Civil Liberties and the Winds of ‘Change’

Remember back in the bad old  days, when the Bush administration and its amen corner in the flag-lapel button- wearing media were riding high, and Andrew Sullivan was denouncing anyone who opposed Bush’s crazed foreign policy as being part of a pro-terrorist "fifth column"? The atmosphere of those times is something everyone — or practically everyone — would like to forget. Because that’s when all the brave "liberals" and their "progressive" and even "radical" brethren were cowering over the covers, and under the bed, silent as the few who dared to speak out — Susan Sontag, Michael Moore, Phil Donahue, and,  of course, the writers for this web site — were pilloried as being accessories to the murder of those who died on 9/11.   

Back then, it was the left that was being demonized, and the methodology of the War Party was pretty gruesome to behold: like a wolf pack on the rampage, they would glom on to some lone wacko, or marginal group of wackos, who would be held up as exemplars of a broader tendency within the anti-Bush anti-war opposition. I remember an account of an antiwar rally by Andrew Sullivan that homed in on the fact that someone was hawking the edges of the crowd with copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Aha! screeched the Inquisitor-in-chief, an office Sullivan appointed himself to before the smoke had cleared from the ruins of the World Trade Building — the antiwar movement is anti-Semitic! 

As unreasonable and downright weird as this seems, in retrospect there was a method to this madness: the rhetoric of Sullivan and his fellow "war-bloggers" was rich with implications of treason. After all, what nation allows an "fifth column" to operate openly during wartime? Civil liberties are the first items to be thrown overboard when the ship of state starts listing, a fact easily borne out by the history of this country, from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the PATRIOT Act. The pro-war right-wing was clearly trying to create an atmosphere where no one would dare to speak out, for fear of the consequences — and, if anyone did speak out, they were intent on laying the political as well as the legal groundwork for shutting them up forthwith.  

Times change, and so does the political landscape, but one universal principle always obtains: the guys in charge want to silence the opposition, or, at least, so cow them that they daren’t speak above a whisper. In that respect, in spite of the promise of "change" held out by the election of Barack Obama, the old pattern is rather quickly reasserting itself, this time with the ostensible "left" playing the inquisitor role and the right relegated to pariah status.  

Ever since President Obama took the oath of office, his supporters have been characterizing attacks by Republicans — particularly the "shock jocks" of right-wing radio — as "hate  speech." This was line of attack was going on for months, coming out of the collective maw of MSNBC’s Olbermann-Maddow-Matthews axis of "progressivism," and it was a calculated use of language. For "hate speech," so-called, is a legal term, at least in European jurisprudence, that defines language and views that are outlawed. In Britain, to question immigration policy — which is generous in the extreme — in language deemed "racist" by some blinkered bureaucrat is to earn a jail sentence.  

For years, the "anti-racist" opponents of the racist, neo-fascist British National Party (BNP) harassed party members with regulations of this kind, shutting down their publications and arresting their members for violating laws against "hate speech." Instead of trying to answer the arguments put forth by the BNP, and stop them in the way one would in a free society, they simply sought to shut them up — and they wonder why the tide of popular resentment managed to overwhelm such "safeguards" and elect two BNP’ers to the European parliament. You made your bed, Brits, and now you’re forced  to sleep in it

Now, in recent weeks, the investment of the "progressives" in this "hate speech" concept is bearing a particularly ugly and vile-smelling fruit. The horrific murder of Dr. George  Tiller, a provider of late-term abortions, by an anti-abortion nutso, and, more recently, the rampage of an 88-year-old white supremacist at the Holocaust Museum, in which one guard was killed and another person injured — has given the anti-"hate speech" progressives the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. Now that they’re in the driver’s seat, they are demonizing their political opponents with self-righteous fury, trying to link mainstream conservatives with the nuts that cheered the murder of Dr. Tiller and that museum guard — and not so subtly hinting that "hate speech" (as defined by themselves) needs to be "curbed." They’re yelling that a ridiculous-yet-sinister "report" [.pdf] issued by the Department of Homeland Security on "right-wing extremism" was "prescient," and that the "threat" from the "extremist" right must be met with more than mere argumentation. Here is Joan Walsh, the typical Bay Area liberal, in Salon, bloviating about the alleged question of "Can Right-Wing Hate Talk Lead to Murder?" Tooting her own horn about how she was on Chris Matthews the other day, she writes that she tried to choose her words carefully, however: 

"It’s hard not to think about the extreme right-wing rhetoric, especially about Barack Obama, and whether it could conceivably lead to more right-wing violence…" 

Well, yes, it’s hard — especially if you have a not-so-hidden agenda, but never mind: 

"The range of crazy ideas about Obama is broad and wide: He’s a secret Muslim, he’s going to take our guns, he’s even the anti-Christ! James von Brunn just happened to be a ‘birther,’ one of the nuts who believe that Obama wasn’t born here, his birth certificate is fake, and he thus isn’t eligible to be president." 

Notice how a legitimate fear — that the Second Amendment is not sacrosanct in the eyes  of our present rulers — is thrown in there, alongside the "secret Muslim" meme, the anti-Christ meme, and "birther-ism" (a new bogeyman for leftists equivalent to 9/11 "truther-ism" in the neocon Index Librorum Prohibitorum).   

Onwards and  downwards: 

"I thought it was strange and maybe a little ominous last summer when suddenly Obama was labeled a ‘socialist’ and a ‘Marxist’; Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are arguably more liberal than Obama; why did he get tagged with that sinister, subversive, alien ideology? It seemed linked to the fact that he’s just so … different from other politicians, so easy to marginalize and, frankly, demonize." 

Now we are at the point where calling Obama or any of his policies "socialist" or "Marxist" is … "hate speech"? Really? How narrow the parameters of the permissible have become — and Obama is still in the first months of his presidency! How long before any expression of lese majeste in reference to our sainted President is "out of bounds" in the eyes of our love-struck "mainstream" media? Why, how dare you criticize the Great and Dear Leader! You must be a racist, a birther, a right-wing "extremist"! 

In her appearance on the Matthews show, Walsh dribbled on about how "prescient" the DHS report was,  and she wonders now if its Republican  critics will apologize, because, after all, the report was "calm," and, she reminds us, was commissioned by the Bush administration — you know, those famous guardians of our civil liberties. 

That the Bushies commissioned it should tell Walsh something about its legitimacy, but apparently not. Instead, she admits that she’d never read it until now, and it apparently passed her smell test. Yet maybe she has a cold, and her nose is stuffed up, because the following "definition" of "right-wing extremism" in the report [.pdf] is so broad and so vague that it ought to send chills up the spines of civil libertarians everywhere, and I quote: 

"Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.  It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration." 

If, say, the Chinese government issued a "report" on Chinese "extremism" targeting "anti-government" groups that reject the highly-centralized Communist state system "in favor of state or local authority," limousine liberals like Walsh — and Nancy Pelosi, her Sinophobic fellow San Francisco Democrat — would be screaming bloody murder, waving the bloody flag of Tiananmen, and generally bloviating about the lack of basic liberties in China. Oh, but it’s okay if we do it –or, more specifically, if Janet Napolitano does it — because, you see, we’re the exception, the anointed, the Good Guys. And that means we get to do anything we damn well please. 

What in the name of all that’s holy is the US government doing issuing "reports" on the alleged "dangers" represented by domestic political movements, anyway? We all know the history of this impulse: the House "Un-American" Activities Committee, government infiltration of the antiwar and civil rights movements ("Cointelpro"), the sinister role played by J. Edgar Hoover and his political police in trying to stifle free speech and dissident political movements in this country — how can any "liberal" worthy of the title support such a brazenly illiberal concept? 

The answer is: they’re in power, now. And they have no compunctions — or very few — about clamping down on the opposition, using whatever repressive device comes to hand. First, however, they have to make the key link between violence — or the threat of imminent violence — and "right-wing hate speech." Walsh makes that leap with alacrity, if not logic: 

"Then came Rush Limbaugh with his sexual fears about having to ‘bend over and grab the ankles’ for a black president. Soon Limbaugh was saying he hoped Obama fails; last week he said Obama was more dangerous to our country than al-Qaida, our terrorist enemy who has killed thousands of Americans. Could that conceivably inflame someone marginal and isolated to act against a president who’s more dangerous than terrorists?" 

Yet it was antiwar liberals, Salon-type progressives — and this writer — who made the argument, during the Bush years, that the President’s policies were more dangerous to our national security than anything Al  Qaeda could pull off on its own: that the war in Iraq, for example, was indispensable to Al Qaeda’s international recruiting campaign, and that the "blowback" from our warmongering would come back and hit us in the face — hard. (An argument Walsh makes, I note with amazement, in her very next blog post down!) We were, in an important sense, accusing Bush of being "a president who’s more dangerous than the terrorists" — but that was okay with Walsh and her ilk. Just don’t do it to Obama. 

Walsh and the preening "liberals" in the media don’t dare come out and say what they really want — which is "hate speech" legislation that would have Limbaugh and his imitators off the airwaves in a minute. They leave it to their frothy-mouthed followers. Check out these comments from a comment thread on the "progressive" site "Crooks and Liars," in which the post’s author — writing about the Holocaust Museum incident –excoriates "anti-government" conservatives for attacking, among other things, … the Federal Reserve

"It’s all about the FCC

Wed, 06/10/2009 – 19:53 — bamboozled

The FCC needs to act.

The FCC needs to stand up for the people.

We elected Obama. HE’S the person who elects the FCC.

He needs people who are willing to break up the media conglomerates to diffuse the power of these people, and create actual (NOT PERCEIVED) competition.

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"I agree

Wed, 06/10/2009 – 19:59 — snyd69

The FCC should step in. Problem is that they won’t

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Yes, we need to drive out the enemies of "the people" — bring in the feds! Oh, my goodness, the "liberals" at "Crooks and Liars" (is the name of this blog a case of projection?) are up in arms!: 

"Who’s gonnna say what’s right or wrong?

Wed, 06/10/2009 – 19:08 — SKdeA_Miss1929

How about the FCC?

we need a NEW HEAD OF THE FCC who is willing to clamp down on hate speech and rabble rousing.

This is NOT free speech, this is HATE speech.

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"No shit.

Wed, 06/10/2009 – 19:26 — fastfeat

How many shrub-era high-level bureaucrats still head positions such as head of the FCC?

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Further on down the thread, one C&L "liberal" approvingly posts a link to this news story: 

"The interim head of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said yesterday that broadcast licences for radio and television stations should be shortened from eight years to three years. "We still need to get serious about defining our license renewal process," said FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps at a summit sponsored by the Internet advocacy group Free Press" 

It isn’t pretty, is it? And these are self-described "liberals"! It’s a measure of the damage  done during the last eight years to the body politic that people who think of themselves as "progressives" can so blithely advocate totalitarian measures.   

Here’s more from the "progressive" opponents of free speech: 


Wed, 06/10/2009 – 19:59 — bamboozled

And it’s not so much clamping down on speech.


1) Hold the commercial networks to STANDARDS, standards that were in place for years, of using OUR AIRWAVES in the public interest.

2) Break up the conglomerates. They have too much money and power. Fox is one of a handful of MONOPOLIES.

3) Same point, but create more competition. There is no LOCAL competition. Journalism has been decimated by consolidation. More competition = more real journalism.

4) Take a couple hundred million–A DROP IN THE BUCKET–and feed it to PUBLIC media. WE NEED A BALANCE OF COMMERCiAL AND PUBLIC, like most SANE nations.

All of this is within their capabilities. And nobody would squawk, except Rupert and Glenn with two Ns.

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Wed, 06/10/2009 – 21:50 — KWillow

Well put, Sir! The breakup of Media (and other) Monopolies, along with Publicly Financed Elections (Oh, if ONLY it had been put in the original Constitution or Bill of Rights) would go a long long way towards returning sanity and democracy to our country.

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A state-controlled  "public" media to  "compete" — and counter — what remains of our crippled newspaper industry and the rest of the recession-plagued media — an idea that only a Marxist, or a national socialist, could love. 

The post to which these comments are attached is pure incitement: Ron Paul, the author avers, is "dangerous" — because he, like the Holocaust Museum shooter, opposes the Federal Reserve system. Oh, and Dr. Paul really means "Jews" when he talks about "bankers" — which ought to be news to critics of the banking bailout, and the practices on Wall Street that sparked the economic meltdown.  

This is libel, pure and simple — and its authors know it. Their goal: to limit the parameters of permissible debate, so that a whole variety of subjects just cannot be talked about — under pain of social ostracism, permanent  marginalization, and, ultimately, legal prosecution.  

So you thought things were going to be different: that "change" was in the air. Well, forget it, boys and girls — it’s the same old same old, except inverted. With the Left now ensconced in the councils of power, and the Right relegated to the fever swamps, the former are eager to give the latter a taste of their own medicine — and then some.  

We keep hearing, from the Obama-ites, that Europe is so much more developed and advanced than we are: they provide state-subsidized health care to their citizens, they have public media on a large scale, they aren’t hung up on such archaic concepts as the efficacy of free markets — and they certainly don’t allow their citizens access to guns, for heaven’s sake! I predict that we’ll soon see a new addition to this "why aren’t we more like the Europeans?" meme: a call for the introduction of "hate speech" laws, forbidding language that "incites violence" against particular victim groups. Real restrictions on our political discourse are in the cards, I’m afraid, and it’s only a matter of time before we make the "logical" leap from "hate crimes" legislation to "hate speech" laws.  

It’s coming. The machinery of repression is nearly all in place: liberal hysteria, the PATRIOT Act and the entire panoply of Bush era laws that give the feds the unlimited "right" to spy on American citizens. All that’s missing is the legislation itself — and, you can bet, that won’t be long in coming. 

They tried this,  by the way, in the 1940s and 50s, right after the war, when the "brown  scare" was still leaving its after-effects and the memory of Hitler’s rise to power was still fresh in peoples’ minds. Along with anti-discrimination laws, some early civil rights groups pushed for legislation that would limit speech in the name of "protecting" people against the potential for violence. It’s the Bush Doctrine of "preemption" translated into the domestic sphere: rather than tolerate free speech, it’s better — in this view — to conduct a preemptive strike against any violence that might result from the expression of certain ideas by banning those ideas from the public platform.

The British, and the continental Europeans took that road — and we may take it yet.

And — wouldn’t you know it — some "liberal" professor over at the Huffington Post is using the Holocaust Museum killing to lash out at critics of Israel. Talk of a "cabal" is forbidden — it’s "anti-Semitic," don’t you know. Of course, criticism of Israeli policies is "allowed" — but don’t dare raise the subject of dual loyalty (which Christian Zionists are more guilty of than any other religious group, but never mind …). Because that’s "hate speech." This, by the way, is what the neocons always said about their critics: according to them, the very word "neocon" was and is a euphemism for "Jew." So, please, don’t even say the word — unless, that is, you want to be brought up on charges of having committed a "hate crime."

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].