Will Free Speech Be the First Casualty of Biden's War on Domestic Terror? | Opinion

Is the Biden administration planning to use the purported threat of "domestic violent extremism" (DVE) to justify a further crackdown on the First Amendment by Big Tech proxy?

The administration's rhetoric and policy on this issue, which has largely gone overlooked, should give all Americans pause.

The January 6 Capitol Riots provided the pretext for the Biden administration to pursue in earnest efforts it was already considering to "combat domestic terrorism."

During a too-little-discussed January 22 press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki detailed the Biden administration's tripartite effort to counter DVE. She noted that the National Security Council-led (NSC) effort to coordinate the federal government response to DVE would focus on, among other things, "the role of social media."

In a subsequent February 1 press conference, Psaki asserted, "We've certainly spoken to, and [President Biden's] spoken to, the need for social media platforms to continue to take steps to reduce hate speech."

That there is no such concept of "hate speech" in American law, and that the administration is pressing putatively private, obviously biased publishing platforms—at this point, barely masquerading as neutral protectors of the free and open digital public square—to police such speech, is itself chilling.

Consider as well the views of those executing the administration's countering DVE initiative. As Psaki disclosed, one such individual is former Obama NSC official Joshua Geltzer. Geltzer, naturally a vocal Trump-loather, has been tasked with leading the anti-DVE "scoping effort." Consider what he has asserted in the past about speech and social media, in the context of domestic terror.

During a September 2019 hearing on "countering violent white supremacy" before the House Oversight Committee's Subcommittees on National Security and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Geltzer testified that tech companies should be "policing their platforms to remove not just incitement to violence, but also the ideological foundations that spawn such violence." [Emphasis mine.]

What exactly might those "ideological foundations" consist of? Do you trust the likes of Jack Dorsey to serve as arbiters of them? If Jack Dorsey is not really calling the shots, do you trust the federal officials—who showed, in their almost-unanimous contempt for President Trump, the extent to which they detest the millions of "wrong-thinking" Americans who supported him—to make relevant determinations reasonably, and in good faith? On what authority would they even be acting?

President Joe Biden on the White House
President Joe Biden on the White House South Lawn Alex Wong/Getty Images

During his testimony, Geltzer was careful to caution that "augmenting efforts against violent white supremacy must not be used as an excuse for interfering with the lawful expression of political advocacy." But it is not clear how one can reconcile policing "ideological" content with this call for non-interference.

There are myriad issues with the administration's coming Domestic War on Terror.

It is not clear that it is merited, given the dubious evidence of the threat of non-jihadist DVE.

It is not clear how wide a net the administration might cast in defining its targets, given rhetoric suggesting that the roughly half of the country voting for Trump consists of "seditionists" and "insurrectionists"—perhaps even "terrorists." What defines "violent extremist" beliefs, and who constitutes a "violent extremist," would seem to be in the eye of the beholder. After all, we are are operating in a Ruling Class-dominated world where one man's jihadist is another man's "austere religious scholar."

Also unclear is the scope of the anti-DVE effort, and therefore the potential threat to our rights. Remember, national security and law enforcement agencies abused their powers in targeting political opponents during the Trump era. Reliable Washington establishmentarians, many of whom are already entrenched in the administrative state, are now reclaiming more top roles. Even before accruing additional authority, dissenters would be in the crosshairs of an out-of-control bureaucracy.

But the threat to political speech specifically may prove the most clear, present and acute danger of them all.

Should the administration collude with Big Tech on "national security" grounds to police whatever content it deems objectionable, the silencing of dissent in the digital sphere may well become a fait accompli.

This would be a national disaster.

Robust political speech—the core protected speech of the First Amendment—is a precondition for a self-governing people. Remove political speech, and the end result is total Ruling Class control of the ideological sphere, and ultimately one-party rule. Attempts to infringe upon our right to free speech—either directly or by proxy—under the guise of a war on "domestic violent extremism" are not only unconstitutional, but fundamentally un-American.

This is the kind of policy you undertake if you wish to tear the country apart, not unify it.

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.

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