It’s not every day that a federal judge asks attorneys representing the president if they’ve read their “1984.”
Yet Judge Terry A. Doughty did just that last month, invoking the dystopian novel in questioning lawyers for President Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other officials about their Orwellian conduct.
These are the defendants in perhaps the most consequential First Amendment case you’ve never heard of.
That case, Missouri v. Biden, has exposed arguably the most extensive mass-surveillance and mass-censorship regime in the history of mankind.
In so doing, it has set in motion events that could lead to that regime’s collapse.
The plaintiffs, led by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana and prominent censorship victims, allege that the feds have engaged in a conspiracy to violate the First Amendment by coercing social-media platforms to censor “wrongthink” under the guise of combatting “mis-, dis- and mal-information.”
The targeted speech first concerned skepticism about the integrity and outcome of the 2020 election, expanded to cover all aspects of COVID-19 and now may encompass everything from “gendered disinformation” to financial events and the Russian-Ukrainian War.
Through limited but revealing discovery, the plaintiffs have compiled overwhelming evidence to support their case.
The evidence shows dozens of officials across at least 11 agencies — from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Health, Human Services to the FBI, Homeland Security, plus the White House — all chiding, cajoling and colluding with social-media platforms.
They also partner with “private” censorship cutouts — all in an effort to suppress disfavored speech.
The feds have hectored platforms, often under threat of crippling regulation, about the imperative to censor wrongthink.
They’ve flagged and “fact-checked” content for censorship and pressed platforms to modify their terms of service to allow them to “moderate,” for example, material derived from “hacked” sources.
At the same time, they groomed platforms to know what to quash, leading to the suppression of The Post’s accurate reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
No wonder Doughty likened of the government’s efforts to the fictional ones captured in George Orwell’s “1984.”
To appreciate how extensive these efforts were, consider the results of one such public-private censorship partnership.
In the run-up to the 2020 election, Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency — a “nerve center” of government-led censorship, the plaintiffs charge — worked with a “private” “anti-disinformation” consortium of four research organizations called the Election Integrity Partnership.
EIP was created, it says, to fill the “critical gap” left by the fact no federal agency “has a focus on, or authority regarding, election misinformation originating from domestic sources within the United States.” (Emphasis added.)
The consortium launched only after the concept was presented to CISA.
It was supposedly conceived of, in part, by students at one of its partner organizations, the Stanford Internet Observatory, who were interning at CISA.
SIO and its partners have an incestuous relationship with the US government: The observatory’s leader, Alex Stamos, formed a consultancy with ex-CISA Director Chris Krebs after the 2020 election.
Stamos and other EIP leaders have served on CISA advisory panels.
Several EIP arms have received federal funding.
EIP targeted speech on the 2020 elections that questioned both the unprecedented election rules governing them and their results by lobbying social media to more aggressively moderate offending election content.
It also mined the platforms for such content, gathered it from partners and then flagged it for suppression via “tickets” sent to the platforms’ operators.
During the 2020 election alone, EIP collected 859 million tweets for “misinformation” analysis.
It flagged tweets shared 22 million times that the platform labeled “misinformation,” largely under EIP-supported standards.
Its work impacted hundreds of millions of posts and videos across social media under content-moderation policies.
Time will tell if the plaintiffs can prove a government-led conspiracy to violate the First Amendment, and end it.
Yet by merely throwing light on this censorship regime, they’ve struck a dramatic blow for liberty.
Their efforts, alongside the Twitter Files and other reportage, are fueling oversight efforts in the Republican-led House, including under the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, aimed at exposing the censorship regime in its totality.
Exposing the regime is the first step to dismantling it.
Congress can do its part by prescribing severe penalties for officials who engage in speech policing, defunding all such offices and preventing federal funds from flowing to their “private” partners.
We never voted for a Ministry of Truth.
Not a single cent more of our money should go towards silencing ourselves.
Benjamin Weingarten, editor at large at RealClearInvestigations, recently testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Accountability on federal speech-policing.