February 22, 2024

Government Censorship: How We Got Here

In a recent interview with Tucker Carlson, former State Department official and censorship expert Mike Benz tells an alarming and infuriating tale.

Until now, you likely haven’t heard of Mike Benz, nor visited his website, nor seen him on X. But if you watch Tucker Carlson’s recent hour-long interview with Benz, you’ll have a hard time getting him off your mind.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s The Federalist’s normally sober-minded John Daniel Davidson: “If you didn’t see Tucker Carlson’s interview last week with Mike Benz, you need to take an hour and watch the whole thing. In a mind-bending narrative about the emergence of what Benz calls ‘military rule’ through an online censorship industry in the U.S., he lays out in startling detail just how corrupt and tyrannical the U.S. defense and foreign policy establishment has become.”

Benz, as his biography notes, “is a former State Department official with responsibilities in formulating and negotiating US foreign policy on international communications and information technology matters.” So he knows of what he speaks.

As Carlson noted in his introduction, our nation is great because of its First Amendment. “But that right,” he says, “that foundational right that makes this country what it is, that right from which all others flow, is going away at high speed.”

Carlson says that the censorship we’re experiencing isn’t being conducted by the private sector alone. As the Twitter Files made clear last year, the government has a heavy — and, we think it’s fair to say, unconstitutional — directorial hand in all this.

“How does censorship happen?” Carlson asks. “What are the mechanics of it?” Mike Benz, he says, is “the expert in the world on how this happens.”

The Internet, according to Benz, worked wonderfully from 1991 until around 2014 as “an instrument of statecraft.” During this period, he says, Internet freedom was a sort of rapid-response free-speech tool for use by our State Department and our NATO allies to help overthrow totalitarian regimes. But it reached its high-water mark with the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, during the so-called Facebook revolutions that occurred across the Arab world.

All that changed in 2014, when a coup in Ukraine was followed by a counter-coup. The former was favorable to the U.S. and its NATO allies, but the latter was unfavorable and resulted in the breaking away of Crimea and the Donbas region from Ukraine to Russia. Shortly thereafter, the Crimean annexation vote also went Russia’s way, and, as Benz puts it: “That was the last straw for the concept of free speech on the Internet in the eyes of NATO. As they saw it, the fundamental nature of war changed at that moment.”

The result of the Crimean vote was NATO’s adherence to the Gerasimov Doctrine, which was a Russian general’s assertion that a nation needn’t necessarily win land wars to influence nations and thereby take territory. Instead, the focus should be on control of the media — and especially social media — because that’s what decides elections.

That’s how this modern-day “Department of Dirty Tricks” — this hybrid warfare conducted across State, Defense, and the intelligence services — was born. From there, as Benz notes, it wasn’t much of a leap to go from using social media to fight Russian propaganda in Europe to using it against Donald Trump with Crossfire Hurricane, and four years later with the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story, as well as fighting COVID apostasy in 2020 and beyond.

Since then, the Internet has done a 180 on free speech and has instead become a tool for speech suppression. Since then, the Internet has been used by our military in collusion with the State Department to censor Russian propaganda and also the communications of right-wing populist groups in Europe, which were growing in power and fury due to the crisis of runaway immigration from the Middle East and Africa. Then came Brexit in June 2016 and the fear that it would be followed domino-like by populist uprisings across Europe. And that’s when the Censorship Industrial Complex crossed the pond to the U.S.

Benz says that some 60 universities — including Stanford and the University of Washington — now have federally funded analysis organizations within them whose main focus is to monitor social media for trending language that threatens the approved narrative. From there, these organizations build “code books” of certain words and phrases, which they then use to censor tens of millions of social media messages with a few lines of code. Diabolical, no?

When a slack-jawed Carlson stopped Benz to ask whether the Defense Department was involved in censoring American citizens during and around the 2020 election, Benz nodded and said, “The two most censored events in human history, I would argue, to date, are the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

That the 2020 election was rigged for Joe Biden should deeply trouble the masses, but by now it shouldn’t shock anyone. What Benz reveals, though, are the blueprints. This “pre-censorship” regimen, says Benz, was conducted across 15 social media platforms and hundreds of millions of posts. He said flagged messages were “scanned and banned,” “throttled,” or had “frictions” attached to them in the form of “fact-checks,” which made it more difficult to share them.

“What I’m essentially describing,” says Benz, “is military rule.”

Thus, the rise of democratic populism became a call to arms for the Censorship Industrial Complex. As Benz puts it:

The whole push after the 2016 election was to completely invert everything we’ve described as being the underpinnings of a democratic society in order to deal with the threat of free speech on the Internet. And what they essentially said was, “We need to redefine democracy from being about the will of the voters to being about the sanctity of democratic institutions.”

All this is a lot to process and digest, but it’s about our right to speak freely, and it’s thus critical to the survival of the American Experiment. As The Federalist’s Davidson puts it, the essence is fairly simple:

Those who have power don’t want to be held accountable by the unwashed masses, by “populism,” and certainly not by the results of free and fair elections. They will not tolerate anyone, not even a duly elected president, going against the “interagency consensus” — that famous phrase of Alexander Vindman’s from the first Trump impeachment. They don’t think the people have that right, and they intend to use every tool they have to protect their power and privilege.

How does the world’s foremost champion of free speech, Elon Musk, fit into all this? Benz says the censorship industry and the national security state have him in their sights. He says they’re trying to “induce, I think, a sort of corporate regime-change through … a sort of death by a thousand paper cuts. I think there are seven or eight different Justice Department, or SEC, or FTC investigations into Elon Musk properties that all started after his acquisition of X.”

Benz says the censors are hitting Musk in Europe first, where the EU, which he says is a proxy for NATO, has conveniently banned “disinformation,” and where X has 450 million users, far more than the 300 million it has in the U.S.

We know Musk has the world’s deepest pockets. For the sake of free speech, both in the United States and abroad, we hope he also has some really good lawyers.

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