically removing the tape in a symbol against censorship.

Anti-Fascists Against Free Speech

Counter-protesters were organized by Antifa and similar groups including United Against Fascism, the London Antifascists and the Anti-Fascist Student Network (AFSN) who re-cut the original promotional video with the label “Day of Bigotry.”  The AFSN implored their supporters to “oppose the day of hate” by taking to the streets:

On Sunday, thousands of far-right anti-Muslim bigots will be marching through central London, anti-fascists from across the country need to take to the streets to oppose them.

Posters released by the group on Facebook read:

We cannot let the far-right march preach hate in our city unopposed. We must never let racist and fascist views to take hold anywhere.

While counter protestors did indeed show up, footage revealed only a relatively small group, who appeared to give up during the event. MC Raheem Kassam asked for a round of applause for the Antifa protestors, saying, “They’re exercising their freedom of speech too and I think we say ‘hey, great, good for you.’ Let’s go, let’s have the arguments, let’s do it.”

The Speakers

The event was a veritable who’s who of the modern right-wing, with personal appearances by many at the forefront of the movement. Just some of the speakers included:

  • Gavin McInnes: Rebel Media presenter and Vice founder.
  • Milo Yiannopoulos: Flamboyant provocateur, author, and former Breitbart journalist.
  • Sargon of Akkad: Youtube commentator involved in the Gamergate controversy and known for his antifeminist videos.
  • Gerard Batten: Current leader of UKIP, the pro-Brexit political party previously headed by Nigel Farage.
  • Raheem Kassam: Editor-in-Chief of Breitbart London.
  • Shazia Hobbs: Author and Muslim apostate.

Canadian Rebel Media journalist Lauren Southern appeared by video, having been banned from the U.K. under counter-terrorism laws. Southern was refused entry to the country after she handed out “racist materials” during a previous trip; the materials in question were leaflets stating that “Allah is a gay God” and “Allah is trans,” handed out as a “social experiment” to see how Muslims would react to an LGBT message.

While many of the speakers did criticize Islam and the censorship of anti-Islamic speech, the argument went far broader. Count Dankula (aka Mark Meechan) gave an eloquent and moving speech about his two year trial and conviction for online hate speech, appealing to both sides of the political spectrum to come together and protect our universal human right to express ourselves:

Freedom of speech isn’t owned by the right, it isn’t owned by the left…It’s owned by us the citizens in the United Kingdom. I’ve actually got a message for Antifa who are here today and any other far-left groups who are in favor of placing restrictions on what people can and can’t say. I was actually one of you once, many many years ago. Back then one of the things that we took pride in was how anti-establishment we were and one of the last things that we would ever have done is allow for the government to have more power. My how things have changed…

We all knew when it comes to the government, you give them control of one thing and it never ends there. They will keep going and going until they control as much as they possibly can and that was one of the most important lessons that we learned. And it influenced every decision that we made, and it really is sad to see that this new generation were never taught that lesson have instead opted to saw off the branch that they’re sitting on…

Any party that’s in power could use these laws… it is possible that one day a far-right government could get voted in. A far-right government who now has access to these same laws, and if that day ever comes Antifa, what do you think’s going to happen to you? You’ll want my help then, and I’ll give it to you. But what we need to do is work together to make sure that whoever gets into power has no access to any laws that restrict our human rights. We need to work together to protect our freedom.

No matter what political opinions each one of us happens to have now, the tide could turn at any time. Today’s winners could be losers tomorrow, and the laws we permit now will eventually be used against us all. The Day for Freedom was a powerful reminder of the value of free speech and those who still believe in it, but a march cannot change anything unless we all work together on a daily basis to ensure that our freedom of expression is held sacred against tyranny.

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