Join us as we examine the information warfare being waged to enforce a single narrative about the war in Ukraine. Watch the replay.
It may be worse than McCarthyism, which was defeated by its own excesses. Today’s information war against individuals and media who do not adhere to the Western-government-enforced narrative on Ukraine is part of a long history in the U.S. of officially crushing dissent. With the advances of technology for both surveillance and censorship, we might be in the most chilling atmosphere yet for thought control. Will it too be brought down by its own excesses?
As Consortium News has argued, the U.S. and NATO needed and helped facilitate the invasion of Ukraine to launch its economic war against Russia but also its information war against domestic dissent. Our guests have been targets of censorship and smears in this coordinated assault on freedom of expression: George Galloway, Chris Hedges, Scott Ritter and Jill Stein, co-hosted by Elizabeth Vos and Joe Lauria and produced by Cathy Vogan.
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The First Amendment has not prevented the U.S. from suppressing speech throughout its history.
Just eight years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, press freedom had become a threat to John Adams, the second president, whose Federalist Party pushed through Congress the Alien and Sedition Laws. They criminalized criticism of the federal government:
“To write, print, utter or publish, or cause it to be done, or assist in it, any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame, or bring either into contempt or disrepute…” was banned.
Congress did not renew the Act in 1801.
Freedom of the press and speech next came significantly under attack in the lead up to the 1860-65 U.S. Civil War. Newspaper editors who campaigned for the abolition of slavery were attacked by mobs, sometimes directed by elected officials. In 1837 an editor was killed by a mob, one of whose organizers was the Illinois attorney general.
During the war numerous editors and journalists were arrested in the North. “Throughout the war, newspaper reporters and editors were arrested without due process for opposing the draft, discouraging enlistments in the Union army, or even criticizing the income tax,” according to the First Amendment Encyclopedia.
While formal censorship was excluded from the 1917 Espionage Act by just one vote in the U.S. Senate, the 1918 Sedition Act was a two-paragraph amendment that was aimed at Americans who insulted the U.S. government, military or flag and who tried to criticize the draft, military industry or sale of war bonds.
This law distilled the essence of enforced loyalty of the population to the symbols and military power of the state. It demolished the idea that America is exceptional as it showed the U.S. enforcing the same state-worship as most nations in history.
The act, with similar federal laws, was used to convict at least 877 people in 1919 and 1920, most infamously the socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for publicly opposing the military draft in a June 1918 speech.
Publications such as The Masses were also prosecuted. The Sedition Act was repealed by Congress in March 1921.
During the First World War the peculiar American practice of renaming food to erase the enemy began. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq French fries became freedom fries, because France opposed the war. Today Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky have been removed from concert programs and living Russian artists have been fired.
The Red Scare under Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s was one of the worst periods of smearing and punishing Americans who were thought to be disloyal. Its end came with the excess of McCarthy trying to find communists in the U.S. army.
In the 1971 Pentagon Papers case the Supreme Court made clear what the First
Amendment stands for. Justice Hugo Black wrote:
“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government.”
The 2016 election and the Russiagate fiasco gave the Democrats in Congress an excuse to use social media companies as proxies to shut down speech it did not agree with. It also led to smearing of those who questioned the Russiagate tale as being Russian agents.
One of the gravest acts of U.S. repression of press freedom and free speech was the arrest and indictment under the Espionage Act of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who for three years as been incarcerated in the maximum security Belmarsh Prison in London, awaiting extradition to the United States.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has given the U.S. the excuse it needed to launch an economic war against Russia, which so far is backfiring, to try to bog Russia down in a quagmire with continual arms shipments to Ukraine, and also to launch an information war, not only against Russia, but against U.S. and U.K. domestic dissent. Only one narrative is being enforced, which prohibits mention of Ukraine’s recent history, such as the 2014 U.S. backed coup, the 8-year war in Donbass as the role of neo-Nazis in Ukraine.