BY TONY BOUZA
What a facile phrase. Rolls off the tongue so easily we fail to concentrate on its miraculous value. Americans profess it promiscuously, but I’ve found that, when push comes to shove, few really believe in it enough to risk anything meaningful, unless it applies to them.
The year was 1967. I was a captain in the NYPD but principal aide to the man running the whole shebang – only he had no interest in power, only in the attainment of it and the photo ops. Sammy Glick, of What Makes Him Run? fame. So strange – he had a great talent for getting big jobs but was hostile to the notions of research or preparation.
So, he used me. And I was thrust into the role of Svengali to his Trilby.
On that day – 54 years ago – he and I were to meet with another feckless soul – the police commissioner, recently arrived from Philadelphia and utterly clueless.
The agenda was simple – to discuss Lincoln Rockwell’s request for a rally permit for his American Nazi Party in Manhattan. Simple stuff.
Rockwell’s group was miniscule but noisy – more than amplified by Jewish hysteria. He was, in fact, the bogeyman who drove lucrative fund drives for the organizations he regularly, and ineffectively, denounced.
The issue was clear – a permit to rally would draw a tiny crowd of supporters (think the core group at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot or the Charlottesville horrors) and a massive protest – likely with some violence – from outraged New Yorkers.
My boss – ironically Jewish – argued that a rally would result in disorder and a permit should be denied. Our pusillanimous P. C. agreed. I saw it as a challenge to our ability to maintain order while protecting a constitutional right. By so doing we’d be breathing meaning into the exercise of free speech.
I knew, and acknowledged, the risk. Rockwell was a red flag and New York was loaded with bulls.
My argument was doomed from the start, and I knew it. Was this posturing? I hope not.
Very little came of it. No complaints. Even the ACLU didn’t weigh in, although their history is festooned with such noble battles.
The music played on – but one day one of Rockwell’s crazy acolytes shot him dead.
Rockwell’s unexpected demise, I figured, was also a death knell to the fundraising efforts of B’nai B’rith.
An irony is that one of Rockwell’s closest aides was actually an NYPD cop reporting secretly to us on his every deed and plan.
Another forgotten chapter in the history of free speech. It develops that, like Christianity, many profess its virtues but few want to pay the actual price of practicing it.
Jefferson had it right!