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Free speech is under attack by ‘woke’ government

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Ben Weingarten

Federalist Senior Contributor; Claremont Institute Fellow

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A far-right social media influencer with thousands of followers has been convicted of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Federal prosecutors said Douglass Mackey, who went by the name of “Ricky Vaughn” online, planned a “coordinated attack” on people’s right to vote by posting images to Twitter that resembled campaign ads for Hillary Clinton. The fine print on the bottom of the image stated that people could vote simply by texting “Hillary” to a certain phone number.

Straight Arrow News contributor Ben Weingarten argues the conviction is only the latest example of a woke government clamping down on any dissension and calls for all Americans to take on the “speech police.”

With political correctness having already prevailed for decades over America, then augmented by the imposition of Wokeism via a burgeoning civil society DEI administrative state, and reinforced by a public-private censorship regime, Americans’ right to think and speak freely was already under heavy assault.

But the recent escalation in the War on Wrongthink, under which dissent has literally been criminalized, has killed the First Amendment. The long-term consequences of our Ruling Class’s effort to crush its political foes are hard to foresee, but in the immediate term it would seem free speech is destined to face a big chill.

Consider some recent events, and the logical conclusions to which they lead us. While President Trump was being indicted in Manhattan, over in Brooklyn, Douglass Mackey, a social media influencer, was being convicted over a satirical meme — facing a long stint in jail for a literal thought crime. 

He jokingly tweeted out to his followers that they could text a number to vote for Hillary Clinton in the days before the 2016 election, with the hashtag #ImWithHer. Forty-nine hundred people did text that number on or around election day — though we have no idea how many of them were actually eligible voters, whether they were actually trying to vote, and if they would’ve ever seen the tweet had the media not given it extensive coverage.

The government characterized this as a dangerous disinformation campaign, as a fraud, but didn’t charge it that way. Instead it convicted him of “Conspiracy Against Rights stemming from his scheme to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote.”

Mackey faces up to 10 years in prison under a law that punishes people who “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” others – that is, people who engage in actual aggression against others that violates or threatens to violate their rights, not for sending a meme, an obvious joke. To think his tweets are criminal is anything but a laughing matter.

With political correctness having already prevailed for decades over America, then-augmented by the imposition of Wokeism via a burgeoning civil society DEI administrative state, and reinforced by a public-private censorship regime, Americans’ right to think and speak freely was already under heavy assault.

But the recent escalation in the War on Wrongthink, under which dissent has literally been criminalized, has killed the First Amendment.The long-term consequences of our Ruling Class’s effort to crush its political foes are hard to foresee, but in the immediate term it would seem free speech is destined to face a big chill.

Consider some recent events, and the logical conclusions to which they lead us. While President Trump was being indicted in Manhattan, over in Brooklyn Douglass Mackey, a social media influencer, was being convicted over a satirical meme – facing a long stint in jail for a literal thought crime. 

He jokingly tweeted out to his followers that they could text a number to vote for Hillary Clinton in the days before the 2016 election, with the hashtag #ImWithHer. 4,900 people did text that number on or around election day – though we have no idea how many of them were actually eligible voters, whether they were actually trying to vote, and if they would’ve ever seen the tweet had the media not given it extensive coverage.

The government characterized this as a dangerous disinformation campaign, as a fraud, but didn’t charge it that way. Instead it convicted him of “Conspiracy Against Rights stemming from his scheme to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote.” He faces up to 10 years in prison under a law that punishes people who “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” others – that is, who engage in actual aggression against people that violates or threatens to violate their rights, not for sending a meme, an obvious joke. To think his tweets are criminal is anything but a laughing matter.

As former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Andy McCarthy put it, the case was a “three-fer: the prosecutorial creation of a crime Congress has not prescribed, the trivialization of civil-rights law, and the intrusion of government as a monitor of political speech.”

So you have to think twice now about what you meme if it relates to politics. And politics is a core part of First Amendment protected speech. What about the right to peaceably assemble, and petition government for a redress of grievances – protesting?

January 6th has put an end to that, at least if you’re on the right. After it was announced that President Trump would be indicted, he called for people to peacefully protest. Few did.  On social media the response among prominent pundits and activists alike was this: “Why would I want to end up in a DC gulag like the January 6ers?” As we’ve covered, authorities have treated the Capitol breach as one of the worst terrorist attacks in America history. They have slapped hundreds of defendants with a charge from the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation responding to the Enron scandal never applied before, “obstruction of an official proceeding,” and put the fear of G-d in people who would think about protesting on behalf of the wrong cause.

Jokingly, but with a hint of seriousness, the expectation expressed on social media was that feds would be trying to entrap people – engaging on social media platforms to try and rile them up, get them out on the streets, and then crack down on another insurrection.

How about challenging your local school board? Well as the House Weaponization Committee has clearly demonstrated, the FBI targeted concerned parents, baselessly, as domestic terrorists. So you might want to think twice about questioning your kids’ curriculum.

What about just going to Church? Well now we’ve learned that at least in Virginia, the FBI was targeting “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology.” The FBI, relying on at least one source there, sought to use local religious organizations as “new avenues for tripwire and source development.” 

So be careful about where and how you worship too. And then of course there’s President Trump, facing an indictment without the underlying crime being listed. So who wants to serve at a high level, or any level now? Who wants to staff a future Republican administration given what Trump and everyone in his circle and even at far remove from it who supports him has faced. It is unimaginable what won’t be said about an ever-growing list of highly subjective, contentious, and critical issues – including the most important ones of church and state; it is unimaginable the decent, intelligent, patriotic people who will sit on the sidelines and avoid entering the fray in relation to these issues. 

What all of this comes down to is that no dissent from state orthodoxy can be tolerated. In this brave new world, courage, a characteristic already in low supply, is destined to prove the most critical of traits. 

So too will prudence and tact. Combatting these literal speech police is going to be one of the defining challenges of our time. Americans of all political persuasions must take it on, or risk losing everything.

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