To the Editor:

It is a rule of thumb in public debate that when the other side is reduced to ad hominem attacks and calling you names, you’ve won the argument. According to Tom Chastenay, I am “inflammatory,” a person who “wields a racial cudgel against anyone with a differing viewpoint,” indifferent to facts, a “small minded intolerant” person, and the very definition of an ideologue. I will leave it to readers of my “rant,” as Chastenay called it (The Other Paper, October 22, 2020), to decide for themselves whether it substantiates this obloquy.

Chastenay claims that an advertisement placed on behalf of him and other Republicans, which stated, “Hope you get to read this ad before protesters burn all the papers,” was concerned with “First Amendment expression.” This is not credible unless Mr. Chastenay does not understand the First Amendment. It prohibits the government from interfering with freedom of speech. It has nothing to do with the acts of private citizens engaged in protesting, except to protect their right to do so. The ad said nothing about governmental censorship. It referred only to protesters, known by any informed reader of this newspaper to have been led by Black Lives Matter, protesting police misconduct against people of color. I characterized this as dog whistle racism, but really the message was within anyone’s range of hearing.

The ad referred to an event, in which the protesters collected and burned copies of a newspaper. Inexcusable as it was, no other such incident is reported to have occurred in over a month of the protests. Chastenay evokes the brown shirts of 1930s Germany and “night after night... cities across our country on fire....” But, Burlingtonians did not cower in their homes, afraid to be assaulted by racial justice protesters on the street. Gangs of anti-racists did not roam downtown, looking for racists to beat up. Church Street was not a wasteland of broken window glass and rubble, deserted by citizens fearing violent civil unrest. No plumes of flame and smoke rose over City Hall Park. Pretty unanimously, people went about their ordinary lives, to the extent allowed by COVID.

I am sad that Chastenay has been attacked and threatened by someone he identifies as a protester. That conduct can’t be condoned. Neither can we condone appeals to baseless fear and the spreading of hatred in pursuit of votes.

Seth Steinzor

South Burlington

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