This article was originally published by John W. Whitehead and Nisha Whitehead at the Rutherford Institute.
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freedom of speech.”—Benjamin Franklin
Beware of those who want to monitor, muzzle, catalog, and censor speech.
Especially be on your guard when the reasons given for limiting your freedoms end up expanding the government’s powers.
In the wake of a mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, carried out by an 18-year-old gunman in military gear allegedly motivated by fears that the white race is in danger of being replaced, there have been renewed calls for social media monitoring, censorship of flagged content that could be construed as dangerous or hateful, and limitations on free speech activities, particularly online.
As expected, those who want safety at all costs will clamor for more gun control measures (if not an outright ban on weapons for non-military, non-police personnel), widespread mental health screening of the general population and greater scrutiny of military veterans, more threat assessments and behavioral sensing warnings, more surveillance cameras with facial recognition capabilities, more “See Something, Say Something” programs aimed at turning Americans into snitches and spies, more metal detectors and whole-body imaging devices at soft targets, more roaming squads of militarized police empowered to do random bag searches, more fusion centers to centralize and disseminate information to law enforcement agencies, and more surveillance of what Americans say and do, where they go, what they buy and how they spend their time.
All of these measures play into the government’s hands.
As we have learned the hard way, the phantom promise of safety in exchange for restricted or regulated liberty is a false, misguided doctrine that serves only to give the government greater authority to crack down, lockdown, and institute even more totalitarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.
Add the Department of Homeland Security’s “Disinformation Governance Board” to that mix, empower it to monitor online activity and police so-called “disinformation,” and you have the makings of a restructuring of reality straight out of Orwell’s 1984, where the Ministry of Truth polices speech and ensures that facts conform to whatever version of reality the government propagandists embrace.
After all, it’s a slippery slope from censoring so-called illegitimate ideas to silencing the truth.
Eventually, as George Orwell predicted, telling the truth will become a revolutionary act.
If the government can control speech, it can control thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.
It’s been a long time since free speech was actually free.
On paper—at least according to the U.S. Constitution—we are technically free to speak.
In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official—or corporate entities such as Facebook, Google or YouTube—may allow.
That’s not a whole lot of freedom, especially if you’re inclined to voice opinions that may be construed as conspiratorial or dangerous.
This steady, pervasive censorship creep clothed in tyrannical self-righteousness and inflicted on us by technological behemoths (both corporate and governmental) is technofascism, and it does not tolerate dissent.
These internet censors are not acting in our best interests to protect us from dangerous, disinformation campaigns. They’re laying the groundwork now to preempt any “dangerous” ideas that might challenge the power elite’s stranglehold over our lives.
The internet, hailed as a super-information highway, is increasingly becoming the police state’s secret weapon. This “policing of the mind” is exactly the danger author Jim Keith warned about when he predicted that “information and communication sources are gradually being linked together into a single computerized network, providing an opportunity for unheralded control of what will be broadcast, what will be said, and ultimately what will be thought.”
What we are witnessing is the modern-day equivalent of book burning which involves doing away with dangerous ideas—legitimate or not—and the people who espouse them.
Where we stand now is at the juncture of OldSpeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted). The power elite has made their intentions clear: they will pursue and prosecute any and all words, thoughts, and expressions that challenge their authority.
Having been reduced to a cowering citizenry—mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all—we have nowhere left to go and nothing left to say that cannot be misconstrued and used to muzzle us.
Yet what a lot of people fail to understand, however, is that it’s not just what you say or do that is being monitored, but how you think that is being tracked and targeted.
We’ve already seen this play out on the state and federal level with hate crime legislation that cracks down on so-called “hateful” thoughts and expression, encourages self-censoring and reduces free debate on various subject matters.
With every passing day, we’re being moved further down the road towards a totalitarian society characterized by government censorship, violence, corruption, hypocrisy, and intolerance, all packaged for our supposed benefit in the Orwellian doublespeak of national security, tolerance, and so-called “government speech.”
Little by little, Americans have been conditioned to accept routine incursions on their freedoms.
This is how oppression becomes systemic, what is referred to as creeping normality, or death by a thousand cuts.
It’s a concept invoked by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond to describe how major changes if implemented slowly in small stages over time, can be accepted as normal without the shock and resistance that might greet a sudden upheaval.
Diamond’s concerns related to Easter Island’s now-vanished civilization and the societal decline and environmental degradation that contributed to it, but it’s a powerful analogy for the steady erosion of our freedoms and decline of our country right under our noses.
As Diamond explains, “In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism… Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?”
His answer: “I suspect that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper.”
Much like America’s own colonists, Easter Island’s early colonists discovered a new world—“a pristine paradise”—teeming with life. Yet almost 2000 years after its first settlers arrived, Easter Island was reduced to a barren graveyard by a populace so focused on their immediate needs that they failed to preserve paradise for future generations.
The same could be said of America today: it, too, is being reduced to a barren graveyard by a populace so focused on their immediate needs that they are failing to preserve freedom for future generations.
In Easter Island’s case, as Diamond speculates:
“The forest…vanished slowly, over decades. Perhaps war interrupted the moving teams; perhaps by the time the carvers had finished their work, the last rope snapped. In the meantime, any islander who tried to warn about the dangers of progressive deforestation would have been overridden by vested interests of carvers, bureaucrats, and chiefs, whose jobs depended on continued deforestation… The changes in forest cover from year to year would have been hard to detect… Only older people, recollecting their childhoods decades earlier, could have recognized a difference. Gradually trees became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance. That left only smaller and smaller palm saplings to clear each year, along with other bushes and treelets. No one would have noticed the felling of the last small palm.”
Sound painfully familiar yet?
We’ve already torn down the rich forest of liberties established by our founders. It has vanished slowly, over the decades. Those who warned against the dangers posed by too many laws, invasive surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids and the like have been silenced and ignored. They stopped teaching about freedom in the schools. Few Americans know their history. And even fewer seem to care that their fellow Americans are being jailed, muzzled, shot, tasered, and treated as if they have no rights at all.
The erosion of our freedoms happened so incrementally, no one seemed to notice. Only the older generations, remembering what true freedom was like, recognized the difference. Gradually, the freedoms enjoyed by the citizenry became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last freedom falls, no one will know the difference.
This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls: with a thousand cuts, each one justified or ignored or shrugged over as inconsequential enough by itself to bother, but they add up.
Each cut, each attempt to undermine our freedoms, each loss of some critical right—to think freely, to assemble, to speak without fear of being shamed or censored, to raise our children as we see fit, to worship or not worship as our conscience dictates, to eat what we want and love who we want, to live as we want—they add up to an immeasurable failure on the part of each and every one of us to stop the descent down that slippery slope.
We are on that downward slope now.
The contagion of fear that has been spread with the help of government agencies, corporations, and the power elite is poisoning the well, whitewashing our history, turning citizen against citizen, and stripping us of our rights.
America is approaching another reckoning right now, one that will pit our commitment to freedom principles against a level of fear-mongering that is being used to wreak havoc on everything in its path.
Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, while we squabble over which side is winning this losing battle, a tsunami approaches.