The nine people at Jeff Pierce’s Renovation Carpentry booth at the Iowa City Farmers Market on Saturday morning weren’t there to buy anything. They were there to protest.
“It’s been brought to a lot people’s attention that one of the vendors, who has a permit for the Iowa City Farmers Market, is a pretty public proponent of a lot violent hate speech on Facebook,” Chelsea Pfeiffer, one of the organizers of the protest, said.
On his personal Facebook page, Pierce writes about multiculturalism being a form of “white genocide,” and has shared links to videos with titles like “The Problem with Detroit is N*****ism.”
“You know, the thing is people are so good at misinterpreting language and shading it, with emotion and social context,” Pierce told Little Village. “When I say something like ‘Yes, of course, the white race is supreme,’ that’s just a fact.”
“Look at the world. Everyone aspires to be like the West. The Western world has raised standards of living, has eradicated slavery, has moved for civil rights. It’s white culture that did all these things.”
Pierce, an Iowa City native, has had a booth at the farmers market for about five years. Saturday was the first time Pierce has ever had protesters at his booth, although he said people had been threatening to stage protests since last year.
“Basically, it’s been happening since Trump came along and I started defending Trump,” Pierce said.
Pfeiffer and her group were unaware of any previous plans for protests at Pierce’s booth. Until she saw the screenshots of Pierce’s Facebook page yesterday, Pfeiffer was completely unaware his views. But after reading what Pierce had written, Pfeiffer felt she had to act.
“Unfortunately, he has a lot exposure to people of color through being able to vend at the farmers market,” Pfeiffer said. “We want to pressure the city to remove his vending license, because it violates the [Iowa City Farmers Market] code of conduct to promote hate speech.”
The Iowa City Farmers Market is operated by the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department.
In its own Facebook post yesterday, the market stated it does “not have the authority to take action to suspend or remove a vendor based on content of speech” posted on social media. The statement continued, “The Farmers Market rules govern vendor conduct while vending at the Farmers Market,” and said that attempting to enforce rules regarding speech outside the market “would raise significant First Amendment issues.”
“People shouldn’t be concerned with whether this is violating his First Amendment rights,” Pfeiffer said. “We should be concerned about what people of color in our community have to experience.”
“Hate speech really isn’t defendable under the First Amendment, and I think it’s a cop out to rely on that. Because hate speech does lead to physical violence.”
However, two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that offensive speech, even speech widely considered racist, is protected by the First Amendment. In the case of Matal v. Tam, the justices decided that barring extraordinary circumstances, the government may only regulate speech in such very narrowly defined categories as fraud, defamation and incitement to violence.
“The internet counts as violence against people,” according to Pfeiffer. “Facebook posts are an act.”
Pierce said his Facebook posts are really an attempt to start a conversation.
“There’s a worldwide issue here, with white countries being forced to take multiculturalism,” Pierce said. “Well, that’s fine and dandy, and nobody’s against that, but we’ve got to be able to have a conversation about what’s the limit.”
“What’s the demographic that we’re shooting for? Do whites have a right to remain a majority in their countries — the countries they built, the countries that are their heritage?”
“If we can’t have that conversation, we’re headed into communism,” Pierce continued. “This is what communists do — replace populations and tear down monuments and try to erase history.”
Pfeiffer said she will begin contacting city officials next week to attempt to persuade them to revoke Pierce’s permit. She also said the protests at the farmers market will continue as long as necessary.
Pierce said the protests won’t change what he posts on Facebook or where he spends his Saturday mornings.
“This is my routine. I come out here every Saturday morning. I’m not going to let some people break my routine.”