Posted on January 6, 2023

Is America a ‘Free Country?’

Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, January 6, 2023

White advocates hoped that Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter would help restore free speech. We’ve been disappointed so far. However, Mr. Musk has released the “Twitter Files” to a few select journalists, including Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss. We now know that current and former government officials and even a congressman pressured the company to ban specific accounts, control what the public could see, and bury certain stories in ways that arguably determined the 2020 presidential election.

This is not a surprise to many of us. Officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations made no secret of what they wanted. In 2019, even under Trump, then-acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan spoke about his agency’s priorities at an event co-sponsored by the Brookings Institution. “In our modern age, the continued menace of racially based violent extremism, particularly violent white supremacy, is an abhorrent affront to the nation,” he said.

Mr. McAleenan then — shockingly — praised Cloudflare’s decision to withdraw service from the website 8chan. Cloudflare’s function is to prevent denial of service attacks, which are felonies. In other words, DHS was happy for Cloudflare selectively to permit rather prevent crime.

“The Department of Homeland Security is saying that if your site is a so-called ‘cesspool of hate,’ it wants a private company to leave you unprotected from an illegal attack so your political enemies can drive you off the Internet,” said Jared Taylor at the time. He compared it to the local police deciding to look the other way if robbers attack a watch-dog-certified “hater.” Mr. McAleenan’s venture into anti-racist authoritarianism didn’t stop leftists from calling President Trump a white supremacist, nor did it prevent the President himself from being deplatformed.

The Biden Administration has been worse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy cited a report from the “Center for Countering Digital Hate” that listed the “Disinformation Dozen,” blaming them for spreading misinformation. President Joe Biden even said Facebook was “killing people” by allowing certain accounts, though he backtracked. Still, the President got what he wanted. “Facebook on Wednesday announced that it had taken action against the so-called ‘disinformation dozen,’” wrote Oliver Darcy for CNN, “one month after the White House singled out the twelve people.” The White House “singling out” accounts for termination was apparently not even controversial.

By February 2022, the censorship and deplaforming that began with white advocates had spread to popular podcaster Joe Rogan. Spotify posted warning labels on his episodes about COVID-19. “So, this disclaimer, it’s a positive step,” said then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, “but we want every platform to continue doing more to call out misinformation while also uplifting accurate information.” In April, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new “Disinformation Governance Board,” which would have been headed by Nina Jankowicz. She was herself spreading nonsense about many things, especially about Hunter Biden’s laptop, which she called a “Trump campaign product.” The “Disinformation Governance Board” mercifully died the next month.

Senators Josh Hawley and Charles Grassley then released documents showing that the board would have formed a partnership with Twitter to fight “disinformation,” including “conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections,” “disinformation related to the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines or the efficacy of masks,” and “falsehoods surrounding U.S. government immigration policy.” Around that same time, videos from Project Veritas showed a Twitter engineer admitting that the company censors the Right, but not the Left.

In October, The Intercept reported on DHS documents that were leaked or became public because of a lawsuit. DHS and FBI were clearly trying to control online speech. FBI official Laura Dehmlow said, “We need a media infrastructure that is held accountable.” The report also disclosed a “formalized process for government officials to directly flag content on Facebook or Instagram and request that it be throttled or suppressed.” The FBI also reportedly manufactured cases of potentially violent white, right-wing extremists to meet internal quotas.

This had all been reported piecemeal before the “Twitter files” appeared, but outsiders could only speculate on exactly how social media work with the federal government. Elon Musk, head of Twitter, now says “almost every conspiracy theory that people had about Twitter turned out to be true.” He added that the worst speculations might be even “more true than people thought.”

Elon Musk. (Credit Image: © Patrick Pleul/dpa via ZUMA Press)

How did it all begin? Journalists, media executives, intelligence officials, and liberal politicians were clearly shocked that President Donald Trump won in 2016. They had underestimated him and the nationalist Right. Many suspected that it was then that they decided that the election of someone like Mr. Trump could never again be permitted, and that the best way to forestall catastrophe was to stop Americans from getting certain information. They silently vowed never to lose control of online speech again. In the tradition of Herbert Marcuse, they would censor only right-wingers and say this was “defending democracy.” President Trump’s 2016 victory therefore restricted what could be said online, and he did nothing about that when he had power.

Andrew Prokop at Vox has a clear-eyed view of liberal motives. “After Trump won,” he wrote, “many leading figures in politics, tech, media, and law enforcement concluded that major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook should have done more to stop this Russian interference effort . . . . However, for many with significant power over media, it was Donald Trump that was the problem, not necessarily Russia.” He went on:

One worldview — accepted to varying degrees by liberals, anti-Trump conservatives, and significant portions of the tech and media industries — was that Trump’s presidency was an unprecedented threat to US democracy, that he was enabling a rise of hate toward minority groups that put lives at risk, that his constant lies amounted to an assault on the truth, and that a society-wide effort to resist him was necessary. “Business as usual” in media or tech companies is no longer tenable if you believe your country is sliding into authoritarianism, this argument goes. Journalists and tech workers shouldn’t be neutral toward the prospect of American democracy ending, they should instead take a values-based stand in defense of it . . . .

Censorship is bad enough. People should have the right to be wrong. However, we white advocates especially despise it because we are objectively right about race, and egalitarians are wrong. They cover their inability to refute us with the claim that the science is settled.

The Left should recoil from censorship in the name of “democracy” — it has always accused the Right of authoritarianism. Now, it is the Left that has destroyed what were once unquestionable democratic norms about freedom of speech by using government agencies against political adversaries. When President Richard Nixon mused about using the IRS against his enemies, liberals called it a crime. This was one of the specific charges in the 1974 articles of impeachment. Now a Democrat Congress releases President Trump’s personal tax filings, even though there was nothing shocking or illegal in them. This is typical leftist caprice: “It’s OK when we do it.”

Twitter intensified censorship after the 2016 election. The most recent Twitter Files show how intelligence agencies moved into Twitter and changed its policy. After President Trump’s victory, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) pressured the company. He thought it wasn’t doing enough to stop Russian interference. When Twitter found little evidence of serious Russian manipulation, Democrats threatened Twitter and other companies with new regulations. BuzzFeed piled on, claiming that it had found a “network” on Twitter with links to “Russian-linked bot accounts.” Twitter employees hoped they could survive the media firestorm, but the combined pressure from journalists and politicians for more censorship broke the company’s will.

Matt Taibbi published internal communications showing that the United States Intelligence Community (USIC) had a great deal of power over what would be allowed on Twitter, all while Twitter claimed it was making the decisions. This was the subject of the Twitter Files Part Two, published by Bari Weiss. Twitter abandoned its original mission of promoting free speech and instead built a secret system to promote the messages it preferred. It was guilty of false advertising.

A year ago, if you argued that Twitter must surely have categories such as “Search Blacklist” or “Do Not Amplify” to use against mainstream conservatives such as Dan Bongino or Charlie Kirk, you would sound crazy. That’s exactly what Twitter did.

What Miss Weiss called the “secret group” that determined the fate of high-level accounts was the “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,” or “SIP-PES.” This included the CEO and former head of Global Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth, a far-left activist who saw the Trump Administration as Nazis. Mr. Roth was especially eager to “deamplify” content he didn’t like.

The account “@libsofTikTok,” which mostly republishes things that leftists themselves post, was a special target.

Rules about doxing were also selectively enforced.

Part three of the Twitter files showed that Twitter removed President Donald Trump even though employees themselves admitted he hadn’t violated policy. Extensive communication with government officials preceded this decision, something Mr. Roth seemed to enjoy. Mr. Roth met weekly with the FBI, the DHS, and even the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. These agencies seemed to tell Twitter what it should and should not allow to be said about the 2020 election. Intelligence agencies were also involved in the decision to censor an accurate story about Hunter Biden’s laptop. According to a poll published by the New York Post, almost 80 percent of Americans think “truthful” coverage of Hunter Biden’s laptop would have changed the election result. (Eleven percent still think Russians made it all up.)

Many internal communications used the messaging app Slack.

The FBI would flag specific tweets. After that, Twitter would invent an excuse to take them down.

The Twitter Files Part Four showed that Twitter no longer cared about free speech. Executives just wanted to boot Donald Trump. However, this didn’t just happen all at once. Activist groups, especially the ADL, pushed for this. There was a coalition against free speech. Pressure was also coming from progressives inside the company, especially Mr. Roth. CEO Jack Dorsey seemed to be the lone voice who valued free speech for its own sake.

This article is being published on January 6, 2023, the date of the riot at the Capitol and the killing of Ashli Babbit. The violence at the Capitol was wrong and set back the American Right. However, President Trump’s actual tweets (now on his unused but restored account) call on the crowd to stay lawful and peaceful.

President Trump, quite directly, said the election was stolen. He also praised the crowd. However, he did not tell the crowd to attack the Capitol. In the past, Twitter said that the way tweets are interpreted — an exercise in mind-reading — couldn’t be what determines policy. However, after January 6, that changed.

In Part Five of the Twitter Files, Bari Weiss explains the precise details of President Trump’s ban. He earned a “strike” when he posted a video that told protesters/rioters to “go home” but also said “we love you” and that the election was “stolen.”

One employee compared this to Communist dictatorship.

President Trump later posted this.

Twitter employees acknowledged that this did not incite violence.

President Trump said he would not be attending in the inauguration. This was also not a violation.

Bari Weiss gives examples of other world leaders, including those of Iran, Malaysia, and Ethiopia, who tweeted things far more violent than anything President Trump did. They were not banned. Thus, there was no reason to suspend Donald Trump. Twitter did it anyway, because Vijaya Gadde, head of “Legal, Policy, and Trust” said that although his tweet about American Patriots wasn’t a “rule violation on its face,” it could be “coded incitement.” Thus, her fantasies about what President Trump’s rather clear statement might mean sealed his fate.

After that, other Twitter employees decided that the reference to “American Patriots” supported terrorism. President Trump’s account was finished.

Progressive employees who oppose freedom of speech for people they think are “Nazis” overcame Jack Dorsey’s reluctance to ban a head of state. Mr. Dorsey should have done a better job preventing extremists from gaining power inside the company. Twitter employees clearly didn’t care about free speech and activist groups and journalists were also demanding more censorship. The result was capture by the authoritarian and “woke” Left, something we’ve also seen at PayPal and elsewhere. It has become a drearily familiar story.

We should not overlook direct government involvement. “I think we can say pretty conclusively,” wrote Matt Taibbi, “after looking at tens of thousands of emails over the course of these weeks, that the government was in the censorship business in a huge way — that’s, I think, provable now.” He went on to say that “really every conceivable wing of the enforcement agencies of the U.S. government were in some way or another sending moderation requests to Twitter and in many cases those requests were being fulfilled.” The FBI has fallen back on dismissing these reports. “It is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency,” it said. This is no conspiracy theory. This is conspiracy fact. FBI denials show how arrogant the organization has become. Even the Wall Street Journal has published an opinion piece called “Abolish the FBI.”

Some of the Twitter staffers who eventually overruled Jack Dorsey were former FBI employees themselves. With Twitter meeting regularly with the agency, these were essentially colleagues working together. The New York Post reported that more than a dozen former employees moved from the bureau to Twitter and that James Baker, the FBI’s former general counsel, worked for Twitter. According to the Twitter Files Part Six, arguably the most shocking, the FBI treated Twitter like a “subsidiary,” identifying specific accounts it wanted taken down. Twitter than dutifully removed them. The FBI had a social-media team of about 80 agents. “The FBI has agents — lots of them — analyzing and mass-flagging social media posts,” wrote Mr. Taibbi. “Not as part of any criminal investigation, but as a permanent, end-in-itself surveillance operation. People should not be ok with this.”

But perhaps it is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) who played the most contemptible role in all this. His office sent a message to Twitter demanding action. “Suspend the many accounts, including @GregRubini and @paulsperry, which have repeatedly promoted false QAnon conspiracies.”

A Twitter employee was taken aback by the audacity. “No, we don’t do this.” Unfortunately, they do — Mr. Sperry was suspended. Why Paul Sperry? He reportedly was going to expose the whistleblower who revealed the phone call to Ukraine by President Trump. That phone call led to President Trump’s first impeachment. Rep. Schiff wanted to smother information that could be politically inconvenient.

Mr. Taibbi shows that the reluctant 2017 decision to remove users identified by the USIC had by 2020 become routine.

To see hard proof of one’s worst fears is shocking. However, the mainstream media is indifferent to these revelations. CNN’s Oliver Darcy is typical:

Led by Fox News, the right-wing media machine is treating the ongoing series of stories as if they were the next Pentagon Papers, breathlessly hyping each new batch of documents as earth-shattering scoops that illuminate horrific abuses of power by woke Twitter overlords of yesteryear.

It’s worse than the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers showed that the American government had secretly expanded the war in Vietnam and lied about it. These documents show that government officials, including intelligence agencies, are trying to control public discussion in the United States. The Pentagon Papers were about a foreign war. The Twitter files are about a domestic war on the First Amendment, led by the very people who are supposed to defend it.

Mr. Darcy continues:

The chief reason most news organizations aren’t up in arms about the story is because the releases have largely not contained any revelatory information. So far, the files have failed to do much outside highlight exactly how messy content moderation can be — especially when under immense pressure and dealing with the former President of the United States.

Many journalists don’t care that we have a government bureaucracy that works with media companies to censor speech and take sides in elections. (We have the Hatch Act to keep government employees out of politics.) It is apparently not major news that intelligence agencies and a congressman can silence political opponents. The efforts to control speech about COVID-19 and vaccines would be a separate article in itself. What’s more, the Twitter Files expose only what happened at Twitter. We can sure that the government has been just as deeply involved with every other platform.

Mr. Taibbi showed that media, agitation from activist groups, and pressure from the government can silence dissent. Only a few journalists, such as Mr. Taibbi himself, still seem to believe that the government should not force a political ideology on the people. Journalists who agree with that ideology think it’s fine.

That doesn’t make it legal. Attorney Jed Rubenfeld writes in The Wall Street Journal that a lawsuit filed by Alex Berenson over his Twitter suspension was dismissed because the judge thought it “implausible” the government was involved in censorship. Now we know it happened all the time. The Catch-22 is that thanks to Elon Musk, we can assume the policies have changed. It could now be hard to sue Twitter, especially if suspended accounts are restored.

However, there is an alternative to suing Twitter or any other platform. Mr. Rubenfeld suggests a class-action suit against the government employees who asked that users be censored. At stake is not just the right of the speaker to speak, but the right of the audience to hear. The Supreme Court agreed in Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (1976). Furthermore, in Norwood v. Harrison (1973), the Court held it was “axiomatic” that the government “may not induce, encourage, or promote private persons to accomplish what it is constitutionally forbidden to accomplish,” namely, engage in censorship. This is precisely what the Twitter files show the government was doing.

The Trump DHS was doing it when it urged private companies to censor people because the feds couldn’t do it directly. Mr. Rubenfled quotes Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh U.S. Circuit of Appeals in v. Dart (2015): “When a government official unconstitutionally attempts to induce a private company not to carry someone else’s speech, the official’s conduct ‘is actionable and can be enjoined.” It’s actionable even if the company ignores it. The mere fact of trying to censor speech is a violation of the First Amendment. Mr. Rubenfeld thinks a user class-action suit against federal defendants has real potential. “The freedom of speech can’t survive in this country if the government is free to work with tech companies to control what can be said or seen in the square,” he concluded.

Unfortunately, while Mr. Musk has done America a great service by bringing these possible crimes to light, he has already turned his back on principle. He refuses to lift the ban on Alex Jones, on the grounds that he has “no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.” Does that include David Hogg and other gun control activists who milk every tragedy to chip away at the Second Amendment? Free speech is not about personal preference. It’s the right to say anything that is not illegal or a direct threat of violence. Mr. Musk is now a censor, and has implicitly endorsed every other account on Twitter because, out of personal preference, he’s letting them stay up. Banning Kanye West and the National Justice Party sends the same message. Journalists will find Twitter accounts they don’t like, write stories about them, rally activists, and blame Mr. Musk for not banning them. We will be right back where we started. The American solution is to restore free speech for all.

Whether journalists or ethnic lobby groups get upset should have no bearing on whether a citizen can express his opinion. The truth also matters. Going along with delusions about racial equivalence is destroying our country and has already destroyed many once-great cities. We can’t solve problems we can’t discuss.

Nor can anyone claim that Twitter is just a private company that can choose what it publishes. It was becoming an arm of American law enforcement. Access should be a civil right.

Our own accounts at AmRen are still reportedly under review. We will not start new ones lest we be accused of “ban evasion.” We patiently await the promised “amnesty” for banned accounts. We never broke any Twitter rules, never promoted an illegal act, never used vulgar language. It may be because we were effective that we were banned. If Mr. Musk dumps all the “Twitter Files,” someday we may see what rationalizations, if any, Twitter employees came up with to ban us.

There is nothing more fundamental to what this country is supposed to be than freedom of speech. The next time our rulers demand a crusade against an authoritarian regime with censored media, questionable elections, and unchecked intelligence agencies, we need not look to Moscow or Beijing. There’s an increasingly authoritarian regime that poses a far more direct threat to Americans right here at home.