The Nuremberg Files was an anti-abortion website that paints abortion in its darkest colours. It claimed that abortion doctors should be brought to trial as Nazis were after World War II.
While I strongly hold that every woman should have an abortion if she needs one, I do not think that other opinions about the subject should be outlawed or fined, no matter how harshly they are put. Yet this is precisely what happened in the case of the Nuremberg Files. Yes, the site was as outspoken as one can be, and yes, it painted a nasty -- and in my view a distorted, atrocious and one-sided -- picture of abortion and of its protagonists and defenders. Nevertheless, everybody has the right to advocate the opinion that abortion is murder. Just as much as I have the right to voice my own opinions, which, by the way, diametrically oppose those expressed in the Nuremberg Files in almost all aspects. As a matter of fact, only a few weeks ago I attacked the Nuremberg People and their ilk in two articles for the Dutch newspaper Het Parool. See "American ayatollahs" and "Speak or I'll shoot!" (in Dutch only).
Moreover, I like to see who my opponents are and what they do. If they have a homepage, I can even use it to point out to others how lopsided they present their arguments, and how cruel they treat their opponents. Their presence is to my advantage.
I believe in free speech and debate. I was therefore shocked to find out that the people who maintain the Nuremberg Files site, were not only brought before court just for maintaining the homepage, but were subsequently ordered by the court to pay 107 million dollar damages. The argumentation was that the Nuremberg Files promoted violence against abortion doctors and advocated murdering them and their associates. Chances are that the people behind the Nuremberg page did indeed rejoice when abortion doctors were murdered -- but they neither openly applauded when an abortion doctor was killed, nor did they actually incite people to violence. They listed their perceived opponents. They listed casualties in a perceived war. They used words, not violence. But nothing on the site specifically advocated violence against abortion doctors.
As a result of the ruling against the Nuremberg Files, the Internet provider hosting the site closed it, claiming a terms of service violation. The site has by now disappeared from US servers.
Advocates of free speech have attacked this ruling. "The verdict acutely illustrates the way society blurs the distinction between morality and legality. Not everything which we find shockingly immoral is, or should be, illegal," writes Jonathan Wallace of SLAC. "In the case of a decision assigning liability for pure speech -- for that is all a web page is -- more consideration should have been given to the goals of the first amendment, and the precedents already established in free speech law. Decades of Supreme Court decisions, long preceding the Internet, have established that even the explicit advocacy of violence is protected except in the small subset of cases in which the speech is capable of inspiring immediate action against a victim. A book, pamphlet or web page calling for the murder of a group of people, repulsive as it is, is not illegal under this rule. Standing on the proposed victim's doorstep, addressing an angry armed mob, would be."
I whole-heartedly agree with Wallace. Speech and debate about sensitive issues should be promoted, not repressed; and what is utterly reprehensible is not necessarily illegal. There is a distinct difference between words and deeds, and that distinction should be respected, not blurred. Especially judges and courts should be aware of this fact.
I look at the Nuremberg Files as I would at an arms manufacturer. They provide tools. The Nuremberg File lists home addresses and other private information of people who work as abortion doctors or who have publicly upheld the right to abortion. Such information can be used to send the people listed postcards and bouquets to thank them for their laudable efforts. Such information can also be used for sick and illegal ends - for instance, by killers. But that does not make the maintainer of the site a murderer, not even by proxy.
I decided to put up a mirror of the Nuremberg Files. I am not under US jurisdiction and I believe that it is fully legal to have this page in my country, The Netherlands. As a matter of fact, I think this page will soon be legal in the US too, and that the Portland Court decision will be overruled on appeal. The strength of the First Amendment has always been its protection of unpopular, unaverage political views. The US has a tradition in protecting freedom of speech, although it seems less prone to uphold this admirable principle where it concerns the net, rather than printed material. The trend nowadays -- and not only in the US, but also in The Netherlands - seems to be to limit people's right to express themselves freely, instead of arguing the contents of their beliefs.
Putting up this page serves several goals. Apart from actively promoting freedom of speech on the net and showing that attempts to restrict that freedom are futile when applied to a global network, I firmly believe that I, as a pro-abortionist, have a use for horrid pages such as these. The Nuremberg Files serve to show that anti-abortionists do not lose a night's sleep when people whose profession they dislike are killed, while they vehemently maintain that abortion is murder and must therefore be stopped. It shows that these people are hypocrites. It proves that these people believe that the end justifies the means. The Nuremberg File people have never said that they disapprove of the killing of doctors, even when pressed to do so. They seem to endorse it.
For the people who intend to use this page for foul means, I have this to say. First of all, I have captioned the Nuremberg Files with links to my motivation and a legal analysis; you cannot link to this page without seeing it in the context that I provide you with. Secondly, you can never be sure that I haven't amended the page. Do not trust the names and addresses you find there, and do not use violence against the people listed. You may end up shooting your own affiliates.
Finally, I also intend to embarrass the people whose page I am mirroring. I am, after all, a left-wing, atheist, cursing, slightly perverted, sex-loving, smoking, drugs-promoting, pro-abortion, bisexual, free speech advocate. The kind of person that the maintainers of The Nuremberg Files and their affiliates would like to silence, judging by the policy advocated in The Hundred Days scenario at Christian Government - Day One and Two and at Bob Enyart's site. "Enter the exciting world of the 100 Day Plan where Christians rule!" they cheer, but under their rule I would be convicted to the death penality tomorrow -- no appeal possible.
Strange bedfellows, eh? I hope that my mirroring this page teaches them a lesson in tolerance, too. For similar reasons, the Nuremberg people might want to reassess one of the judges who is on their list. Leonie Brinkema, who they would very much like to see go down, has gained a reputation for upholding free speech on the net. In her Virginia court, the right to abortion has been upheld, and in her court, a verdict like the Oregon Court's would never have been given.
Amsterdam, February 22 1999
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After having uploaded the mirror, a journalist for the New York Times discovered that the orignal satie was on-line again: at a different provider, in another state. I decided to keep the mirror: first of all, resurrecting the page doesn't mean that the ruling has suddenly been overturned or has lost its meaning or impact. Secondly, I'd rather that people see my version, introduction, context and all, than the original one.
Many people have asked me to elucidate my stance. So here's a new article.
I strongly believe that Planned Parenthood [PP] made an error in judgment when they decided to sue. This courtcase, or more in general, taking the NF debate to a legal level, is wrong. Not only did the NF people cover their asses meticulously and scrupulously (they are quite aware of what they can say and what they cannot), it endangers the very principles that PP itself needs: free speech.
It is detrimental to believe that taking down the original homepage or having the maintainers pay damages serves any of PP's aims. First of all, many people have local copies and can still act on that, if it is the page that they are acting upon. Secondly, the NF people can and will share the same information via e-mail. Thirdly, it was obvious that the page would pop up somewhere else; that is the way of the net. (In the latter case, it had better be somebody who advocates pro-abortion views and encompasses the NF files in that context who mirrors the page, than another extremist christian.) Fourthly, reverting to legal means instead of using what your opponents use -- free speech -- is a dangerous downfall. You end up curtailing your own rights and means of opposition.
- The NF people took great care to not cross the line and to not actually advocate violence on their page. Yet they are treated -- by the public, by the jury, by the judge -- as if they had.
The NF people walked a very fine line and refrained from saying that they would like the people listed to be killed. That very fine line, which they obeyed, the court blurred.
The protection of free speech in print has always covered the terrain that the NF people move on. That this terrain is narrowed down on the net, is a matter of great concern.
- "Incitement to violence" is described and interpreted very strictly. It only applies to actual and concrete situations. Jonathan Wallace, who allowed me to reproduce his legal analysis of the case, makes this point rather concise: only if you're at somebody's doorstep and are speaking to an armed mob, you can be accused of inciting violence.
Take, for instance, the fatwah that was pronounced against Salman Rushdie: it was a direct call to murder him. The fatwah has been debated hotly, but nobody who publicly supported the call, nor anybody who actually repeated the call, was sued because of that. Not in The Netherlands, not in the UK, not in Germany, not in the US. Only people who actually used violence (against his publishers, his translators or against booksellers) have actually been indicted.
- Doctors who perform abortions have been physically attacked and even murdered for a long time; bombing abortion clinins is a bit more of a novelty. Bot both have occured before, and independent of, the Nuremberg Files.
- It is circumstances (the actual threats and killings) and the inferred intentions of the page that were judged against more than the page itself. What was at stake was very much the context of actual killings, not the site in itself.
It is not words that kill people; it is not even guns that kill people. It is people that kill people. Those who murder should be judged harshly but justly. Those who argue murder, should be exposed and argued against. Those who debate, should be debated with.
Taking all this into consideration, my reasoning was:
- These lists have been circulating underground for a very long time, and they will be again if the NF site is outlawed or too expensive (because of damages needing to be paid) to maintain. They would go underground again.
- If there is a danger involved for me (assuming I am an abortion doctor), I would rather see my name appear on a public page. That would inform me, allow me to take all the appropriate precautions, and give me a very good reason to demand police protection.
- Pages like this are the ultimate argument against vehement anti-abortionists. They allow the pro-choice people to attack their bias, their propaganda, their cliches, their means, their methods. It shows their dirt.
In short: the page is an excellent tool to attack the more vehement lot of the anti-abortionists. Especially when you present the page in your own context, like I did.
- Yes, I understand the fear many of these doctors live in; but I very much doubt that they would actually be safer if the page was permanently gone. They should be aware that it would simply mean that the information has gone underground.
I have considered leaving out their addresses. But that would take the edge off the page -- the edge that was one of the reasons the page was the subject of a lawsuit.
Instead, I encapsulated a warning on the top of the page: "For the Nuremberg supporters who intend to use this page for their own means, I have this to say. First of all, I have captioned the Nuremberg Files with links to my motivation and a legal analysis; you cannot link to this page without the context that I provide it in, and although that is in favour of free speach, it goes against your opinions. Secondly, you can never be sure that I haven't amended the page. Do not trust the names and addresses you find here, and do not use violence against the people listed here. You may end up shooting your own affiliates."
That's information warfare.
- Free speach is invaluable. The pro-choicers need it as much as the anti-abortionists, in fact, even more: precisely because they do not want to revert to violence.
Planned Parenthood can attack the NF pages in any number of ways, using free speech and debate. But by taking this legal approach, they will end up limiting free speech for everybody -- including their own, in the long run.
Planned Parenthood could even have reversed the tables on the NF people. They, or their affiliates, could easily make a similar page that lists the names of vehement anti-abortionists, adorned with pictures of dead doctors and mug shots of their murderers.
They could have framed the page -- McLibel style -- Adding their own comments and linking NF statements to their own, opposing views. They could have embedded the page. They could have used it. the NF page needs to be exposed, not censured.
- Rights, including the right to free speech, can always be abused. People sometimes abuse their rights, or use their for the wrong aims (as some think I do right now). The right to remain silence can be abused (by criminals that wish to covers their accomplices); the American right to bear arms can and has been abused; the Dutch right to social security can and has been abused.
Should one decide how, and with which aims in mind, people may exercise their rights? Should the right to exercise them depend on the goal and the cause? Who decides what is a good cause and what is not, and which words and opinions serve that cause?
- Free speech is indeed indivisible. You cannot modify it. "Freedom of speech is a right, except when..." or "Freedom of speech is a right, on condition that..." " or "Freedom of speech is a right, if...". Salman Rushdie, a writer I admire, put it very terse:: " "Free speech is not just an important thing. It is the only thing."
Restrictions on free speech on other grounds than the personal moral and responsibility of the speaker, will bring free speech down and undercut the principle itself.
To quote Rob Clark in alt.religion.scientology: "freedom of speech is the only true guarantee for any other freedoms, so to an extent it is the one freedom by which the level of freedom of a society can be gauged. in a society without freedom of speech, they can tell you how free you are--you can't tell them back."
February 25, 1999
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