By J.B. Shurk
When does a free state become a police state? Is it when government declares itself “essential” but religious worship “selfish”? Or when making a living becomes a crime? Or when free speech rights are afforded only to those who say “correct” things? Or maybe when tens of millions of Americans find themselves unexpectedly labeled as “domestic terrorists” by the military-media complex overnight?
Perhaps the telltale sign is this: simply asking why becomes subversive. Questions become bigger threats than foreign missiles. Words are regarded as weapons legally possessed only by those in power. For all else, they are rendered contraband.
If Congress were transparent, rather than vindictive, and if its members worried more about finding truth than burying it, then lawmakers in D.C. would have spent the last few months quelling doubts about the 2020 election instead of intensifying those doubts with a second, inflammatory impeachment. Alas, we’re ruled by unserious people who take their power very seriously.
Consider the following contraband questions Congress will never answer:
Why should the 2020 election be viewed as legitimate if the outcome depended entirely upon the unprecedented use of mass mail-in balloting implemented, in some cases, against state law?
Why is Congress not interested in knowing how many mail-in ballots were counted in battleground states that were either received after legal deadlines or in violation of signature-matching requirements or other safeguards for authenticating voter identity?
Why is Congress so incurious about the reality that Donald Trump won nearly every bellwether county from coast to coast by double-digits on his way to losing the election?
Why is Congress so incurious about how an incumbent president could expand his support by over ten million new voters and increase his share of the minority vote, yet still come up short against an opponent with historically low levels of enthusiasm among his own base?
Why is Congress so incurious about the conspiracy between corporate news and social media to censor negative stories about Joe Biden during the campaign while aggressively deplatforming conservative commentary and online social networks of Trump-supporters for years before the 2020 election?
Why is Congress so incurious about a “secret cabal of wealthy and politically connected elites” who conspired “to manipulate the rules and laws of an election in order to win”?
Why does Congress deem such reasonable questions so threatening?
Why do lawmakers insist on threatening American citizens for thinking critically just because Congress itself abandoned critical thinking long ago?
All of these questions are now too dangerous or too inconvenient for the U.S. government to abide. They are too dangerous or too inconvenient for Google, Facebook, and Twitter to tolerate on their “free speech” platforms. They are too dangerous or inconvenient for our domestic intelligence services to permit a private citizen to say out loud. So spurious criminal charges are leveled at ordinary citizens just as they have been leveled at the president of the United States.
When it becomes natural for politicians to flex the muscles of government with the intent of intimidating citizens, and when governing institutions become more concerned with their own survival than with the security and protection of those for whom they were created, then free speech is always the first liberty summarily executed by those in power.
Benjamin Franklin, though only sixteen years old at the time, said it best: “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation, must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”
Look how fast questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election became a state offense. In November, doing so was mocked as mere “conspiracy-mongering.” In December, it had become a “threat to democracy.” By January, it was “insurrectionist.” And by February, Congress is holding a Soviet show trial to punish the president; the FBI is busy arresting his supporters; the military is purging MAGA troops from its ranks; and prominent media personalities openly suggest drone strikes against American citizens.
This is not normal in a free country, and it is important to say so. Free people neither fear nor punish debate; open and continuous disagreement is, in fact, a hallmark of all free societies. Anybody who claims that political speech should be punished as criminal incitement is no friend to freedom. Anybody who pretends that words are violence is only looking to police thought.
And make no mistake: everything from the second public inquisition of President Trump to the Department of Justice’s decision to stigmatize freedom-minded Americans as terrorists for questioning the 2020 election is entirely about policing thought — not preventing or punishing statutory crimes.
When Representative Cheney impugns President Trump as being the subject of a “massive criminal investigation,” she throws “innocent until proven guilty” out the window. When Representative Raskin says President Trump’s refusal to testify at these Star Chamber proceedings should be cited as evidence of his own guilt, Raskin torches Americans’ Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in the process. Surely, anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats who find it expedient to discard constitutional rights in order to settle scores and silence critics should never be trusted in positions of power, and surely, any congressperson who seeks to justify the criminalization of speech by appealing to national unity has no intention of governing other than as a tyrant.
What Congress is doing by labeling President Trump’s political speech as treasonous is a far greater threat to the country’s survival than anything China has in mind for our future. However else this spectacle of a witch trial against the president unfolds, the “greatest deliberative body in the world” proves that it is neither great nor deliberative.
If the former “leader of the free world” can be labeled a “premeditated murderer” and “domestic enemy” for asking questions out loud, ordinary people learn pretty quickly that question marks are too dangerous except when whispered far from prying ears.
So we have two worlds now — the real world that everyone knows is true but must pretend is false and the political world that everyone knows is false but must pretend is true. We have become a country of dissidents trapped within a prison of lies.
When “a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything else his own.” Franklin said that, too. And when that is the case, a police state has taken over.
There is a wonderful corollary, however: when the greatest threat to a state’s survival becomes questioning its monopoly on truth, then ordinary people become extraordinarily powerful simply by asking questions.
The most dangerous thing to any police state is a person capable of thinking clearly.