The Brown Shirt Left


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I attended a debate last night between gubernatorial candidates Doug Ducey (R) and Fred Duval (D) on K-12 policy. Unfortunately what would have otherwise been a civil exchange of ideas between two candidates who pass the “would like to have a beer with” test was marred by protesters in the audience who attempted to hijack the event by screaming invective on entirely unrelated matters from the audience.

It seems almost unnecessary to say that the protesters were uniformly on the far left. I’m 47 years old, have seen this happen several times, and have yet to see a right of center group behave in such an anti-democratic fashion. I’m not saying it has never happened, just that I have never once seen it happen.

The person who should be most upset by this is Fred Duval. Duval is obviously a decent guy and I would put the odds that he had anything to do with this squarely at zero. Nevertheless, when a group of people shouting random hostility at his opponent act like a group of brown-shirt fascists, it’s nothing but bad. This was Duval’s best chance to make his points with the public on the subject that he has emphasized more than any other, and that chance was essentially lost. Ducey handled the situation well, receiving a thunderous round of applause in elegantly rebuking the protestors. Game, set match Ducey.

Attempting to shout down opponents is contemptible and against the most basic tenets of democracy. I would say exactly the same thing if a group of conservatives disrupted a debate by attempting to shout down the Mr. Duval.  Notice the muted reaction of the Arizona Republic. If a group of Russell Pearce supporters had shown up in force to scream at Fred Duval I hate to say that I strongly suspect that it would have been a top of the fold front page story rather than a buried note in page three. Seeing this unfold made me wonder if the era of public debates might not be drawing to a close. It is much easier to keep things under control in a studio. The only other alternative is to hire a ton of security, which raises the cost of public events considerably. Either way, we will have fewer civil and public exchanges so long as a vocal minority of Americans lack a basic commitment to civility.

If so, illiberal forces will have stolen something from us. I took my sons aged 14 and almost 13 to the debate last night, and I wonder how many more such events they will have the opportunity to attend. The soft bigotry of low expectations seems very much at work here. We’ve grown to expect some left-wing groups to behave like fascists. We should have much higher expectations.

The misguided people engaging in brown-shirt tactics should remember an old slogan of the left- the whole world is watching. You may have deluded yourself with some complex rationalization justifying attempting to shout down opponents, but don’t expect decent people of either the left or right to believe it.

11 Responses to The Brown Shirt Left

  1. Ann in L.A. says:

    The closest I can think of on the right is before Obamacare when the nascent Tea Party movement was standing up at “Town Hall Forums” around the country, furious about the direction the politicians wanted to take health insurance. But, instead of trying to shut off the voices of others, they were often trying to get answers and to have others hear their voice.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Good point about the health care town halls. The point of a town hall is discussion with an audience rather than a debate between two candidates. The protesters last night wasted the time of both candidates, the audience and the people of Arizona to bring up an issue over which neither candidate has any control and which was irrelevant to the topic at hand.

  3. Tunya Audain says:

    Polarization Seems To Be The New Tactic

    There is something in the air, and I get it here in British Columbia, Canada, and from my readings about world events.

    We’ve just finished a bitter Teacher Strike — mid June to 22 Sept — and we thought that was the end of agitation. But no, soon the word was out that this was just the beginning. Beginning of what, you might ask? Well, a lot of unfinished business — class size, underfunding, etc. etc.

    Also, this year we are to hear an appeal from the government side about a court decision that found bargaining in bad faith and violation of the union’s constitutional rights. What is different about this latest court event (we have many in public education in BC) was that for the first time an intervener was given standing when the Appeal convenes next month. The Coalition of BC Businesses is expected to present regarding financial harms to the economy.

    What has happened is that the left in BC doesn’t want any tilting to happen in favor of the government. A strong organized campaign and petitions are underway — ONE: to discredit the small businesses in CBCB and TWO: to identify businesses in the province which can be seen to support public education. These are “polarized” for two treatments — ONE are “approached” to disassociate from CBCB upon pain of boycott, etc., and TWO are encouraged to post this sign in their window.

    Click to access sept_27_2014_my_business_hearts_bc_public_education.pdf

    Not calling them “brown shirts” yet, but kind of intimidating!

    I found your event in Arizona on a video. Hecklers were shown. I could not find the Republic story and link didn’t work

    I was surprised to see Security at this event. I saw them escort two hecklers but there must have been more, as I was sure I heard a female voice. I wonder when the time will come when disruptive hecklers will be IDed and referenced in the files. I’m fearful for future democracies and wonder what the young people at this event must have thought.

    Anyway, to sum up, I’m wondering if gradualism is being replaced with rapid polarization. This is the 130-year anniversary of the Fabian Society, devoted to bring about democratic socialism through gradualism and permeation — logo — Educate, Agitate, Organize. They’ve got outriders and camp-followers everywhere, it seems.

  4. Aggie Boatwright says:

    News stories & TV footage mention and show nothing of this “heckling” you’ve mentioned. Googling the 4th debate and these two men for about 30 minutes produced no evidence about this heckling. I’m not suggesting it didn’t happen, but seems you should report more on the issues than getting sidetracked. I suggest you study some of America’s early political history and you’ll find what goes on now is quite tame in comparison.
    Seems you’ve got your silk thongs in a wad, as Granny told her teenage granddaughter.

    • matthewladner says:

      I attended this event live and saw it first hand. At least some and maybe all of the subsequent debates happened in television studios.

  5. Tunya Audain says:

    Shutting Down Debate IS Important To Call

    When the democratic process is disrupted, when hecklers targeting one speaker interrupt free speech, then it is important to call “FOUL”!

    I am grateful Mr Ladner and some of the Press in Arizona deplored this latest incident. Here is the link that shows the part (at 2:30 in the story) of the debate being disrupted by hecklers and their ejection by Security.

    Here is the byline explaining this news story:

    “Sparks fly during a live, televised debate between republican and democratic nominees for Governor, Doug Ducey and Fred Duval, right here on Fox 10. Things got a little heated, and at one point, disrupted by hecklers. The focus of tonight’s debate was education in Arizona. The candidates shared their very different points of view on the educational system; Arizona ranking 47th out of U.S. states in per pupil funding. 09/28/14”

  6. Aggie Boatwright says:

    Interesting that the RightWing News (whose motto is “Stand Up, Speak Out, Fight Back”) had this to say when the First Lady was heckled:
    Granted, there’s a time and place for everything, and heckling someone giving a speech can be rude, but, it is protected by 3 parts of the 1st Amendment (free speech, redress of grievance, and protest peaceably).
    The RWN criticized the Mrs. Obama for “thinking she should not have to deal with anyone daring to engage in their 1st Amendment Rights.”
    BTW – The Nazi Brown Shirt pseudo-poster is in very bad taste, you might say rude. It is resorting to your own version of heckling.

    So one has some fair and balanced reporting here, let me recommend this opinion piece from The Dominion Post:

    Now, if you really want all free speech shackled, let me suggest you move to China.

    • matthewladner says:

      You may not like the post, but it is not interrupting a public debate or creating an incentive to keep such debates cloistered in a tv studio.

  7. Aggie Boatwright says:

    So you have an excuse for your tactless Nazi poster? Anyway, if you want to dine on the bland porridge that passes for debate nowadays, be my guest. And if politicians are too afraid to face the public, do you really, really want them as leaders?

    In the land of the free and the home of the brave, it’s apparent some folks are neither. They gotta hide away from the face of democracy when it doesn’t fit their personal ideals of decorum and proper behavior. Must be oh-so hoity-toity civilized.

    As I said earlier, you ought to look at American history and apparently that message went in one ear and quickly out the other. So let me fill in those educational gaps you have:

    Heckling in American History

    Because of some hecklers in Boston and the response of British troops, colonists became outraged and further fueled the desire for rebellion and freedom from tyranny!

    A young Springfield lawyer began heckling Stephen Douglas at his speeches in order to attack his position on slavery. Maybe you remember this notable first Republican president Abe Lincoln?!

    Someone paid back Abe. The night before his Gettysburg address, as historian Garry Wills has recounted, Lincoln once told an unruly crowd that he didn’t like speaking off the cuff because “in my position, it is somewhat important that I should not say any foolish thing.” A heckler shouted back, “If you can help it.”

    Flash forward to the last presidential election. Mitt Romney approves of heckling!! Says it’s an American tradition.

    Here’s a video about some of the history of heckling in US politics (and includes some great responses to the hecklers):

    Reagan was good at handling hecklers: In the 1980′s President Reagan was heckled in one of his speeches by members of the audience shouting “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”. When the heckling did not stop, Reagan apparently joked, “You know, I know I’m no concert baritone, so I know those can’t be an echo in my voice.”

    Another acknowledged expert at this was Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister in the 1960s:
    Heckler: (interrupting a passage in a Wilson speech about Labour’s spending plans) What about Vietnam?
    Wilson: The government has no plans to increase public expenditure in Vietnam.
    Heckler: Rubbish!
    Wilson: I’ll come to your special interest in a minute, sir.

    Anyway, here are some pros and cons regarding the “art” of heckling:

    In the meantime, I think some folks need to straighten out their panties and quit being so preachy and PC about this.

  8. matthewladner says:


    The First Amendment protects heckling, but it doesn’t make all instances of it either sensible, coherent and/or noble. It also provides ample protection to those who decide to criticize others, which is what has happened here. As for the poster, they earned it fair and square.

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