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Update on Thought Police Here and Abroad.

Update on Thought Police Here and Abroad.

Posted by Ed Folsom, February 22, 2024.

Are you aware of how much our government polices online speech, suppressing what it dislikes and boosting speech that furthers its narratives? The practice is pervasive. Last July, in Missouri v. Biden, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued an injunction against certain Biden Administration officials and federal agencies, enjoining them from engaging in ongoing censorship against disfavored speech on social media platforms. The case is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, restyled as Murthy v. Missouri.

Judge Doughty’s injunction against the government was later narrowed by the Firth Circuit Court of Appeals and is currently stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision. Still, Doughty’s ruling is worth reading. It’s chock full of details of the Biden Administration’s online censorship campaign. Although the lawsuit deals largely with the Administration’s censoring of disfavored speech related to COVID-19, the censorship was much broader than that, and it continued on the date of Doughty’s order, July 4, 2023.

Doughty described the censorship’s reach:

In addition to misinformation regarding COVID-19, the White House also asked social-media companies to censor misinformation regarding climate change, gender discussions, abortion, and economic policy. At an Axios event entitled “A Conversation on Battling Misinformation,” held on June 14, 2022, the White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy (“McCarthy”) blamed social-media companies for allowing misinformation and disinformation about climate change to spread and explicitly tied these censorship demands with threats of adverse legislation regarding the Communications Decency Act.

Shortly before Judge Doughty issued his order, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government issued an interim staff report titled, The Weaponization of CISA: How a “Cybersecurity” Agency Colluded with Big Tech and “Disinformation” Partners to Censor Americans. I blogged about the court’s order and the House report at the time. The “CISA” that is the subject of the House report is the Critical Infrastructure and Cybersecurity Agency, one of the agencies within the sweep of the Missouri v. Biden injunction.

CISA is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission and mission creep are described as follows in the House Report:

Ostensibly created to protect the electrical grid and other “critical infrastructure” sectors from cybersecurity threats CISA, a little-known agency buried in the depths of DHS, soon expanded its mission to combat “foreign disinformation.” Not long thereafter, under the pretext of protecting “election infrastructure,” CISA began surveilling and censoring American citizens online, directly and by proxy.

CISA’s censorship campaign is directed at what it calls “MDM,” for misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation. The House report explains the rationale underlying the use of an agency created to protect the electric grid and “critical infrastructure” to censor the social media posts of ordinary Americans:

Jen Easterly, the current Director of CISA, justified CISA’s MDM-related activities by saying: “One could argue we’re in the business of critical infrastructure, and the most critical infrastructure is our cognitive infrastructure, so building that resilience to misinformation and disinformation, I think, is incredibly important.”

What do “thought police” protect?

“Cognitive infrastructure”—the infrastructure of thought — is the most critical “infrastructure” of all, according to CISA’s director. The CISA must protect it.

What brought this back around for me in recent days was a blog post by the pseudonymous German blogger, Eugyppius. His post reported on a recent joint press conference involving Germany’s Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, and the President of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Thomas Haldenwang. Haldenwang’s comment on the need to protect the State against the speech of people he calls “right-wing extremists” particularly caught my attention: “We must be careful not to allow such thought and speech patterns to become part of our language,” he declared.

Haldenwang’s remark betrays a mindset that is remarkably similar to Jen Easterly’s — the state must carefully police speech to shield the cognitive infrastructure from unacceptable ideas. I wonder, whose cognitive infrastructure is it that needs protection? Is it the state’s cognitive infrastructure, or society’s cognitive infrastructure, or is there no distinction? Benito Mussolini famously described his “totalitarian state” this way: “Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” These days, people like Easterly and Haldenwang are working to ensure that “cognitive infrastructure” and “thought and speech patterns” remain in the State, not outside the State, not against the State.

Eugyppius sums up Faeser and Haldenwang at last week’s press conference this way:

To summarise: “Right-wing extremists” are a nebulous and difficult-to-identify population of political subverters, who must be unmasked by the political police. This is necessary to control prevailing “thought and speech patterns” in Germany. Once these extremists have been identified by our guardians of orthodoxy, they are to be punished for their mockery of the state, and the regulatory apparatus is to be repurposed to deprive them of everything from income to bank accounts. Their names are to be published so that they can be more easily intimidated and harassed by state-adjacent organisations for their political views, and they are to be prevented from crossing borders and from associating with each other. This is a direct summary of things that a sitting German Interior Minister and one of her top bureaucrats actually said at a national press conference four days ago.

The German power structure and the U.S. power structure are on the same page when they identify the threat that must be eradicated through speech-policing as a “right-wing” or “far right extremist” threat. They never describe threats to thought and language or to the cognitive infrastructure as “leftist” or “far left extremist” threats. Left-centric as they are, all threats to their power are non-left, which they unfailingly describe as “far right” and “extremist,” a label they apply to everything that threatens their grip on power.

They also tell us that the “far right” threatens more than just government-approved thought. It threatens “democracy,” or “our democracy” itself, even when the threat is nothing more than an undesired result in a fair election.

Mike Benz, executive director of the Foundation for Freedom Online, and former State Department official, recently described the phenomenon in an interview with Tucker Carlson. Benz runs down not only where we are in this regard, but how we got here. If you’ve ever wondered why so many potential outcomes of so many democratic elections here and abroad are referred to as threats to democracy, listen to Benz explain the how, the who, the why, and the history of state-sponsored internet censorship.

I know, Tucker Carlson did the interview with Benz, so you aren’t supposed to watch it. Our guardians of the cognitive infrastructure have told you that Carlson is a Putin puppet — a right-wing, election denying, MAGA, phobophobe — you’ll turn to stone if you watch him out of context. Pay no attention to Tucker Carlson’s questions then. He pretty much lets Benz go uninterrupted anyway.

Pay attention to Mike Benz. He won’t melt your cognitive powers, I promise. In fact, he might help you to regain some that you’ve lost while being shielded against disfavored information by the government and its private sector, civil society, and media/“fact checking” collaborators — the Whole-of-Society censorship coalition.

Do you remember Brexit and all the times we were told that Great Britain’s exit from the European Union would ruin Great Britain and might mark the end of European civilization as we know it? Right-wing, populist, authoritarian, blah-dee-blah-dee-blah extremists were about to ruin everything. Maybe that particular bit of fright-hype has been memory-holed for you. See how easy it is to forget these existential threats to democracy when the conveyor belt of fright-hypes just keeps on delivering the next, followed by the next, followed by the next?

For that, you can thank your friendly neighborhood thought police and the ruling class they protect and serve.