Enemy at the Gate: When Free Speech Is Made Criminal

In July, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, who sought the Democratic nomination for the 2004 Presidential election, made the startling statement in an MSNBC interview that Americans who are “disloyal to the United States” should be subjected to internment “for the duration of the conflict.”

The conflict to which he referred is the amorphously defined, and apparently interminable, “War on Terror,” so this internment is likely to last a long while.

Actually, as Clark rather churlishly pointed out on Twitter in response to his critics, he never said the word “internment.” But he did say that we should “segregate them from the normal community.” If that’s not “internment,” what is it? Are they to be herded into ghettos? And if so, and if relocation to those ghettos is mandatory, is that not basically “internment”?

Clark also spoke—and with apparent approval—of the internment of “disloyal” Americans during World War II (many of whose “disloyalty” was defined by their Japanese ancestry). He said that “if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.” Sounds a lot like “internment” to me, General.

And it gets worse. Clark’s plan seems to call for the internment, oops, “segregation,” to extend not only to those who have expressed “disloyalty,” thus demonstrating that they have been “radicalized,” but also to those who are merely deemed vulnerable to this “radicalization.” How is that to be determined? And by whom?

Clark was referring to supporters of the terrorist group ISIS, as brutally evil a bunch as has ever existed, and so, granted, it’s difficult to come up with much sympathy for what those supporters are forced to endure. The thing is, one does not have to be sympathetic to ISIS supporters to categorically reject a policy that calls for rounding them up and putting them in camps (or whatever Clark wants to call the facilities).

No decent person wants the twisted, toxic ideology of ISIS spewed in this country, but freedom of speech does not, cannot apply only to speech that the vast majority of us don’t find vilely repugnant. We may—and indeed must—shout it down, condemn it, ridicule it, and poke holes in any arguments that claim to justify it, but in a nation that calls itself the land of the free, we cannot ban it.

Today, the enemy is ISIS. Tomorrow, who knows? In 2011, Vice President Joe Biden described members of Congress who were aligned with the Tea Party as “like terrorists.” Their “terrorism”? Refusing to raise the limit on the national debt. Yep, fiscal responsibility is a brand of “terrorism” in the eyes of some.

The NRA, other gun rights advocacy groups, and individual gun rights advocates have frequently been branded “terrorists” and “traitors.” I personally have been accused of “treason” for suggesting to readers that they obtain information about how to fabricate and use improvised explosives, for the potential day on which freedom fighters equipped with firearms alone are not quite enough to thwart an aspiring tyrant’s plans.

If expressing support for ISIS is made a crime (and oddly, Clark admitted about ISIS supporters that, “It’s their right” to articulate that support—but wants them rounded up and “segregated” even so), then what is to stop the government from outlawing support for any other group the Administration wishes silenced?

Clark is not the first—nor the most prominent—Democratic Presidential candidate to suggest criminalizing thoughts and beliefs that are now deemed intolerable. Speaking at a National Council for Behavioral Health conference in 2014, Hillary Clinton said the U.S. must “rein in the notion that ‘anybody can have a gun, anywhere, anytime.’ ” Must “rein in the notion.” How would a government attempt to do that? What else can it do but make that “notion” illegal?

About a month later, she expanded on that theme. In a town hall appearance televised on CNN, she answered a question about her desire to ban so-called “assault weapons” and “high capacity” magazines by saying, “We cannot let a minority of people, and that’s what it is—it is a minority of people—hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.”

Whether or not it’s true that the majority of people are “terrorized” by the point of view that holds that the government has no legitimate authority to ban the very firearms most useful for defending life and liberty, so what? Viewpoints that scare people are to be made illegal? The only Constitutionally protected free speech is that which does not make the masses nervous? What, then, is the point of Constitutional protection of speech if it only applies to speech that few would ever try to silence?

And so what if “it is a minority of people”? Has it become acceptable to trample the free speech rights (actually, the free thought rights) of minorities because the majority find those thoughts frightening? How would the “justice” system prove that someone has harbored an “illegal viewpoint”? What would the penalty be?

Clinton didn’t say, but anyone planning to vote for her might want to ask her. And actually, Clinton herself might want to reconsider her political ambitions. The powers of a U.S. President do not seem to be enough to satisfy her. She should probably try for the position of Big Sister.

These are self-described “progressive” politicians, but their supporters have either failed to notice, or are perhaps not bothered by, the fact that what they would have us “progress” toward is a society in which voicing impermissible political positions, or even thinking them, is a crime.

If that’s progress, call me a regressive.

A former paratrooper, Kurt Hofmann was paralyzed in a car accident in 2002. The helplessness inherent to confinement to a wheelchair prompted him to explore armed self-defense, only to discover that Illinois denied that right. This inspired him to become active in gun rights advocacy.

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