There is free speech – the right so essential to America’s democracy that it is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights – and then there is unprotected speech.

Americans are free to speak their minds and express their opinions on virtually any subject without fear of being silenced by the government.

That right has made the nation the envy of oppressed people around the world for two centuries.

The Westboro Church can protest military funerals, Nazi sympathizers can march through a Jewish neighborhood, protesters can burn the American flag and T-shirts emblazoned with an explicit instruction about the draft in the 1960s are all protected speech.

If they weren’t, the right would extend only to those with popular, safe and polite things to say – in short, it would be meaningless.

There are, however, exceptions.

Times when speech is deemed too dangerous to be spoken.

The most famous example comes from a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that without some limit, the guarantee to free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

The Court later held that language which would be “directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action” could be restricted.

A California State University at Fresno history professor is learning that lesson all too well after sending a series of tweets that called for the hanging of President Trump.

“For the sake of democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and higher the better,” Professor Lars Maischak tweeted just after the president’s inauguration.

Another tweet also focused on the murder of those he labeled as “racist.”

“The only “cure” for racist people is a bullet to their head.”

In yet another tweet, he referenced the justified murder of those he opposes politically.

“Justice = The execution of two Republicans for each deported immigrant.”

Maischak was full revolutionary passion and fearless resistance, but the bravado was false and after the FBI launched an investigation into his comments and the University canceled his classes, the professor asked for a temporary leave of absence and disappeared to an undisclosed location to hide from what he claims are – cue the irony – “death threats.”

He says he “isn’t taking any chances.”

Maischak now also says he, “deeply regrets composing and publishing the tweets,” but what he may actually regret are the repercussions.

In fact, his statement obtained and published in the Los Angeles Times acknowledges his predicament by going beyond the expression of an opinion to actually advocating violent action against a specific, named person – the president of the United States.

“It was never my intent to harm anyone, nor to encourage others to harm anyone. I never expected them to be read by anyone but a close circle of acquaintances…”

While the apology may save his job – the university is in California, after all – the FBI may not be as understanding about Maischak’s direct question:

“Has anyone started soliciting money and design drafts for a monument honoring the Trump assassin, yet?”

In yet another irony, it seems odd that a professor with a Ph.D. in history is unaware of the deep emotional wound inflicted upon the country when President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, as Republicans and Democrats alike shared the grief – and anger that act of violence created and that still remain.

One would think a history professor would know better – even one teaching in California.

 

 

 
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