The 'COVID-19 Hate Crimes' Bill Is a Thought Crime Bill | Opinion

In the Woke America we increasingly inhabit, opposing the progressive agenda is treated as tantamount to bigotry. The modern Democratic Party's modus operandi is to play up that purported bigotry as a pretext to savage and smear political adversaries, run roughshod over our rights, and ultimately usurp power in the self-serving name of virtue and "equity."

This manifests itself in all kinds of unexpected ways, with unexpectedly far-reaching consequences.

Consider, for example, the original draft of the recently introduced "COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act."

On its face, the bill, sponsored by Mazie Hirono (D-HI)—the due process-denying, discriminating senator from Hawaii—seemed an almost-parodic piece of show legislation purporting to birth a novel pandemic-based offense.

As Senator Hirono's related comments made clear, the bill aimed to create the appearance of concern about the rise in anti-Asian hate, while ascribing such hate to Senator Hirono's political adversaries.

At first glance, the bill's substantive impact was minimal. The legislation called for the U.S. attorney general to tap a single individual to expedite review of "COVID-19 hate crimes and reports of any such crime to federal, state or local law enforcement agencies." It also called for the attorney general to direct state and local law enforcement agencies to create online databases of hate crimes or related incidents.

What exactly this would do to combat violence perpetrated against Asians in America was unclear.

Worth noting, too, was the fact that the legislation was premised on several implicit assumptions that its drafters failed to prove: that the Department of Justice and other authorities were inadequately addressing such crimes; that such reporting portals would further the cause of justice; and that the claimed rise in such crimes was rooted in empirical, rather than anecdotal, evidence. On this last point, the media has reported a surge of anti-Asian hate, but the data suggests that anti-Asian crimes may have merely risen from mercifully miniscule levels to slightly less miniscule levels.

But the least justified premise of the bill was the one that was most putatively "problematic" in the eyes of the bill's drafters: That perpetrators of anti-Asian hate targeted Asians because they were riled up by pandemic-associated rhetoric—that calling the Chinese coronavirus by its rightful name incites people to violence against Asians. This narrative, ubiquitous yet unsubstantiated, was at the heart of the bill.

The original COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act defined such a hate crime as being motivated in part by "the actual or perceived relationship to the spread of COVID-19 of any person," and called for the attorney general and the secretary of health and human services to, "in coordination with the COVID-19 Health Equity Task force and community-based organizations," issue guidance on "best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic."

That is, Senator Hirono's bill was not so much about hate crimes—it was about thought crimes. It aimed to chill and control speech that Senator Hirono, her 44 Senate co-sponsors and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) alike disapproved of—speech, that is, which rightly reminds us of Communist China's preeminent culpability in this year-plus global crisis.

Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The bill was an analogue to President Joe Biden's executive order, covered previously at Newsweek, which also sought to make verboten any such language across the entire executive branch of government.

Were the bill to have passed in its original form, its impact would have been more widespread than that of the president's executive action. The bill would have opened the floodgates to a slew of new thought crimes couched as hate crimes. In the future, a Democrat-authored bill may still attempt to do just that.

What made the bill all the more ludicrous—beyond the impracticality, if not impossibility, of tying a hate crime to "the actual or perceived relationship [of a victim] to the spread of COVID-19"—was that Senator Hirono had long fingered the Trump administration as having been the driving force behind anti-Asian hate in the coronavirus era, through use of terms like the "Wuhan virus." Yet it was the Trump administration that took on, to an unprecedented degree, arguably the greatest tormenter of Asians in world history: the CCP.

The Trump administration did so while Senator Hirono and many of her fellow Democrats have not only effectively run interference for the CCP by policing language about the coronavirus, but advanced the CCP's own narratives about America's deplorability. These same Democrats have held their tongues over the systemic discrimination perpetrated by monolithically progressive academic institutions across the U.S. against Asians.

Bigotry of any kind, and physical violence perpetrated as a consequence of that bigotry, ought to be roundly condemned and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But that Democrats in their rhetoric and policy increasingly embrace an "equity" agenda that explicitly calls for discriminating against some for the benefit of others—freedom of speech and our other freedoms alike be damned—underscores that the charge of bigotry is being wielded not to achieve justice, but to attain power by any means necessary.

Because of the apparent political unpalatability of Senator Hirono's bill, at the 11th hour she ultimately agreed to a compromise amendment forged with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). The title of the bill remains intact, as do some of the general provisions, but the notion of a "COVID-19 hate crime" itself was gutted, left only to exist in the abstract.

The amended version of the bill strains to tie some figures to the assertion that anti-Asian hate has correlated with the coronavirus. But the fact that it resorts to framing the recent shootings of several Asians by a disturbed individual at Atlanta-area massage parlors, which by all accounts had nothing to do with the backgrounds of the victims, demonstrates the evidence may prove wanting.

Nevertheless, we have thankfully been spared a disastrous law, to the extent the bill in amended form passes.

But the Overton window continues to shift. And the original draft of this bill betrays the truth of our present and future.

Ben Weingarten is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, fellow at the Claremont Institute and senior contributor to The Federalist. He is the author of American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party (Bombardier, 2020). Ben is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and production company. Subscribe to his newsletter at bit.ly/bhwnews, and follow him on Twitter: @bhweingarten.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.