There should have been a victory parade and a nationwide celebration of the freedom of expression, but the great day came with no fanfare at all: the Department of Homeland Security has announced that its sinister little exercise in Orwellianism, the Disinformation Governance Board, as of Wednesday is officially and definitively dead. You may have thought this cynical attempt to criminalize dissent from the Left’s agenda had died long ago, but actually in mid-May the DHS only “paused” the Disinformation Governance Board, and there was every reason to believe that once the controversy had died down and Americans’ attention was elsewhere, it would be revived in some form or another. And make no mistake: that’s still true. It isn’t as if the Biden administration has suddenly discovered a new admiration for the freedom of speech.
The DHS announcement of the demise of the Ministry of Truth contained the seeds for its future revival, for it begins by reminding us of the alleged “threat” that “disinformation” poses to “the homeland,” that is, the embarrassment and irritation that news that isn’t approved by the political and media elites causes to those very same elites when it gets out to a large segment of the public: “The Department welcomes the recommendations of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which has concluded that countering disinformation that threatens the homeland, and providing the public with accurate information in response, is critical to fulfilling the Department’s missions. We thank the Subcommittee for its work, which required extensive fact gathering and analysis over a short period of time.”
Right after claiming that “disinformation” is a big threat, the DHS announces that “Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has terminated the Disinformation Governance Board and rescinded its charter effective today, August 24, 2022.” Well, that’s great, but if disinformation is such a big threat, then why are you deep-sixing your anti-disinformation apparatus, Mr. Secretary? No explanation is included in the announcement, which continues: “With the HSAC recommendations as a guide, the Department will continue to address threat streams that undermine the security of our country consistent with the law, while upholding the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of the American people and promoting transparency in our work.”
So what the DHS statement amounts to is an affirmation that America faces a very big threat from “disinformation,” and it’s the government’s job to save us from this “disinformation” by informing us of what is true and what isn’t and presumably to censor the alleged disinformation in some way. But then the statement announces that the board that DHS set up for precisely that purpose is being terminated and then goes on to say that DHS will keep working against alleged threats to “the homeland.” So in three terse paragraphs, we have two declarations that DHS must fight threats, and one statement that a principal means to fight these threats is being terminated.
It would make more sense with the overall thrust of the announcement if the second paragraph had been about establishing the Disinformation Governance Board rather than disbanding it. And that’s just one reason why it’s virtually certain that the Board will be back under some new clumsy Orwellian name and with better PR but unmistakably the same thing as the first Board was: an attempt to restrict the freedom of speech of Americans and to control the public discourse so that only the Left’s perspective gets aired.
In fact, the Board may already be back. Back in June, the Biden administration announced, according to the New York Post, that a new disinformation team headed by none other than Kamala Harris would be focused on “developing programs and policies” that would protect “political figures” from “disinformation,” “abuse” and “harassment.” This disinformation panel includes Mayorkas, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Gestapo chief Merrick Garland and presumably is up and running, albeit with a studiously low profile, so as to avoid the outrage and uncomfortable First Amendment questions that did in the first Board.
Nonetheless, Harris’ panel is also on dangerous ground in terms of the First Amendment, as “abuse” and “harassment,” to say nothing of “disinformation,” are subjective terms. What is to prevent the person who is charged with judging what constitutes them — Harris, evidently — from considering sharp criticism, or even any criticism at all, no matter how accurate or justified, to be abuse or harassment? As the DHS continues to work on ways to counter the “threat” of “disinformation,” will it ever deign to explain to us peasants how it plans to distinguish actual disinformation from genuine disagreement on the facts or how it intends to ensure that its efforts against “disinformation” aren’t just an attempt to silence political disagreement?
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 25 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.