Jan 21, 2016 12:05 PM

Free speech or hate speech? Viewers react to argument about Muslims outside NH Trump rally


CONCORD - A college protester got into an argument with a Trump supporter about whether all Muslims are terrorists as a crowd gathered outside Concord High School on Monday for Donald Trump's appearance there.

WATCH: 'If you're a Muslim, you follow Satan,' Trump supporter argues at NH rally

The verbal conflict raises issues about whether Trump's harsh language about Muslim refugees is inciting hate speech - and potentially hate crimes - against American Muslims. Or whether Trump and his supporters are raising a legitimate concern for national security and have the right to speak out as a matter of free speech.

"If you're a Muslim, you follow Satan," a Trump supporter, later identified as a former marine, Joel Weinrebe, argues in the video. "There's three hundred million of them out there trying to kill people.... They want to kill you, want to rape your girlfriend and rape your mother 'cuz that's how pathetic they are."

Facebook was quick to respond.

Legal Director Giles Bissonnette, of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said he sees the videotaped interaction, however heated, as an example of free speech at work.

"My take on the video is that everyone's speech is protected speech under the First Amendment," he said. The appropriate response to "hate" speech is more speech, and that's exactly what happened. "This was an example of the First Amendment in practice," he said.

Robert Azzi, of Exeter, an American Muslim and a columnist for the Concord Monitor, said he does have concerns about the anti-Muslim rhetoric but doesn't hold Donald Trump solely accountable.

"This is way beyond Trump," he said, noting that attacks against Muslims in America have risen significantly in recent months.

But vilifying all Muslims, instead of identifying a narrow group of extremists and radicals as the problem, is the real national security threat, he argues, because it feeds into the extremists' hands and risks recruiting more people to their ranks.

"If we want to protect our national interest, we need to be careful how we define our enemy," Azzi said. "He's creating a bigger boogie-man," Azzi said of Weinrebe.

Does Weinrebe's talk make Azzi worry for his personal safety? No. "I won't change a thing about my life," he said, but he knows other good people do suffer as a result of the anti-Islamic rhetoric.

And Azzi said he will continue to speak out to those who are willing to listen. Which is just what free speech is all about.

"If only popular speech were protected, a First Amendment wouldn't be needed," Bissonnette said.

Weinrebe's friend, state Rep. Al Baldassaro, said he thinks Weinrebe's comments are being misinterpreted. Weinrebe has served with American Muslims in the military, he said. "Muslims that serve in the Marines were brothers," he said. Weinrebe was talking about Muslims abroad, not Americans.

"I don't think it has anything to do with what Donald Trump said," Baldassaro said of his friend's position.


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