So many important questions have been raised in the comments of the past several days that I find myself somewhat overwhelmed. Rather than even try at this moment to respond to all of them, let me offer a modest suggestion that has been lodged in the back of my mind for some time now, concerning how to respond on a college campus when a Nazi sympathizer or White Supremecist comes to speak. The response I propose would require self-discipline and coordination, perhaps beyond what students are capable of, but it would be very interesting to observe its effect.
Suppose, to take an extreme example, that David Duke is invited to speak at Duke [a local university in the next town over from where I live]. There should be not a word of objection or condemnation from anyone on campus. When he arrives, those opposed to him should pour out and take every available seat in the venue. If necessary, they should line up days in advance, trying to freeze out any KKK supporters, including those who invited him. Once in the auditorium, the opposition should sit quietly and neither by word or action evince the slightest response to what Duke says. There should be no signs, no placards, no chants, no laughter, no booing. Just dead silence. Regardless of what Duke says, the audience should remain inert. When the speaker is done, everyone should get up silently and walk out, leaving a palpable hole in the air, a nothingness.
Trust me. As one who has given hundreds of public speeches over a long life, I can testify that this would be unnerving. As a public demonstration it would be far more effective than a noisy confrontation fit for television. It would be a non-event. If some Duke supporters get into the event, let them shout their lungs out while all around them is dead silence. If they are denied the validation of opposition, after a while they will start to feel foolish.
As I say, this would take discipline and coordination. But it would be vastly more powerful than interfering with Duke’s freedom of speech. Let us recall that the right to speak does not carry with it a right to be paid attention to, to be taken seriously [this too I can attest as a one-time public speaker!]
This is just a thought, but it would be interesting to see it play out.