The US Constitution was ratified in 1789. Nine years later, in a fit of frenzy over enemies domestic and foreign, the US Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Sedition Act in particular imposed nationwide censorship edicts that made it illegal to criticize the government or its officials. The public was so furious about the obvious attack on the First Amendment that Thomas Jefferson was swept into the White House in the election of 1800, with a specific mandate to end the outrage. The offending laws were promptly repealed.
The significance of the events was to demonstrate to an entire generation that eternal vigilance would be necessary if the US was to remain what it set out to be. Even with a Constitution, government is a threat to human rights.
The Americans would not let it stand. It was not a partisan issue, despite how the champions of censorship tried to make it one. It is about one word: freedom. That was the whole point of the American experiment. No crisis justifies taking it away.
Two centuries and a quarter later, we’ve faced something similar but far more wide-ranging. Social media was invented to give everyone a voice. But under the guise of pandemic management, unelected government officials worked daily for years with all the top social media platforms to silence dissident voices. Many of those voices are associated with Brownstone Institute.
“If the allegations made by plaintiffs are true,” wrote US District Judge Terry A. Doughty in a brilliant memo that should be read by everyone, “the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history. The plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the government has used its power to silence the opposition.”
And because of that, the judge has issued (on July 4, 2023) an injunction naming many unelected government officials from many different agencies.
Here is a list of the defendants named:
Defendants consist of President Joseph R Biden (“President Biden”), Jr, Karine Jean-Pierre (“Jean-Pierre”), Vivek H Murthy (“Murthy”), Xavier Becerra (“Becerra”), Dept of Health & Human Services (“HHS”), Dr. Hugh Auchincloss (“Auchincloss”), National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (“NIAID”), Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (“CDC”), Alejandro Mayorkas (“Mayorkas”), Dept of Homeland Security (“DHS”), Jen Easterly (“Easterly”), Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”), Carol Crawford (“Crawford”), United States Census Bureau (“Census Bureau”), U. S. Dept of Commerce (“Commerce”), Robert Silvers (“Silvers”), Samantha Vinograd (“Vinograd”), Ali Zaidi (“Zaidi”), Rob Flaherty (“Flaherty”), Dori Salcido (“Salcido”), Stuart F. Delery (“Delery”), Aisha Shah (“Shah”), Sarah Beran (“Beran”), Mina Hsiang (“Hsiang”), U. S. Dept of Justice (“DOJ”), Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Laura Dehmlow (“Dehmlow”), Elvis M. Chan (“Chan”), Jay Dempsey (“Dempsey”), Kate Galatas (“Galatas”), Katharine Dealy (“Dealy”), Yolanda Byrd (“Byrd”), Christy Choi (“Choi”), Ashley Morse (“Morse”), Joshua Peck (“Peck”), Kym Wyman (“Wyman”), Lauren Protentis (“Protentis”), Geoffrey Hale (“Hale”), Allison Snell (“Snell”), Brian Scully (“Scully”), Jennifer Shopkorn (“Shopkorn”), U. S. Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”), Erica Jefferson (“Jefferson”), Michael Murray (“Murray”), Brad Kimberly (“Kimberly”), U. S. Dept of State (“State”), Leah Bray (“Bray”), Alexis Frisbie (“Frisbie”), Daniel Kimmage (“Kimmage”), U. S. Dept of Treasury (“Treasury”), Wally Adeyemo (“Adeyemo”), U. S. Election Assistance Commission (“EAC”), Steven Frid (“Frid”), and Kristen Muthig (“Muthig”).
As we can observe, then, the effort was government wide and covered two presidential administrations. Unlike in 1798, the silencing of dissident voices took place not because of a piece of legislation voted on by Congress. These unelected people took it upon themselves to police speech and push for the banning of accounts that offered opinions contrary to what the government wanted out there controlling the public mind.
It is not a secret that this has been going on for a long time. The president himself gave interviews demanding that Facebook block accounts for misinformation. The previous presidential spokesperson admitted and bragged that the White House was working closely with all social media accounts. Discovery in the case of Missouri v. Biden has yielded an overwhelming amount of evidence, many thousands of documents cited in the memorandum, proving extensive collusion between government and tech companies.
The damage to the common good by such censorship has been incalculable. In what they called a pandemic, discussion of alternative treatments was banned, as were questions about lockdowns, masking, and vaccination. It was deemed misinformation and disinformation. LinkedIn closed accounts in ways that severely harmed peoples’ careers. Twitter blocked posting in ways that shattered lives. The same happened at all channels. Even up to the day of the injunction, YouTube was still taking down videos at the behest of government officials.
Not even viable presidential candidates like Robert Kennedy, Jr., can count on gaining a voice on the largest video platform. The existing regime is actually silencing its critics in hopes of consolidating control. This habit has been the norm in most countries and most times. But the US was supposed to be different. Here the freedom to speak is protected above even in the interests of government.
This was tested in 1798 and tested again these last three years. “During the COVID-19 pandemic,” writes the judge, “a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian Ministry of Truth.”
The judge further quotes Harry Truman: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one place to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
For many people in the US today, they are just now hearing of this case that has been reported at Brownstone Institute for years now. Indeed, it became very obvious to many of us involved in the Great Barrington Declaration that censorship had become the norm in American public life just as it is around the world. Indeed, the United Nations has made it clear that it believes in censorship for the entire world.
Will this injunction and memo end the problem? No but it is a start. The Supreme Court will likely weigh in and then the real reckoning begins. Are we still a nation that defends and values freedom as an ideal? The answer to this question must be yes else all is lost. Even now, many people are commenting on this injunction with the question: what is the enforcement mechanism?
The question alone highlights the crisis. It’s no longer clear that we are a nation of laws. It’s no longer clear that we live under a representative democracy in which the people rule through those they elect to hold power. This is what must change.
At last this court action may finally provoke a debate about the administrative state that embarked on the great silencing. Its machinery seized control of the country in March 2020 in a great turning point in American history. It’s taken more than three years to finally observe a major pushback. The struggle to maintain freedom will always be with us as a great task of every generation.
Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
For reprints, please set the canonical link back to the original Brownstone Institute Article and Author.