While many have condemned Antifa and similar groups for destroying Minneapolis and other cities, Minneapolis city council member for Ward 5 (and son of the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison) Jeremiah Ellison tweeted Sunday that he is not among them. Indeed, he is declaring his support for Antifa. Some of us have long opposed Antifa as a vehemently anti-free speech group. Ellison does not seem to include free speech among his priorities for voters in Ward 5. While most Democratic members have correctly condemned Antifa attacks, Ellison is one of those who continue to support the controversial group.
Below is my column in USA Today on the fight between Trump and Twitter. As discussed below, this is a fight not for free speech but who will control free speech. Democrats want speech controls through private companies while the Administration wants speech controls through government agencies. The choice is between Little Brother and Big Brother.
Here is the column:
Yesterday we discussed the four arrests associated with two attacks on New York police officers using Molotov cocktails. It is now being reported that one of the defendants arrested, Colinford Mattis, 32, is a furloughed Pryor Cashman associate. Mattis is a graduate of New York University and Princeton University. He was reportedly arrested with a second attorney in the attack. Mattis is accused of driving a van and passenger Urooj Rahman, 31, threw a Molotov cocktail. Rahman is reportedly a human rights lawyer but also recently lost her job. Update: The FBI now says that the two defendants sought to pass out Molotov cocktails.
Below is my column on the Twitter controversy and censorship of social media. President Donald Trump has continued to tweet on cracking down on the riots as well as controversy over his tweets on Twitter. Like former Vice President Joe Biden, he is now calling for the outright elimination of Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act. While supported by many liberal members and commentators, Twitter continues to build a case against itself — and ultimately free speech on the Internet.
Here is the column:
Kellie Chauvin, the wife of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, has announced that she is filing for divorce after 10 years of marriage. In her statement, she expresses sympathy for the family of George Floyd. There is no evidence that this is a tactic to shield assets from the inevitable civil lawsuit against the estate of Chauvin. However, it is a question that often comes up with clients that I dealt with on both civil and criminal cases. When faced with potential of civil liability, some clients raise the possibility of shielding their assets by transferring them or seeking a divorce. Such maneuvers often do not work for a variety of legal and practical reasons.
Two sisters have been arrested after a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a NYPD van with four officers inside. Samantha Shader, 27, of Catskill, NY, is charged with throwing the incendiary device, which did not explode. Her sister, Darian, 21, (left) then allegedly tried to stop the arrest of Samantha Shader. The police have hit Samantha Shader with a slew of major charges including attempted murder of a police officer, attempted arson, assault on a police officer, criminal possession of a weapon and reckless endangerment. Her sister faces charges of resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration. (The Daily Mail has released these pictures from social media allegedly showing the two sisters). Update: Media is reporting that Shader admitted to her attack on the police. The police have released a picture of Shader throwing the Molotov cocktail.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is facing criticism for a curious distinction that he drew in a message to protesters about how they should treat the national guard versus the police. Ellison has been in a difficult spot over the rioting following the death of George Floyd in an arrest by the Minneapolis Police Department. I thought he did well in a recent interview in resisting pressure to declare the officers clearly guilty and cautioned that everyone should allow the system to work in the bringing of any criminal charges. On this occasion, however, he seemed to throw the police, including state police and other assisting jurisdictions, under the bus.
Michael Smerconish had an interesting discussion today with Professor Cliffort Scott, Professor of Social Psychology at Keele University. Scott believes that rioting should not be portrayed as random and without meaning. I think that is true. There are deeper causes that should be considered when considering violent dimensions to some protests. While I find Professor Scott’s work on protests and “hooliganism” quite interesting, I do not agree with his assertion on the program that “looting is an expression of power.” It is more often a means of acquisition not expression (unless they are expressing their desire for a Nintendo Switch). In other words, it is a crime act that arises in a myriad of public emergencies that offer an opportunity to steal with less risk of detection or arrest.
Early on in the pandemic, I wrote about how governors can shutdown churches under the Constitution. On Friday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to reject an emergency appeal from a California church over the imposition of limits on the size of attendance at services. The church came close to prevailing. Chief Justice John Roberts joined his liberal colleagues in upholding what he said were limits that “appear consistent” with the First Amendment. The cost ruling is an indication of how courts are applying closer scrutiny to the treatment of churches as opposed to other institutions allowed to have greater numbers of people.
Late last night, Twitter doubled down on its controversial labeling of tweets from President Donald Trump to flag what it views as misleading or offensive material. Yesterday, I wrote a column on Twitter’s policy and a second column on President Trump’s response with an executive order. I have strongly opposed Twitter’s policy on censoring and labeling material, including the decision to correct a tweet from the President on the political debate over main-in voting. Undeterred, Twitter has issued a new warning that a tweet from the President on the rioting in Minneapolis was a violation of its rule for “glorifying violence.” Twitter is now making the case for government action to monitor and control social media. The loser will ultimately be free speech.
A police station in Minneapolis was torched last night as looting and rioting continued in that city. The escalating violence and looting has magnified controversies over how networks are describing the scenes. Earlier, Craig Melvin, an MSNBC host and co-anchor of “Today,” shed some light as to how his network is framing its reporting. Melvin tweeted a “guide” that the images “on the ground” are not to be described as rioting but rather “protests.” That framing has been used on other networks, including some segments where the reporting seems bizarrely out of sync with the scenes in the background. Update: CNN appears to be drawing a distinction in an even more curious way.
President Donald Trump’s executive order on social media is framed around the effort to remove protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. For those of us who teach torts, Section 230 has been a long controversy in its shielding of companies from liability in defamation and other lawsuits. As I write today in my Hill column, Twitter is dangerously wrong in its action against the Trump tweets and Trump is right that this represents a serious attack on free speech. However, I was also critical of the threat to “shut down” or “strongly regulate” media companies. Putting the retaliatory language aside, this is not a change that will likely succeed without congressional action. However, there are some legitimate questions that Congress should consider while, in my view, erring on the side of protecting free speech. Continue reading “The Trump Executive Order and the Section 230 Option To “Strongly Regulate” Social Media”
We have previously discussed the effort of students and faculty to bar federal agencies like ICE from job fairs despite the strong interest (and need) of students to seek such jobs. Now the American University College Democrats have demanded the banning of Customs and Border Protection despite widespread unemployment and the dire need of many fellow students to find positions with such agencies. The interesting twist is that this was not even an on campus event but a virtual event. Even without the government stepping on campus, the students objected to other students being able to speak with Customs in a virtual space.
I have a column criticizing Twitterfor its labelling of tweets from President Donald Trump as presumptively false. Twitter has yielded to demands in Congress to censor and regulate political speech. In signature style, however, Trump promptly bulldozed the high ground in the controversy by threatening to close down social media companies through retaliatory regulations. The First Amendment was written to bar that very authority in either the President or Congress or both. The President cannot be the putative victim of private censorship while claiming the authority to engage in government censorship. In fairness however Democratic leaders have threatened such a regulatory crackdown in the past. The coverage on Trump’s threat telling omits the fact that Democratic leaders and presidential candidates have made the same threat in the past.