This is possibly the most entertaining political mangling of a famous quote since Dubya’s “won’t get fooled again” gaffe. Watch bubblehead Nancy give her vacant stare as she tries to defend denying a permit to organizers of an alt-right rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco. In the clip, which is from an interview done yesterday, Pelosi says that she is going to encourage the Park Service to deny a permit to the organizers. The permit has since been approved, and the rally will take place on Saturday. Enjoy some true Pelosi brilliance as Pelosi is asked how the Park Service could deny the permit, given the barrier of First Amendment:
INTERVIEWER: How could the Park Service justify denying that organization their free speech rights?
PELOSI: Because the Constitution does not say that a person can shout, yell wolf in a crowded theater. You are endangering people, then you don’t have a constitutional right to do that.
This clip came to me via Ken White at Popehat, who has spent a lot of time exposing the fundamental dishonesty of the actual phrase Pelosi was struggling to articulate: that you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. In this post, for example, Ken describes the famous statement by Oliver Wendell Holmes as “the most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech.”
The argument Pelosi is trying (and failing) to make is that violence will result from the alt-right rally. But the mere possibility that people on either side of an issue might get passionate at a rally, and that those passions could spill over into to violence, is not a valid reason to deny a permit.
Pelosi is, um, crying wolf here.
P.S. My constitutional law professor at U.T. Austin, Jack Balkin (now at Yale) once told our class that he had, in fact, yelled “fire” in an actual crowded theater. Nothing came of it.
UPDATE: On Twitter, someone pointed out to me that the group in question denies it is alt-right. The Mercury News article linked in this post says:
Previous events organized by the same Portland-based group, Patriot Prayer, have attracted white nationalist contingents and devolved into violence.
The leader of the group is a Trump supporter. I called the group “alt-right” because to me, groups led by Trump supporters whose rallies attract white nationalists tend to be alt-right. But given that the leader of the group has actually denounced Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, even according to the usually quick-to-label-everyone-hateful SPLC, calling the group “alt-right” might be a case of guilt by association.