The town of Bethany Beach has been somewhat under attack recently because it is allowing the Aryan Nations Northeast Region to hold an organized rally — dubbed “White Patriot Day!” on its flyers — at the town’s boardwalk bandstand on Saturday, Sept. 18. And that’s understandable.
The group is often affiliated with a white supremacy agenda, intolerance of others and a general sense of anarchy. Bethany Beach is a small town, where conflict typically happens over parking enforcement, building height restrictions and the perpetual resentment of visitors to the beach town by year-round residents.
This is a different ball game.
But don’t take the town’s permission for the protest against illegal immigration (the stated premise behind the rally) as endorsing the organization or this event. In fact, a statement by the town’s administration explains its feelings pretty concisely.
“It has been portrayed that somehow the Town had the ability to refuse to allow this group to meet in a public place and publicly express their views,” read the statement. “That is not the case. The same laws that allow a scoutmaster to bring his troop to the Bandstand/Plaza for a presentation during the summer or a minister his congregation for an Easter Sunrise Service are the same laws that protect this group. We have no special powers in Bethany Beach to abridge Constitutional rights of assembly and speech, regardless of how noxious we find the message, and that we guess is what our Founders intended. Pray for rain, we are.”
And that kind of sums up our feelings on the situation.
We consider ourselves on the front line in the battle for freedom of speech. We do believe that everybody in this nation shares the fundamental right to express their feelings and opinions, regardless the message.
And, yes, we find some messages, like the views expressed by this group on its Web site, deplorable. We have argued amongst ourselves. We have had long conversations. We have discussed ideals and morals, as well as our obligation to best serve the community. And we did discuss not providing any advance coverage of the event, with the feeling that all this organization wants is publicity for its group to increase its membership, and we did not want to aid them in doing that.
We ultimately did decide that it was for the better good to write the story in advance of the rally. We decided that it was more important to tell a family with small children what would be going on at the Bethany Beach boardwalk between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday than have them happen upon it. We decided that it’s very easy to fight for the protection of free speech when that speech is something we agree with over something that turns our collective stomachs. And we decided that this is our job — to provide our readers all the information we can so they could make informed choices.
It is their fundamental right to express their opinions. And it is all of our fundamental rights to not show up and listen to what they have to say.
Rep. Gerald Hocker told us that he hoped that people would not show up to the rally and protest, because that could only exacerbate the situation. And we agree.
Though we do have confidence in local, state and federal law enforcement that this event would be under control, we also feel that human emotions can sometimes throw a wrench in even the best of plans.
If you don’t want to hear what this organization has to say, don’t go. That is our public plea. Let them have their say, and then let them leave when it’s done.