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Government Use of Social Control to Address Political Violence and Dissent

Political Authority, Social Control and Public Policy

ISBN: 978-1-78756-049-9, eISBN: 978-1-78756-048-2

Publication date: 4 July 2019


In a democratic system such as the United States, freedom of expression and free speech are core values in the Constitution and fiercely protected by civil liberties organizations and advocates. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right to protest and to express what may be considered unpopular or dissenting opinions. However, the right does not extend to incitement of violence and the state is authorized to protect the safety of citizens. One of the most recent movements challenging the country’s recognition of freedom of expression has been the alt-right/white nationalist movement, particularly Richard Spencer who is a vocal white supremacist and president of the National Policy Institute. A number of universities such as Auburn University, Texas A&M, the University of Florida, and Michigan State University recently found themselves in the middle of a free speech and expression event versus the potential for political violence situation because of the rhetoric of Spencer’s White Lives Matter campus tour and possibility of protests or counter-protests following his speeches. This invites the question of to what extent a university can ban controversial speakers out of concern for violence and when must they allow controversial speech? The chapter will start by looking at state control of political protests and speech in the United States and then how similar dissent is addressed in other countries.

Internationally, dissent is often handled differently with much less tolerance and often a more confrontational response by the state. For example, following the Arab Spring and passage of restrictive laws to prohibit influencing public opinion, Saudi Arabia has seen a rise in political arrests as the state uses its authority to suppress political competitors and consolidate power. The State Security Agency, overseen by the king, claimed in September 2017 that a group of academics, scholars, writers, and leading Islamist figures were inciting violence and called for their arrest. This wave of arrests along with several prior ones and state exercise of media control, exemplifies Saudi Arabia’s desire to suppress dissent by exercising state control. In Venezuela, a law prohibiting messages of hate from being transmitted via broadcast and social media was passed, carrying a possible sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted. The Assembly claimed the law was intended to promote “peace, tolerance, equality, and respect,” but it has been criticized for suppressing extremist sectors of right-wing political groups in the country. Additional case studies of Uganda’s use of military forces to control public outcry over corruption and deteriorating public services will also be evaluated.



Wheat, E. (2019), "Government Use of Social Control to Address Political Violence and Dissent", Rabe-Hemp, C.E. and Lind, N.S. (Ed.) Political Authority, Social Control and Public Policy (Public Policy and Governance, Vol. 31), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 225-243.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, by Elizabeth Wheat