From Censorship To Criminalizing Dissent

Authored by Jeffrey Tucker via The Epoch Times,

History does seem to be on fast forward, doesn’t it?

A major battle is brewing throughout the Western world over the basic principle of free speech. Is it going to be protected by law? It’s not entirely clear what the outcome will be. We seem to be on the precipice of a potential calamity if the courts don’t decide the right way. Even if we squeak out a victory, the question is already in play. Our free speech rights have never been more fragile.

Turn your attention to France right now. In the dead of night, a new law slipped through the General Assembly that would make it a crime to criticize mRNA shots. Critics call it the Pfizer law. It calls for fines up to 45,000 euros and possibly three years in prison for debunking an approved medical treatment.

A general view of the French National Assembly (Assemblee Nationale) is seen in Paris on July 17, 2023. (Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images)

Like all Western nations, criticism of the mRNA platform has already been subjected to vast social-media censorship. Even given this, there has been a major and global consumer turn against these shots. People are not convinced that they are necessary, safe, or effective. Still, government imposed mandates for everyone, billions of people worldwide. This was a form of conscription that has driven a deep divide between the rulers and the ruled.

Rather than back down, however, governments, which have been captured by pharmaceutical interests, are going to bat for the companies and the technology to threaten imprisonment of anyone who speaks out openly against them.

Here is where censorship becomes severely weaponized. It’s the next logical step. First you deploy every power to keep the distribution channels of information free of dissent. When that doesn’t entirely work, simply because people find alternative means of getting the word out, you have to intensify matters and institute outright controls.

It stands to reason that this would happen. After all, the whole point of censorship is to curate the public mind to put down opposition to regime priorities. When mainstream corporate media is falling apart and new media is rising, the next stage is to go the full way to flat-out criminalize opinion, like any totalitarian government.

We are very close to that stage. If it can happen in France, it can happen throughout Europe, then the Commonwealth, and then the United States. We know this much about politics today. It is global. The elites that have seized control of our governments coordinate across borders. This is why it is hugely important to pay attention to what’s going on across the pond.

As a second item, I’m alarmed to read the lead piece in the New York Times opinion section that celebrates a defamation case about which I had not previously heard. It is by Michael Mann, professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He had sued a writer for the Competitive Enterprise Institute for taking issue with Mann’s climate change model, and the so-called hockey stick in particular.

This is not my area of specialization at all but I have no doubt that mainstream climate science should be subject to vigorous criticism. If the COVID era has taught us anything, it is that the “scientific consensus” can be outrageously wrong and needs a check that comes in the form of writing, some of it zippy and cutting.

Scientist Michael Mann attends the New York screening of the HBO Documentary “How to Let Go of the World and All The Things Climate Can’t Change” in New York on June 21, 2016. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for HBO)

Dr. Mann filed a defamation lawsuit. Defamation is a very high bar: it means to deliberately lie about something with the intention to harm. One might not suppose that many things could qualify as that, certainly not criticism of a climate model. Indeed, most defamation lawsuits are dismissed outright simply because this country generally values free speech.

This one, however, was accepted by the judge in Washington, D.C. court. After a full decade in litigation, and a full hearing, the jury ended up deciding in favor of the plaintiffs. One defendant, Rand Simberg, has been told to pay $1K and the other, Mark Steyn, $1M. Simberg says he will appeal and stands by every word that he wrote. Steyn agrees and is ready to appeal.

Essentially this verdict is criminalizing hyperbole, said the defense attorney.

The op-ed writer, however, says this is justice. “Our recent trial victory may have wider implications,” he says. “It has drawn a line in the sand. Scientists now know that they can respond to attacks by suing for defamation.” He mentions in particular people who have disagreed with the COVID consensus—disagreeing with Anthony Fauci—or otherwise make “false claims about adverse health effects from wind turbines.”

Can you imagine? Criticize a wind turbine or pandemic lockdowns and find yourself hauled in front of a judge!

Will this case have a chilling effect on criticism of government? Absolutely! Indeed, it is terrifying to think what it implies. And the writer leaves nothing to the imagination. He sees this case as a wedge to make scientific criticism of any area of life—from vaccines to climate change to the conversion to EVs—essentially illegal. In any case, if not that, it comes close by erecting so many landmines that critics essentially shut up for fear of having their whole lives ruined.

This case went on for ten years. The article in question was published 12 years ago. How is it possible that litigants pushed a case for that long? It was to establish a serious precedent. That precedent is now clearly established. The definition of defamation is so malleable that juries can decide anything. Just the prospect of being hauled before a judge over ten years is enough to deter speaking out.

We can hope that this appeal reverses the decision. But let’s face it: free speech should not rest on such a thin foundation of jury-created law and arbitrary judicial edict. This is all extremely dangerous and flies in the face of the First Amendment.

Essentially, every critic of the “scientific consensus” in every area has been put on notice. They are already fair game. That’s the world toward which we are moving.

Here’s the issue. Censorship works when government can control all the distribution channels of information. What happens when that no longer works? The powers that be have to use more direct methods, even when they fly in the face of the First Amendment. Those who say that this cannot happen here need to pay closer attention to the reality of what’s happening.

Many people are excited to see the breakup of old media. Certainly I am but consider how the censors will respond. They are getting hardcore, relying more on law rather than capture, and hoping the courts can act to shut up the critics permanently. That’s the future we are looking at. It is extremely dangerous. Under this trajectory, free speech will be no more. The First Amendment will be a dead letter.

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