Originally posted by @robbie-carrobie
Fascism, a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, characterised by dictatorial power and the forcible suppression of opposition.
Denying people the free exercise of a constitutional right by violent coercion is an attempt to forcibly suppress opposition.
You see how issues get strangled here?
People have rights and freedoms. Like free speech, assembly, protest. That's good stuff which we must protect. They have many other rights too, like the right to be free from violence or the fear of violence, the right to economic opportunity, the right to fair treatment, the right to equality before the law....
Now who does or does not have these rights and on what grounds?
You make a point of identifying a clause in the US constitution granting (or conceding?) a right, but to whom does the US constitution give those rights? It obviously gives not a single right to people in other countries and offers no restraint on US violence abroad. It gives less rights - a lot less - to migrants in the US who are not US citizens. Less obviously, it appears to give more rights to some American citizens than to others. It certainly gives more rights to those with wealth and property than those without. It seems pretty unhelpful to those in poverty or to women. It has often and pretty consistently shown itself to be decidedly unhelpful to those who are not white.
Some legalistic purist will say that the constitution willl eventually prove itself to be democratic and fair (only an idiot would attempt to argue that it always has been) but many honest observors are dubious of this. This is especially so because the independence of the judicial system from party politics and partisan politics is simply not assured. The evidence is that we have to think in terms of not just progressive or reactionary judges but of Republican judges or Democrat judges - judges owing their positions to political influence and hence acting not for the public good but for vested interests.
And when we see the independence of the judiciary curtailed so severely, then we already have in place one of the building blocks for fascism. One of the most important commentators on the American constitution, De Toqueville, was quite clear that nothing in the constitution prevents America moving in that direction.
The whole language of rights is dangerously individualistic and non-social. At a minimum, if I have a right and you also have a right, there will come a point when we cannot both enjoy our full rights - there will be a conflict. One of us will have to make a concession, or compromise in some way. How will that work out? Who will arbitrate? Talking about rights without talking about society leads to nonsense.
What happens when my right to free speech infringes your right to be free of the threat of violence? After all, a threat can be conveyed with language and gesture long before it becomes actually physical. What is the boundary between an opinion and a threat and an actual assault? How far must I allow you to push your rights without compromise or concession to mine, before I am entitled to protest?
And again, where is the fair arbiter who might intervene in good faith between us? Can I rely on the police to be fair? The politicians? The judiciary? Let's agree I should be able to, it is essential that I am able to, but let's not be entirely naive about this. What is the limit when I have a responsibility to myself not to tolerate an abuse of my rights, even if the abuser is exercising their rights?
Maybe my problem is in your wording. "Denying people the free exercise of a constitutional right". Now what does "free exercise" mean? Are there really no constraints, do we really operate in a world that is not social, that does not require recognition of the rights of others, where we can demand our own rights be exercised "freely" and to hell with everyone else?
Well, at times that does seem to be exactly the case and because that is so, because people are prepared to push their own rights to the extreme without constraints, because the police, the politicians and the judiciary and perhaps the sacred constitution enables that, then sometimes, at some point, maybe people are entitled to respond by exercising some of their own rights in a confrontational way, saying no, setting a boundary, drawing a line ... And meaning it when they say "no" - to the point of exercising their right to defend themselves, and being prepared and equipped for that.
One of the mad rights enjoyed in the US constitution is the right to bear arms. Why is it only the Right that feels entitled to be armed against tyranny? If one person feels entitled to turn up at a protest with weapons, why would they be concerned that others do the same or similar? Using the language of rights, why do you insist on calling counter protestors violent when they are simply exercising various of their rights?
If you want to demand for the fascist marchers the right to march through Charlottesville, armed and carrying aggressive and abusive regalia, while chanting threatening and racist slogans, then at least recognise that their right is exercised at the expense of the rights of their neighbours to enjoy their own, decent lives free of such abusive and threatening behaviour. The right of decent citizens are being infringed and in such a way that they are not satisfied with the protection of a complicit state and choose instead to defend their space with no less determination than the fascists.
Sadly, once fascism is emboldened in this way, such confrontations become necessary.