Baltimore’s Pier Six pavilion, now officially known as the MECU Pavilion, has seen all kinds of famous and sometimes peculiar acts in its 40 years, but surely none more grotesque than that promised next month by a far-right group known as St. Michael’s Media, set to coincide with a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Bishops in Baltimore. Headliners are Steve Bannon, the grungy political strategist to Donald Trump, and his former Breitbart News colleague Milo Yiannopoulos, the British alt-right troll banned from multiple social media platforms. So, one can guess that it won’t be a love letter to civil rights or full of warm, fuzzy thoughts about Charm City. More likely it will be the conservative equivalent of Ozzy Osbourne biting off a bat’s head. If not for shock value, it would probably have no value whatsoever.
Baltimore City officials had attempted to cancel the event on the grounds that it could incite violence. And since the pavilion is not regarded as a public forum, city lawyers argued they could take such action because it would not represent a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. But U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Hollander disagreed in an 86-page opinion, calling it viewpoint discrimination. The city said it is appealing the ruling, but for now, it looks as if the show will go on.
And here’s our official reaction to that: Yawn.
We certainly can’t blame Mayor Brandon Scott for being concerned about the possibility of violence. Mr. Bannon is regarded as a key figure in the organizing of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol (and has so far declined to cooperate with congressional investigators). And white nationalists and Mr. Yiannopoulos aren’t exactly strangers, either. The city would be wise to take the necessary precautions, including summoning a significant police presence. But denying anyone’s constitutional right to express their opinion, no matter what claptrap it might be, is not a good look for Baltimore or any other community in the United States. If the neo-Nazis can march through Skokie, Illinois, in front of Holocaust survivors, as the ACLU so famously fought for in 1978, Baltimore can surely withstand the presence of this hate group for an afternoon.
Might counterprotesters show up to really rock the pavilion? That’s probably exactly what organizers are seeking — a confrontation that will get them sympathetic coverage on One America News Network and get all kinds of “shares” on social media, followed by donations and maybe even bigger crowds at their next event. Media attention is the oxygen that sustains them. Far better for Baltimore to let the circus come to town, leave it contained to the 2,200 or so registrants organizers claim to have (the pavilion seats more than twice that), and then wave bye-bye as all that sound and fury signifying nothing, as a certain fictional Scottish nobleman might say, marches back to where it came from.
The best example so far we’ve seen of this was last month in Washington, D.C., when the “Justice for J6″ rally in support of the hundreds arrested after the Capitol attack turned out to be lightly attended and peaceful. There were concerns about violence, but there was also adequate preparation for that possibility. Ultimately, a lot of folks simply showed no interest, and it fizzled. That’s what indifference gets you — no excitement, no screaming counterprotest, no OAN clips and no echo chamber on Twitter, Facebook and the like.
Finally, we would warn Baltimoreans that there’s probably a lot of overlap between these alt-right types and the anti-mask and anti-vaccine crowd. Best to keep our distance. You don’t know what sort of contagions they might be carrying around — beyond hatred and fear.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.