On Friday September 1st, 2017 the United States Government violated my right to freedom of speech by revoking my registration of the fucknazis.us domain name. One year later, I've regained control of my domain, affirming my right to say FUCK NAZIS. Here's what happened, and why you should care.
In August of 2017 I broke ground a new project to neutralize the normalization of Nazism and White Supremacist rhetoric in the American public sphere. The project was a fundraiser of digital collectible lapel pins on the Ethereum network with funds raised earmarked to support those who would be disenfranchised by the increase in Nazi rhetoric. An archive of the original project site lives here.
I chose to launch the fundraiser on a cryptocurrency rather than on a platform like GoFundMe because I wanted to both dispel media fueled myths that the cryptocurrency world was heavily neo-Nazi and to avoid unjust shutdowns of my message. Despite being a Bitcoiner and an advisor to Stellar, I chose Ethereum because Ethereum's token model was the easiest to work with at the time, and because I perceived the Ethereum community of late summer 2017 to be the most likely to participate in a fundraiser like Fuck Nazis. I chose the .us top-level domain over other available domains in order to emphasize that my project was about fighting Nazism in America.
Fuck Nazis was the only name for my project that I felt could communicate with strength and clarity my condemnation of American Nazism. Nazis are empowered by the terror and fear they strike in the hearts of their adversaries; their machinations cannot be met with silence or ignorance. The language I chose to use communicates, "We see you. We hear you. We are not afraid of you. Fuck You." Fundamental to selecting Fuck Nazis as the mantra for my cause is that speaking strong words not only communicates a strong message to those listening, but by breaking profanity taboo, serves to enhance the speaker's fortitude.
Through the first week of my project's launch, I grew more confident than ever in my message and my purpose. Seeing the response to my project online and in person only served to underscore my belief that spreading the Fuck Nazis message was critical. Then, only one week into my project's life, the United States Government — through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and their subcontractor Neustar — revoked my domain name registration for fucknazis.us censoring my speech and violating their duty to protect my first amendment rights. With the censorship from the government looming over me like a storm cloud, I chose not to pursue the project's original goals further until I had more clarity. The fundraiser had collected only about $200 worth of Ethereum at that time, not enough to achieve some of my ambitions for the project. I later heard from would-be donors that they would have contributed large amounts should the project site continued to have been operational.
The censorship of Fuck Nazis left me in a deeply unsettling position with respect to what I can and cannot say in America. Growing up, I fostered an immense sense of pride and patriotism for my country precisely because the liberties enshrined in our civic foundation; I had a deep appreciation for my citizenship to a country which celebrated these rights as inalienable and swore to protect them. The censorship I faced stood to challenge my deeply held beliefs about America. How could the censorship of my message not be in err?
Ostensibly, the revocation of fucknazis.us was due to a policy in place which somewhat understandable (albeit unconstitutionally) flagged all .us domains with a profanity for manual review. However, after sending multiple clarifications (including one with my legal analysis of why it should be returned) of this point to the support, my domain was not restored into my possession.
Having surpassed my capabilities to elicit a favorable outcome, I turned to my friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic. With their diligence and hard work over the last year, we've not only gotten my domain back, but ended the policies that precluded the use of profanity (and prevented free speech) in .us domain registration. You can read their comments on the resolution of the case here and here. This is significant because (if I'm not mistaken), .us is essentially the only TLD that provides US Constitutional Backing for freedom of speech for websites using it. There are exciting projects like Handshake that have potential to broaden access to censorship resistant domain registration, but within the current system .us occupies a special niche for freedom.
The return of the fucknazis.us domain to my control is a decisive victory, and I cannot thank my colleagues at the Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic and Electronic Frontier Foundation for their instrumental role. But it is a victory of a single battle, not the war.
Whether you identify as left, right, center, up, or down defending freedom of speech is of utmost import. Every Jew I've ever met has these words embedded in their psyche:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Martin Niemöller
Speech is our most sacred weapon, the only one fit for defending the free world. The mere right to speak itself does not defend free society, society is defended through its vigorous and active use. This does not downplay the importance of freedom of speech itself, should we lose that right to speak, then all may be lost as well. In the United States, we enshrine this right in our Bill of Rights and nearly 230 years of case law protecting its use. The first amendment does not grant anyone freedom of speech — it is a fundamental human right. The first amendment protects the people from the potential for the government to attempt to abridge that right, a critical difference.
Somehow, the right and expectation of free speech has become a politically contentious topic in our modern political climate, on both the left and the right. When Colin Kaepernick kneels during the National Anthem to embody his protest against police brutality, there are many who clamor to say that he should not be allowed to make this speech. When Social media sites takes steps to eliminate 'trolling', they end up silencing many conservative voices, to which many say: let them be silenced.
The right to free speech is complicated because it exists both as a legal right and as a moral right. The NFL and Twitter may be morally wrong to censor their player's and user's speech, but they are well within their legal rights as private entities to permit or deny speech at their discretion. When the U.S. Government or agents thereof decide to impose an unjust limitation on the freedom of speech of an individual, as occurred when my domain was revoked, they are not only morally wrong, they have violated their duty to uphold the sanctified conventions of the constitution.
It is instrumental that we hold our both governmental and private institutions accountable should they restrict our freedom of speech, for it is ours to defend, not theirs to give.
Holding this line in the sand firmly is intensely difficult. If we must defend even the disgusting speech of Nazis, how do we justify our complicitness in allowing them a medium to spread hateful messages? The only reprieve is knowing that should we fail to protect their rights, our speech disavowing their hate and dangerous politics may one day be on the receiving end of this censorship, denying us of our ability to rebuke dangerous ideas from those in power.
It is therefore instrumental that we not only hold these institutions accountable for protecting the freedom of speech for all, but that we also make vigorous use of our right to speak our mind against Nazis and their ilk to keep America a shining beacon of democracy. When hateful and intolerant speech is uttered, we must offer a more compelling message rejecting that hate and promoting love and compassion.
The return of the fucknazis.us domain represents an end to one battle, but only a small step in my war. The message I set out to spread is as urgent as ever. The work is to be done. In the spirit of Cato the Elder: