By: Mark Glennon*
Forget James Madison’s warning that “gradual and silent encroachments” of freedom are a more common threat to freedom than “violent and sudden usurpations.”
Having been ignored by most of America for a number of years, the time for that warning is gone.
Last week marked the launch of a massive, overt, coordinated effort to suppress free speech and political dissent by silencing or entirely cancelling the half of America that is right of center.
It is anything but gradual and silent. It is now a five-alarm fire, burning in Illinois as elsewhere. It must be reversed here and everywhere.
The impetus for the new surge was twofold, the first being the Capitol Building incident, or whatever you think it should be properly called – an attack, riot, protest or whatever – it shouldn’t matter how you characterize it because no reasonable person should want to see the tragedy happen ever again.
To prevent its recurrence, what may matter most in the long run is preventing the expansion of the clampdown into generalized suppression of political dissent. Trump will be gone in nine days, but the clampdown’s supporters show no signs of backing off and are doubling down.
Unless they are stopped, legitimate political competition won’t be restored and, most regrettably, the number of Americans who see violence or insurrection as their only option will grow. Five Americans died at the Capitol, and the chapter must never be repeated.
Anybody right of center is now being painted as seditionist or fascist, especially active Trump supporters, even those who were appalled by the Capitol Building incident.
Particularly blatant and inexcusable is the recent attack, apparently coordinated, to destroy Parler, Twitter’s conservative alternative. Almost concurrently, Google and Apple banned Parler from their app stores and Amazon cut off its hosting services. The tech oligarchs went for a threefer by 1) kneecapping a competitor, 2) extending their censorship and 3) sending a warning shot to any others who dare challenge their dominance.
In Illinois, as across America, blame our political leadership, corporate media, big tech and a vicious mob of private citizens for the surge of suppression.
Our top representation in Washington, Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, had already said they were fine with political censorship by tech oligarchs. Durbin actually called for more of it and Duckworth, unbelievably, blamed concerns about tech censorship on a Russian plot.
This past weekend, Durbin said he will team up with Illinois Congressman Brad Schneider to reintroduce the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. In 2019 it passed the House but was blocked by the Senate. With Durbin’s party now controlling the Senate he will have a freer hand to do what he wants with it.
That’s dangerous because the bill was already a threat to political dissent. None other than the ACLU, which is far left, said in 2019 that it will “result in the further unjustified and discriminatory surveillance, investigation, and prosecution of people of color and other marginalized communities, including those engaged in First Amendment-protected activities.” Count on Durbin and Schneider to fix the bill to assure that those abuses are more clearly directed at their political opponents.”
Who in Illinois’ Congressional delegation is fighting hard enough to assure that free speech and political dissent are protected while working to assure that the Capitol Building incident doesn’t occur again?
Nobody in either party that I have seen.
That change in Senate control is the second event that gave impetus to the new surge of autocratic repression. It’s no accident that the surge occurred almost immediately after the Georgia elections made control clear. Big tech oligarchs, especially, know that Congress now has their backs.
Illinois media have been complicit through silence. Our press is not as bad as the national media, most of which now distorts, suppresses and dissembles in the ordinary course, but it sure isn’t critical thereof. They’ve shirked their traditional commitment to free speech by failing to criticize the malpractice and propaganda that prevails in national journalism.
Some of the general public bears blame as well, comprising a ruthless mob intent on destroying the lives of political opponents. Our headlines this week carried multiple stories of people getting fired or ridiculed, irrespective of evidence on whether they were among the criminals who entered the Capitol Building. In social media, the mob published more pictures of those they don’t like with no indication whatsoever of their views about the Capitol Building.
Stephen Colbert might be America’s most famous former Illinoisan. He joined a number of others comparing the Capitol Building incident to the burning of the Reichstag in 1933. “After five years of coddling this president’s fascist rhetoric, guess whose followers want to burn down the Reichstag,” he said.
That’s way over the top. Comparisons to Hitler and Nazis are rarely appropriate. But if the Colberts and others want to go there they should keep going to find the Reichstag’s clearest lesson.
While historians disagree on who set the Reichstag fire — perhaps the Nazis themselves — there is broad agreement that the main historical significance of the fire was the swift torching of a wide array of civil rights by Hitler on the pretext that communists set the fire and threatened to overturn the government. Hitler convinced the German president to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree, which was the end of rights to freedom of expression, public assembly, privacy in communications, habeas corpus and more.
That’s the warning from the fire, and it is among history’s most important. Threatening events, whether real or conjured, can be used to justify the suspension of basic human rights.
Nobody here will use the Capitol Building event to attempt to suppress rights as cruelly as Hitler did. They won’t try and they wouldn’t succeed if they did try. That’s among the reasons why voices of dissent here won’t be silenced. Those Americans who fear for their basic rights aren’t going away, and those who think otherwise are dangerously mistaken.
Therein lies the most frightening potential consequence. If the current surge of authoritarian suppression persists, so too will violent opposition to it. That violence must end, and ending it requires assurance of robust, free expression of political opinion, but that is precisely what is under siege.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.
This article was updated to correct the number of reported dead, changing it from six to five.