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Free speech advocates slam Biden's 'Ministry of Truth,' say it aims to crack down on dissenting opinions

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2022. |

The Biden administration’s plan to create a Disinformation Governance Board is receiving an overwhelmingly negative reaction, with critics invoking comparisons to the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced the formation of a Disinformation Governance Board while testifying before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Wednesday. When discussing efforts to combat mis- and “disinformation,” Mayorkas told Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., that “Our Undersecretary for Policy Rob Silvers is co-chair with our Principal Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Daskal in leading a just recently constituted Misinformation-Disinformation Governance Board.”

“The goal is to bring the resources of the department together to address this threat,” he added. The Department of Homeland Security has not issued a formal statement on the Disinformation Governance Board. Mayorkas’ announcement came just days after Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and an outspoken free speech advocate, announced his purchase of Twitter with the goal of making it “the platform for free speech around the globe.”

Nina Jankowicz, who formerly worked as a “disinformation fellow” at the Wilson Center, confirmed the accuracy of a Politico report identifying her as the executive director of the Disinformation Governance Board in a tweet Wednesday. The news of the Disinformation Governance Board’s creation as well as Jankowicz’s appointment as leader of the initiative led to swift condemnation from critics of the Biden administration. 

Much of the discussion surrounding the Disinformation Governance Board has spoken on its purported resemblance to the Ministry of Truth, a central tenet of the dystopian futuristic society that serves as the setting of the novel 1984.

As explained by the website Book Analysis, in the novel, “The Ministry of Truth, like the three other ministries, has an ironic name. It purports to be focused on the pursuit of truth when, in fact, the ministry is concerned with erasing the truth of the past and the present and replacing it with whatever the Party deems ‘correct.’ Those in charge of the ministry decide what ‘truth’ is.” 

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was among several lawmakers who likened the Misinformation-Disinformation Governance Board to a Ministry of Truth. “The federal government has no business creating a Ministry of Truth,” he declared on Twitter Friday. “The Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Disinformation Board’ is unconstitutional and unamerican, and I’ll be announcing a bill to defund it.” 

Former Democratic Congresswoman and 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard had a similar reaction to her former colleague on the other side of the aisle. “Every dictatorship has a propaganda arm — a ‘Ministry of Truth,’” she stated on Twitter Friday. “The Biden administration has now formally joined the ranks of such dictatorships.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., outlined his concerns with the Disinformation Governance Board as well as Jankowicz in a letter to Mayorkas published Thursday. “This new board is almost certainly unconstitutional and should be dissolved immediately,” he wrote.

Hawley portrayed the establishment of the Disinformation Governance Board as part of an effort to crack down on dissenting opinions: “For well over a year, your Department has consistently treated competing policy views as disinformation to be monitored or investigated. However, political debates on issues such as immigration, pandemic lockdowns, and foreign policy clearly constitute ‘core political speech protected by the First Amendment.”

“The Supreme Court has even gone so far as to say that ‘Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea,’” he added. “The apparent broad mandate of this new government entity to ‘coordinate countering misinformation’ in America undermines the argument that it can even exist consistent with the Constitution.” 

Additionally, Hawley decried the choice to make Jankowicz the leader of the new board, maintaining that she has accumulated a “long history of partisan attacks.” He specifically pointed to her praise of an article concluding that “homegrown fascism predated President Donald Trump,” her characterization of the U.S. as systemically racist and a tweet she sent out expressing concern about what would happen if “free speech absolutists were taking over more platforms” after Musk purchased Twitter as causes for concern.

“While Democrats have for years controlled the public square through their Big Tech allies, Mr. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has shown just how tenuous that control is. It can only be assumed that the sole purpose of this new Disinformation Governance Board will be to marshal the power of the federal government to censor conservative and dissenting speech. This is dangerous and un-American. The board should be immediately dissolved.”

For her part, Jankowicz has maintained that “a HUGE focus of our work and indeed, one of the key reasons the Board was established, is to maintain the Dept’s commitment to protecting free speech, privacy, civil rights, & civil liberties.” However, Jankowicz previously wrote an article expressing a desire to expand censorship on social media platforms. 

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, who 2016 Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson included on his shortlist of potential U.S. Supreme Court appointments, included an excerpt from Jankowicz’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine in a blog post published over the weekend. He specifically recalled that Jankowicz urged the incoming Biden administration to “creat[e] a counter-disinformation czar within the National Security Council and se[t] up a corresponding directorate.”

A year-and-a-half after writing that post, Jankowicz is primed to hold the position she advocated for in the article. However, it is based in the Department of Homeland Security instead of the National Security Council. More recently, she has characterized those who oppose the regulation of content on social media as “first amendment zealots,” which Turley mentioned in his blog.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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