Last week while many of us were preparing for a long, relaxed weekend, Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, announced the arrest of a self-described white nationalist whose Instagram account was filled with anti-Semitic slurs, including online threats of a violent nature against the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation. He’s being charged with one count of transmitting threatening communications via interstate commerce.
During a press conference on Thursday to announce the charge, Herdman made a statement that deserves to be spread far and wide:
Now let me speak generally to those who are advocates for white supremacy or white nationalism. I am talking directly to you. The Constitution protects your right to speak, your right to think and your right to believe. If you want to waste the blessings of liberty by going down a path of hatred and failed ideologies, that is your choice. Democracy allows you to test those ideas in a public forum. If you want to submit your beliefs to the American people and get their reaction, please be our guest.
Keep this in mind, though: thousands and thousands of young Americans already voted with their lives to ensure that this same message of intolerance, death and destruction would not prevail. You can count their ballots by visiting any American cemetery in North Africa, Italy, France or Belgium and tallying the white headstones.
You can also recite the many names of civil rights advocates who bled and died in opposing supporters of those same ideologies of hatred. Their voices may be distant, but they can still be heard.
So go ahead and make your case for Nazism, a white nation and racial superiority. The Constitution may give you a voice, but it doesn’t guarantee you a receptive audience. Your right to free speech does not automatically mean that people will agree with you.
In fact, you have a God-given and inalienable right to be on the losing end of this argument. What you don’t have, though, is the right to take out your frustration at failure in the political arena by resorting to violence. You don’t have any right to threaten the lives and well-being of our neighbors. They have an absolute and God-given and inalienable right to live peacefully, to worship as they please, to be free from fear that they may become a target simply because of the color of their skin, the country of their birth or the form of their prayer. Threatening to kill Jewish people, gunning down innocent Latinos on a weekend shopping trip, planning and plotting to perpetrate murders in the name of a nonsense racial theory, sitting to pray with God-fearing people who you execute moments later, those actions don’t make you soldiers, they make you cowards. And law enforcement does not go to war with cowards who break the law; we arrest them and send them to prison.
The men and women of the community are allied with law enforcement, and every single member of law enforcement took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Together, we represent the best of what America has to offer. Our skin is every color you can imagine. Our families come from a hundred different countries and a hundred different faiths. What makes us different doesn’t split us apart, though; those differences are insignificant compared to what is the same about us: We are united in our commitment to each other, our families and our communities.
We are the living embodiment of everything you say is impossible. Together we are united to ensure that you commit no further acts of violence in the name of your beliefs.
When you wake up tomorrow morning, no matter what time that is, I want you to remember something: You can’t set your alarm clock early enough to beat us out of bed. The men and women of law enforcement don’t wake up; we never go to sleep. We are always awake, and arm in arm with the public, when your hatred leads you to break the law, we will do everything we can to be there to stop you.
In these trying times, it’s refreshing to see some unambiguous leadership in this arena. With his public statement, Herdman authoritatively set an example for all of our public officials, in North Carolina and throughout the nation, to follow.