Here is the column:
“The Democratic Party [is] the bedfellow of international communism.” Those words from Sen. Joe McCarthy captured the gist of the Red Scare and the use of blacklists and personal attacks to silence critics. The Democrats this week appear to have taken up the same cudgel in labeling opponents and critics Russian sympathizers and fellow travelers in opposing government involvement in a massive censorship system.
The Red Scare is back and it is going blue.
I testified this week in Congress on the Twitter Files and how they suggest what I have called “censorship by surrogate” or proxy.
The files show dozens of FBI and government employees actively seeking the censorship of citizens and others for their viewpoints. In my testimony, I warned that this was reminiscent of the McCarthy period where the FBI played a role in the establishment of blacklists for socialists, communists, and others. I encouraged Congress not to repeat its failures from the 1950s by turning a blind eye to such abuse.
This view was amplified by former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who became persona non grata for her anti-war sentiments in Congress. She was later labeled a “Russian asset” by Hillary Clinton, who has refused to support that scurrilous claim against a former member.
For years, the Democrats pushed a Russian collusion theory that collapsed. It was later disclosed that the Clinton campaign hid and then lied about funding the infamous Steele Dossier. Nevertheless, people like Carter Page were falsely accused of being Russian agents and critics of the investigation labeled as Russian apologists. Ironically, the FBI was warned that the dossier appeared to be the result of Russian disinformation and relied on a presumed Russian agent.
If anything, my warning of McCarthy-like attacks and measures seemed to be taken more as a suggestion than an admonition by some. Soon after the end of the hearing, MSNBC contributor and former Sen. Claire McCaskill appeared on MSNBC to denounce the member witnesses (Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Ron Johnson, and former Rep. Gabbard) as “Putin apologists” and Putin lovers.
She exclaimed, “I mean, look at this, I mean, all three of those politicians are Putin apologists. I mean, Tulsi Gabbard loves Putin.” (For the record, she also attacked me as not being “a real lawyer.”)
What was most striking is the level of attacks on those seeking an investigation into possible FBI abuses. The Democratic Party was once the greatest defender of free speech, the greatest critic of corporate power, and the greatest skeptic of the FBI. It is now opposing the investigation into the FBI’s involvement in a massive corporate-run censorship system.
In the 1950s, it was easy for politicians to avoid discussing underlying views by just labeling their opponents as fellow travelers. We are watching the same use of personal attacks today as a way to evade the troubling disclosures in the Twitter Files.
While some like McCaskill yell “Russians!” others use more modern labels, such as “conspiracy theorists.” That notably includes the FBI itself.
When criticized for the role FBI agents played in secretly targeting citizens for censorship, the FBI called critics “conspiracy theorists . . . feeding the American public misinformation.” It is something that you might expect from a pundit or politician. It is far more menacing when this attack comes from the country’s largest law enforcement agency.
Where the Hoover FBI would call dissenters “Communist sympathizers,” the Wray FBI labels them “conspiracy theorists.”
Alternatively, various Democrats portrayed anyone criticizing Twitter for censorship as supporting insurrections against the government. Member after member suggested that seeking to investigate the government’s role in censorship was to invite or even welcome another Jan. 6.
Thus, when Thomas Baker, a former FBI agent, testified on his extensive writings about changes in the FBI, he was attacked by freshman Congressman Dan Goldman (D-NY) who asked him if he had any experience investigating extremist groups. He didn’t get the answer he hoped for. When Baker responded, “Yes,” and tried to explain his prior experience, Goldman immediately cut him off and accused him of trying to sell a book.
For my part, I got off light. I was not accused of being a Russian mole or fellow traveler of insurrectionists. After responding to a question on the specific content of the files (released and confirmed by Twitter itself), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), denounced me for offering “legal opinions” without actually working at Twitter. It is like saying that a witness should not discuss the content of Pentagon Papers unless one worked at the Pentagon. (By the way, the content of the Pentagon papers as well as the Twitter Files are facts. The implication of those facts are opinions. I was asked about both the factual content of the files and their constitutional implications).
It is all tragically familiar. The effort this week was to attack witnesses rather than address what appears to be the largest censorship system in the history of this country. It is, of course, ironic that those seeking to check such government-supported censorship are the ones being called Putin lovers. Putin loves censorship and likely stands in awe at the success of the left in using the FBI and corporations to regulate speech on social media.
Putin and other authoritarian countries have long feared the Internet and social media. They have struggled to gain the very level of censorship carried out by Twitter and other executives with the support of politicians and pundits.
We now know that members like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) secretly sought censorship of critics, including a columnist. Their success would make Putin blush.
However, Democrats have insisted that freedom is tyranny. Columnist and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich went full Orwellian when he previously dismissed calls for free speech in social media and warned that censorship is “necessary to protect American democracy.”
He then added bizarrely of uncensored social media: “That’s Musk’s dream. And Trump’s. And Putin’s. And the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it would be a brave new nightmare.”
Indeed, it is a nightmare, but a familiar one.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School.