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Arrest of racist triggers free speech debate

Springfield Police arrest Jimmy Marr. Photo: Jennefer Harper.
Springfield Police arrest Jimmy Marr. Photo: Jennefer Harper.

Many of those participating in a Stop Hate! rally in Springfield Sept. 29 were greeted by a loudspeaker blaring from the roof of the home of well-known racist and anti-Semite Jimmy Marr. Marr was blasting a speech proclaiming the wonders of hate. He was arrested for disorderly conduct in the second degree. 

Marr’s arrest has spurred a public debate on freedom of speech, with some questioning if Marr was arrested for hate speech, which is not a crime. However, Springfield police Sgt. Brian Humphreys says, “Marr was arrested for disorderly conduct 2 (state statute) based on making ‘unreasonable noise’ and his intentions to ‘disturb a lawful assembly’ as defined by statute.” 

The permitted rally, put on by the Community Alliance of Lane County, Standing Up for Racial Justice and the NAACP as well as the Springfield Alliance for Equality and Respect outside Willamalane Center, was  “in reaction to increasing levels of racist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and classist activity happening in Lane County,” the Community Alliance of Lane County said in its notice about the rally. 

“There have been more Confederate flags seen in the area, vandalism targeting Asian owned businesses, a truck driving around with neo-Nazi and white supremacist messages on it and more,” CALC noted.

Marr is the owner and driver of the truck, a Toyota Tacoma emblazoned with neo-Nazi messages (he offensively refers to it as a “rice burner” on his Twitter posts). He has made himself notorious over the years, appearing to seek headlines and attention, with messages such as “Diversity is white genocide,” “Trump: Do the white thing,” “Jew lies matter” and more. His Twitter handle is @genocideJimmy. 

Jennefer Harper, a CodePink activist, took photos of the arrest and says she was walking to the rally when she encountered Marr’s house where he was blasting offensive speech such as “hate is good” from a loudspeaker on his roof. Harper has identified the speech as the words of white nationalist Kai Murros, “On Hate.”

According to the Springfield Police Department, “In retaliation to the gathering, Marr installed a very large amplified speaker on the rooftop of his area home. Marr then played a pro-hatred message on a loop, which repeated itself upon conclusion. The amplified message of hate could be heard for several blocks, attracting approximately 30 people who were upset by the volume of the recording, including many of Marr’s neighbors and members of the assembly.”

After “repeated attempts to contact Marr at his residence” without success, the Springfield Fire Department assisted officers with the removal of the speaker from Marr’s roof, SPD said. Marr then left his house and told police that he was “trying to get his message out to people.” He was subsequently arrested.

Local attorney Mike Arnold, known for his initial representation of Malheur occupier Ammon Bundy, reached out to Marr on Twitter, offering to represent him, “You are POS [piece of shit] for views but disorderly conduct is unconst[itutional] for words w/o actions,” Arnold wrote. “Call for pro bono help.”

Arnold is now representing Marr. Arnold tells EW that referring to Marr as POS in his tweet is “not the client acquisition technique favored by most lawyers,” but says that is the point of the case — the issue is the fundamental right to freedom of speech, not whether one likes what he says, adding that he despises Marr’s views.

He says his firm was criticized for offering to defend Bundy pro bono as well “because people disagree with him,” but he says it is an attorney’s duty to represent unpopular defenses. “Knowing Lane County, this is about as unpopular as it gets,” he says. He adds, “I fear a Trump regime. We don’t get to pick and choose which constitutional right that we like.”

Arnold says hate is best defeated not by restricting someone’s speech — saying it was likely the content of the speech Marr was playing that led to his arrest. “The only remedy for hateful speech like this is more speech; it’s uncomfortable living in a democracy sometimes.”

Longtime activist Alley Valkyrie, one of many to weigh in on the free speech issue on social media, tells EW, “I don’t think that a racist’s ‘right to free speech’ in public should be more important than the right of marginalized people to not live in fear.” She says, “Hate speech is a form of violence.”

Humphreys of the Springfield police says of Marr’s arrest, “The nature of his recording, while obnoxious and offensive to many on scene, was not influential.”