The Honorable Al Gore
Dear Mr. Gore:
I was troubled by news reports of your recent speech at the Georgetown University Law Center which indicated that you used the term "digital Brown Shirts" when referring to Bush Administration supporters who "pressure reporters and their editors for undermining support for our troops." Political criticism is obviously a legitimate and important part of the marketplace of ideas in this country. However, the use of Nazi imagery inevitably has the effect of trivializing the Holocaust, and I am confident that was not your intention.
The Anti-Defamation League has consistently urged those in the public sphere to refrain from using such Nazi imagery, out of respect for those who perished in the Holocaust, and out of respect for those who survived. As you know, the term "Brown Shirts" in particular evokes memories of thuggery, criminal conduct and terror which cannot fairly be compared to any political tactics, no matter how partisan.
We recognize that the First Amendment guarantees speech and imagery, even when it is hateful or offensive. It is our hope, however, that some constitutionally-protected expression can still be viewed as "beyond the pale" because of the pain it evokes. Nazi imagery falls into this category, and we hope you will join us in discouraging such rhetoric in the future, across the political spectrum, so that our national political debate can maintain as high a level of civil discourse as possible.
Abraham H. Foxman