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War Hysteria Fuels New Attacks on Free Speech

Washington’s interventionist and bipartisan foreign policy blob in recent weeks has pushed two new and despotic pieces of legislation. Both are designed to consolidate even more federal power in the name of combatting various alleged foreign enemies.

The first of these is the so-called “TikTok ban” with the Orwellian name “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” signed into law on April 24. Supporters claim that TikTok is owned by the Chinese regime and the popular social media app must be sold to new non-Chinese owners, or banned in the US altogether. The legislation grants the president vast new powers to force the sale of “a website, desktop application, mobile application, or augmented or immersive technology application” that is deemed to be owned by a “foreign adversary.” Who is a foreign adversary? This is to be determined by a handful of shadowy bureaucrats at the federal government’s intelligence agencies. Nor is it even clear which web sites and apps are “foreign owned.” As Senator Rand Paul has noted, TikTok is majority-owned by private investors, including many thousands of Americans. In other words, contrary to regime talking points, the company is not owned “by China.” Whether or not a company is “owned” by one of these so-called foreign adversaries nonetheless is legally based on the arbitrary judgement of federal bureaucrats. Congressman Thomas Massie has correctly described the bill as a “Trojan horse” given the vast potential for abuse by federal policymakers looking to shut down sources of opinions that the regime doesn’t like.

The second legislative assault on freedom this past month comes in the form of the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.” This act, now working its way through Congress, instructs federal bureaucrats to adopt an extremely broad definition of anti-Semitism and to use that definition to “vigorously” enforce federal prohibitions of “discrimination” as found in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This new broad definition of anti-Semitism equates criticism of the State of Israel with criticism of all Jews and the legislation could easily be read to define New Testament texts like the Gospel of John as “anti-Semitism.” After all, John’s gospel repeatedly refers to “the Jews” as the enemies of Jesus—that is, the enemies of God.

The War Party vs. the First Amendment 

It should be no surprise that so much of the Congress’s attention in recent months has been devoted to the alleged dangers of people saying things and reading things. The foreign policy establishment in the US has been increasingly pushing for ever more US involvement in Ukraine and the Middle East while agitating for a new Cold War with China. As war fervor spreads, freedom always fades.

Fortunately, there is growing voter opposition to US involvement in these active war zones, and regime agents have been unable to whip the taxpayers into a paranoid hysteria with the ease of decades past. The old bipartisan consensus supporting whatever new war the regime cooked up appears to be disappearing. Support for various wars is now a highly partisan issue. For example, a majority of polled Republicans say the US regime gives “too much” aid to Ukraine, and there is an active faction of Republicans in the Congress opposed to ongoing US involvement in that ten-year-old dispute. Meanwhile, support for the State of Israel’s mass-murder campaign in Gaza is in free-fall among Democrats. According to Gallup, 75 percent of Democrats oppose Tel Aviv’s current military campaign. (Notably, 60 percent of “independents” also oppose Israel’s war in Gaza.)

From the perspective of the neoconservatives and other foreign-policy “elites” in Washington, this is all awful news, and something must be done. That “something” turns out to be attacks on freedom of speech and independent media. Apparently, it is not enough that the federal government collude with social media corporations to fight “disinformation” and other opinions not approved by the regime. It is also “necessary” that the War Party insert into federal law new presidential powers over media outlets.

The legislation lays the groundwork for further expanding the president’s power over media outlets in the future. Today the focus is on “adversary-owned” companies—which, as we’ve seen, aren’t really adversary-owned. Tomorrow, the law can be tweaked—or even reinterpreted by courts—to apply to media outlets owned or controlled by “domestic terrorists” or “enemy combatants.” Of course, thanks to post-9/11 legislation—passed during a period of hysteria about terrorism—the President now gets to decide who is an “enemy combatant.”

The TikTok debate has also been useful in that it has served to further gin up militarist fervor against the Chinese. At the present time, however, perhaps the most important aspect of the TikTok legislation—as far as the hawks are concerned—is that it punishes the app that has been especially central in spreading opinions and videos designed to increase opposition to Tel Aviv’s invasion of Gaza.

“Anti-Semitism” Now Just Means Opposing the War Party

Washington’s preoccupation with the Israeli state is illustrated by the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. This legislation is clearly an effort to shut down antiwar protests on college campuses. The main tactic used by the regime in this case is to defame opponents of Israeli war crimes with the label of “anti-Semite.” This can be seen in the fact that those who protest Tel Aviv’s attacks on Gazan women and children are never described as antiwar protesters. Rather, in the mainstream and conservative media, the protesters are almost universally called “pro-Palestine” or even “pro-Hamas.” The fact that there are many Jews among the protesters is conveniently ignored. What is repeated over and over is the fact that some genuine anti-Semites are actually found among the protesters—assuming these people are not federal informants or plants. The media then fixates on the anti-Semites instead of the protest itself. Once opposition to the foreign Israeli state is equated to anti-Semitism, then federal bureaucrats can wield federal “civil rights” law against those who refuse to toe the regime line.

It’s ironic that conservatives are so eager to participate in this tactic of defamation since it is often used against them. We’ve seen how this works many times. Any time conservatives turn out to protest some government abuse, the media fixates on the two or three people in the crowd with a white-supremacist tattoo or a Confederate flag. We are then told this is undeniable proof that the whole crowd is motivated by hate and white supremacist ideology.

Moreover, it is no coincidence that the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act specifically empowers the Department of Education to investigate and punish colleges that tolerate the new expanded definition of “anti-Semitism.” The goal here is to purge colleges and Universities of students and faculty who refuse to support Washington and its Israeli allies.

Unfortunately, these assaults on the First Amendment continue to find support even among people who pretend to be in support of freedom and opposed to federal power. With these people, when the regime invokes foreign bogeymen, concern for the Bill of Rights tends to evaporate and we are told that we must give up our liberties to fight the “foreign adversary.” Both the TikTok ban and the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act are very much in the tradition of the Alien and Sedition Acts if 1798, the Espionage Act of 1917, and the Smith Act of 1940. All have been designed to silence dissent, and all make a mockery of the First Amendment. Unfortunately the spirit of all these legislative evils remains alive and well. In recent months, we’ve been told that fighting “the enemy” means telling consumers what social media apps they are allowed to use. We’re told that to oppose Washington’s allies is to be guilty of “anti-Semitism.” Needless to say, this is all just how the regime likes it.

By: Ryan McMaken .mises wire

MISES INSTITUTE AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS, FREEDOM AND PEACE 

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