Here’s the timeline.
Earlier this week, Milo Yiannopoulos sent a text to two reporters, saying, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” He made the text public on Instagram.
On Thursday, a man walked into the offices for The Capitol Gazette, a local Annapolis newspaper, with a gun. He shot and killed five people. Several others were wounded.
Almost immediately following the incident, Milo Yiannopoulos posted a Facebook message where he said that he was only kidding and that his remarks were just an attempt to troll certain journalists.
It’s not likely that Yiannopoulous’s words incited what happened in Annapolis as the shooter’s problems date back several years.
But that doesn’t mean that Yiannopoulous’s words do not matter. They do. And so do ours.
Free speech is a pillar of our republic. It is a God-given right that applies to journalists who work for large, politically biased networks, the guys who cover local events for smaller outlets, and provocateurs like Milo. But with that gift, there comes a responsibility. To put it another way, just because you can say it doesn’t mean that you should say it.
Whatever filter most human beings have that makes them stop and think before speaking left Milo Yiannopoulous a long time ago. To borrow from the old example from our elementary school days when we were learning about free speech, Milo Yiannopoulous yelled fire in a crowded theatre. Repeatedly.
And once everyone got out, trampling a few folks in the process, he said that he was only kidding.
If we end up losing our freedom of speech, it may not be because tanks from an opposing nation come rolling in to take it away. It may not even be because of politicians who have little regard for our Constitution, though that seems quite possible. No, if we ever lose our freedom of speech in this country, I’m afraid that the historians, with just a little research, will find that it was because we first lost our sense of responsibility. They’ll find that we cared more about being provocative than being good. Clicks, they’re sure to discover, mattered more to us than decency.
Milo Yiannopoulous didn’t shoot anyone on Thursday but he has been doing a lot of harm with his words for quite some time now. Still, even he has the right to free speech. The government should not silence him. However, it would be nice to see his millions of social media followers silence him by giving him the one click that he doesn’t like.
The one that says unfollow.
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”
Proverbs 26:18-19 (ESV)