By Shaun Kenney May 6, 2022
The letter to the Biden Administration was co-signed by 19 states attorneys general with an alarming warning about free speech.
Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares penned a four-page letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas regarding the existence and operations of the Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) — where Mayorkas testified before US House Appropriations yesterday outlining the scope and mission of this board:
Every American knows that the Constitution forbids the government to “abridg[e] the freedom of speech.” U.S. Const. Amend. I. As Justice Robert Jackson wrote nearly eighty years ago, “[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943).
Your recent testimony before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, however, indicated that the Department of Homeland Security, under your leadership, is doing exactly that: prescribing orthodoxy by slapping a federal-government label of “disinformation” or “misinformation” on speech that government bureaucrats, operating behind closed doors, decree to be improper. This is an unacceptable and downright alarming encroachment on every citizen’s right to express his or her opinions, engage in political debate, and disagree with the government.
One can read the entire text of the four-page letter with signatories HERE.
The Biden administration’s effort to chill free speech has come under intense scrutiny this week from various conservative outlets, not least of which concerning their scope and political bend of the newly-christened DGB:
It would be bad enough if the DGB were a small, stand-alone panel, a la the National Endowment for the Arts. Instead, the DGB operates within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a massive law-enforcement agency with ample guns, ammo, and well-trained federal agents whose firepower would inspire the average enemy of the state to clam up.
Of course, notable about the announcement of the new DGB is the uncanny timing of it all just as Elon Musk announced his intention to purchase Twitter, much to the utter shock of progressives who immediately shifted gears as to whether or not the social media giant was neutral, betraying the left-wing slant and information operations it had waged against conservatives for the better part of a decade. Or as Miyares so carefully notes:
The timing of the Disinformation Governance Board’s creation is also highly suspect. For years, many have defended Twitter’s open censorship of voices hostile to the elite consensus by arguing that private companies enjoy the right to determine what is said on their platforms. This argument only works, however, if those private companies are not censoring on the government’s behalf.
Notably, the individual tapped to take over the privately-run role arrogated by Twitter executives and now nationalized by DHS is one other than Nina Jankowicz, a sharply partisan operative presently employed by the left-leaning Wilson Center. From ABC News:
Jankowicz was quoted by the Associated Press in 2020 refuting a story about the discovery of new emails that reportedly linked Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian energy executive with the president.
“We should view it as a Trump campaign product,” Jankowicz told the AP that October.
She later suggested on Twitter that the emails were “part of an influence campaign.”
“Voters deserve that context, not a fairy tale about a laptop repair shop,” Jankowicz wrote.
The New York Times and Washington Post confirmed the authenticity of the emails related to Hunter Biden with the help of security experts in March.
What sort of disinformation is Jankowicz particularly interested in? For starters, gender disinformation:
And if that doesn’t get your eyebrow raised, then the following article over at The Bulwark — not precisely a hive of reactionary conservative thought — should be enough to raise not only questions about the true role of this DGB but its targets:
The Bulwark: “the chief problem with Jankowicz’s appointment, aside from the concerns about the quality of her research … is that she is a political activist, and her politics consistently color her judgment.”
In fact, one should really take a moment to pour a cup of coffee and read Monika Richter’s excellent article about Janowicz’s qualifications — or lack thereof:
[T]he chief problem with Jankowicz’s appointment, aside from the concerns about the quality of her research summarized above, is that she is a political activist, and her politics consistently color her judgment. Republican officeholders this week have highlighted Jankowicz’s embrace of the Steele dossier, her dismissal of the Hunter Biden laptop story, and her speculation that armed Trump supporters might show up at polls to intimidate voters. Each of these should disqualify her as a credible and fair-minded leader on an extremely sensitive and consequential issue for democratic stability in America. In a co-authored January 2022 piece for the Washington Post, for instance, Jankowicz claims that the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) “struggled under the politicization of the Trump administration” but “is becoming more nimble under Biden.”
This is a tendentious assessment. While it is true that the GEC got off to a rocky start under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, significant progress was made under his successor Mike Pompeo and after Trump’s appointment of Lea Gabrielle as Special Envoy and Coordinator of the GEC in February 2019. During the latter half of the Trump administration, the GEC developed an impressive reputation with international partners. I experienced it firsthand while serving in the East StratCom Task Force. The GEC (particularly its Russia team) was our closest international partner and a staunch advocate of our work. In truth, they were often a better ally in pursuit of our shared objective of enhancing democratic security against authoritarian influence than our parent institution, the European External Action Service, which faltered under fainthearted leadership. The Trump administration did not hinder this agenda; on the contrary. Under Gabrielle’s leadership, the GEC wrote and published in August 2020 a landmark report on Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem—the first-ever such analysis by the U.S. government—that was widely endorsed by experts in the field.
That’s not a spoiler. That is an appetizer.
Of course, it never dawns on the Biden administration whether this DGB would be something they would ever want to put into the hands of the Trump Administration. Or the Bush Administration. Or the Reagan Administration. Pick your poison.
Yet the wider threat of — and I quote — “enforcing silence” rather than promoting free speech puts us into Victor Klemperer territory. Conservatives are already concerned about sharing their true thoughts in the public square for fear of cancel culture of the so-called Twitter mob — which is more bots and a handful of PR consultants with 500 fake accounts than any true mob — even to the point of lying to pollsters for fear that this only throws one more additional data point towards large tech firms who have more information on us than DHS could ever dream.
The Disinformation Governance Board, by its very existence, and almost certainly by design, threatens to “enforce silence” when Americans wish to express views disfavored by the Administration. It is therefore already chilling free speech and impeding the political process in Virginia and every other State. This is unconstitutional, illegal, and un-American.
This is absolutely correct, something that most conservatives feel in their bones (e.g. best of luck expressing your opinion on the draft SCOTUS ruling on Dobbs with the same vitriol pro-abortion activists have spent threatening and beating pro-lifers this week — with zero consequence).
The best solution for bad speech and disinformation isn’t good speech, but free speech.
As Thomas Jefferson is quick to remind us as Virginians, error may be tolerated so long as reason is left free to combat it.
Once again, Miyares leads where others fear to tread.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.