In 2011, in a public speech, Labour MP John McDonnell said this:
‘I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Tory or MP, no Coalition Minister, can travel anywhere in the country or show their face anywhere in public without being challenged by direct action.’
He added: ‘Any institution or any individual that attacks our class, we will come for you with direct action.’
This year, according to The Times, an anti-vaxxer activist posted in a group chat on a secure messaging platform
“Pull up outside the front doors of every MP, news reader, editor, publisher . . . all of these f***ers need to know that we know who you are and we know where you live,” .
“They will soon change up their actions when 20,000 are outside your house.”
McDonnell is still a Labour MP who served for a while as shadow chancellor and as the Corbynistas frequently remind us, could easily have been the actual chancellor if a few thousand more votes had been cast in particular marginal seats for Labour in 2017.
The anti-vaxxer movement is not yet a serious threat to democracy. But if it started acting on posts like that, it could become one.
I have no precise answer to the question of when a free society which wishes to remain one should use the force of law to act against those who openly incite the use of violence or intimidation to achieve their aims, other than that we should not be too quick to do so. But there is a problem there.
And although we should think once, twice, and three times before suppressing the speech of those who disagree with the majority of our society, there is no need to hesitate even once before calling out speeches which incite intimidation or violence. And when such speeches or posts are made, it is not just the political opponents of the people making them, but also democrats who support the same causes who should call out incitement like the speech by John McDonnell or that anti-vaxxer post as what they are - threats of mob rule, a menace to a free society and an attack on democracy.
We should all remember a sentiment often attributed to Ben Franklin. I am going to quote it in the form voiced by the actor Malcolm McDowell in the introduction to the game "Wing Commander IV - the price of freedom."
In that game the character McDowell himself plays turns out to be the biggest threat to liberty so the irony - and it is an irony often echoed in the real world - is that the person giving the warning is also one of the very people it applies to, which does not make what he is saying untrue. He says,
"The price of Freedom is eternal vigilance."