Free speech, Monty Python, and Civil War reconstruction: anti-nukes are not funny

The Union victory in the U.S. Civil War should have paved the way to a situation in which eligible voters in the defeated states could exercise their democratic right in elections. But what should have happened is not what did happen. People who had only a few years earlier been slaves and non-citizens and who had by wartime legislation been transformed into a sizeable portion of the voting public were, by the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in 1868 (see article), intimidated into refraining from just about any form of political participation. This intimidation occurred in spite of the fact that there were federal troops—men with guns, many of whom had fought in the battles that decided the civil war—stationed in the areas in question. Why did they not stop the intimidation?

For two reasons. First, those doing the intimidating were extremely determined: they were motivated by rage against the natural consequences of having lost a war they had started. And second, those who were ultimately in charge of making the decisions over whether or how federal troops stationed in southern states should intervene against armed Klansmen lost the will to enforce the law.

The upshot was that blacks lost their rights to vote, which had been granted through legislation during a war that cost a million casualties. And those rights did not reappear until the mid-1960s, nearly a hundred years later. Rage did not win just the day, it won the century.

The moral of that story is, legislation is only as good as the enforcement behind it. If there is no will to enforce a law, then the law does not mean much.

Now, everyone has been at a public meeting where somebody who has the floor gets carried away and starts to really foam at the mouth. There is a balance that the meeting organizers must strike: they must give the foamer his time at the mike but they cannot let him hijack the meeting or intimidate anybody else. If they do, then the same situation applies (albeit in microcosm) as during Reconstruction: people with legitimate rights are prevented from exercising them.

Here is a video of a public meeting convened by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the matter of decommissioning the recently shut down Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. If you can spare the time, have a look. It is an example of participative democracy in action.

You will hear the voice of a heckler right at the outset. Get used to that guy. He is a major feature over the entire three hours and fifty four minutes of the video.

The U.S. NRC should reexamine its permissiveness and indulgence for people who attend its public meetings. It appears to have handed the floor to people with anger problems whose rage, while based on comic-book analysis, dominates the room. The NRC is a U.S. federal agency that, through its unwillingness to run a proper public meeting, gives de facto preference to people on only one side of an issue that has global existential importance.

Ask yourself, as you watch: should the meeting organizers have allowed this guy to participate?

Yes, the overwhelming majority of the other members of the public who appear at the mike sound like members of a mob in a Monty Python movie: non sequitur piled on top of non sequitur, escalating to a crescendo of righteous and incoherent hyperbole. It’s like getting cornered by a stoner at a party: the guy just babbles vacuously on about something he feels strongly about. But I have been assured by someone who was present that it was not funny at all. This person tells me she was extremely uncomfortable and did not feel physically safe.

She tells me that opponents of Vermont Yankee once, at another NRC meeting, deposited a pile of cow dung on a table in front of a representative of the company that owns the plant. The dung-depositor then dumped cow dung into the company rep’s water glass and then smeared the wet dung on papers that were on the table. This apparently occurred in 2009. The spectacle in the video above occurred roughly two weeks ago—six years after the cow dung incident.

Which is to say, the NRC today allows into public meetings people who dispersed a known biologically hazardous substance in an earlier meeting.

Watching the video, you might get the impression that opposition to the plant is near universal. But ask yourself: would you attend such a meeting? Let’s say you support nuclear power. Would you attend a meeting in which people who oppose it are allowed to stage temper tantrums and shout down anyone they disagree with, with the compliance of the meeting organizers? Would you attend a meeting in which you knew people who threw cow dung, containing deadly e.Coli bacteria, in another similar public meeting, were allowed to participate?

There is free speech, and there is irresponsibility and anti-social behaviour. I had a prof in university who during lectures had no tolerance for students who pulled the shout-down tactic. He would call security and have such students escorted out. He was not trampling on such students’ rights of free speech. They were trampling on other people’s rights.

The U.S. NRC should reexamine its permissiveness and indulgence for people who attend its public meetings. It appears to have handed the floor to people with anger problems whose rage, while based on comic-book analysis, dominates the room. The NRC is a U.S. federal agency that, through its unwillingness to run a proper public meeting, gives de facto preference to people on only one side of an issue that has global existential importance.

There is a reason so few pro-nuclear people show up at these meetings. Nobody likes to be in a room with a guy whose anger hijacks the proceedings.

Just as nobody likes to go and vote when there’s an angry guy with a gun and a rope menacing the voting booth.

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Morgan Brown
8 years ago

Democracy is not a free-for-all. If someone wishes to participate, then they have that right but also an obligation to be respectful and take their turn. A heckler like “Garry” does not add anything positive to the democratic process, but only contributes rudeness and wastes people’s time. In this case, Garry is only demonstrating a smug self-satisfaction in hearing his own voice, and in disrupting the proceedings. That’s not democratic process – the majority of people (regardless of their stance on the issues) are at the meeting to listen, learn, and to take the opportunity to express their opinion when the floor opens to questions. If I was an anti-nuclear campaigner, I would be embarrassed by Garry.

James Greenidge
8 years ago

Very good article, but the sad thing about these clowns showing up at nuclear town halls and meetings is because they know that their rants and heckling is just strutting icing on the antis’ FUD cake; their major PR damage toward nuclear power mostly due fatal lacks of nuclear self-promotion and ads and public education and a pop nuke spokesperson a’la Carl Sagan countering all their mass public attacks is long already done. They love showing up at these sessions just to see how well their FUD campaign worked when they smugly feel they’ve royally won when pro-nukers cower behind PC and “civility” and let the inmates take over the asylum when if they performed such antics in other fields they’d be briskly drummed out where they sit — and I’ve been to such very satisfying meetings. Order rules, not turning the other cheek!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Maury Markowitz
8 years ago

> fatal lacks of nuclear self-promotion and ads and public education

So is your argument is that this industry can’t figure out how to run public meeting, and you trust them to make reactors? What sort of logic is that?

Of course, anyone that’s actually worked in the industry knows the *real* reason nuclear is dead, and you can find it anywhere you look. Like right here:

CAPEX on nuclear, ~ $7.50, CAPEX on wind, ~$1.25.

That is the reason, the *only reason*, why the nuclear industry is dead. And on that note:

Maybe a little early for the violin, but one can hear them warming up in the wings.

8 years ago

Maury is well known solar advocate on other comment sites. He routinely complains about anybody that contradicts his spiel in an effort to get negative comments blocked.

Currently the VC Summer plant is running $5B/GW, overruns included, about the same as the Korean Plant well under way on time on budget in ultra high cost UAE. Given the current cost low interest rates prevalent a public power operator like OPG can finance at rates below 2%. Adding the 2 cent a kwh operating cost, Grade school arithmetic gives the nukes a cost of a little over 3 cents a kwh.

Lazard as Big Oil’s banker is just trying to protect it’s embedded investments in petrol by producing cherry picked nonsense based on wacky assumptions.

Because of the immense risk of wind/solar projects totally dependent on taxpayer subsidies, Ontario recently tariffed wind at 12 cents a kwh. However a recent study showed that when the cost of 4 times sized transmission plant, surplus dumping and gas backup was included the cost of wind tripled.

From “what-goes-up-ontarios-soaring-electricity-prices-and-how-to-get-them-down”

” Among other things we found that adding wind power to the grid increases costs by about three times the amount of the direct payments to wind turbine operators.”

If you look at the IESO web site you will note that Ontario wind power is always 100% exported often at nearly a 100% loss to taxpayers.

Note that today the Canada Customs tripled the cost of Maury’s Chinese solar panels, imported to Canada, as they are dumped on world markets at a small fraction of the cost of production.

James Burkes
8 years ago

It is not even a question of democracy. The issue is the rule of law. And that requires order and procedure, along with the willingness of the participants to abide by the rules and conduct business in an orderly and civil manner. If you don’t have that, you have nothing but mob rule, which is pretty close to what we see in this video. It isn’t democracy so much as thuggery and subjugation by means of fear and threat.

The only thing that protects us from the torches and pitchforks of the lynch mob is the rule of law. Pure democracies inevitably fail when the majority becomes a mob. And an Ochlocracy usually ends badly for everyone.

Tom Clegg
8 years ago

Several things made this situation happen. One when the anti-nukes chain or handcuff themselves to the fences at VY and get away with it no jail time or fine. When they burn down VY’s emergency building and get away with it. Really how hard did the Brattleboro police try to find out who did it? It sends a message of entitlement to the anti-nukes. I can do whatever I want to Entergy and get away with it! Also I go to these meetings for Indian Point they don’t behave much better. I have been told quite a few times don’t stoop down to their level. I don’t believe in that all the time. There comes a time when you have to fight fire with fire. When the Nazis killed millions of people. When the war was over we stooped down to the level of executing the people responsible for this crime. Someone pro nuclear at that meeting should have grabbed the mic out of Gary Sachs’s hands and asked him about his credentials in nuclear power or decommissioning of a nuclear power plant. Then rebut his statements. Yell at him while he tries to make his points . Sorry but you can be nice for only so long. Just look at it personally He took jobs from people, he made electric rates and taxes higher. And he thinks he is right