Kim Strassel: The Left's War on Free Speech 'Goes Beyond Bullying'

ORLANDO, FL — Conservative activists at the Defending the American Dream summit outlined four fronts in the war against free speech. One of the most egregious examples, besides the IRS scandal and the "John Doe" investigations in Wisconsin, was a video game targeting members of the non-profit group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which hosted the event.

"It's out-and-out harassment, it's out-and-out intimidation, it's out-and-out abuse of government powers," the Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel told PJ Media after a panel on free speech. "When you're sicking the federal bureaucracy on people and they have the power to give you non-profit status or not, to silence your speech, that's not just bullying — that's robbing you of your constitutional protections. I think it does go beyond bullying."

"Conservatives are under repeated attack by people who say it is the First Amendment for me but not for thee," declared Matt Kittle, Watchdog.org's Wisconsin bureau chief.  He detailed some of the gruesome stories involved in the "John Doe" investigations against supporters of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and plugged Strassel's new book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech.

1. The "John Doe" investigations.

The "John Doe" investigations should be infamous. Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm went after Wisconsin's conservatives, using extremely broad subpoenas and conducting midnight raids of private homes. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the legal theory behind the investigations was "unsupported in either reason or law," but that could not change the fact that families fast asleep had their homes invaded, were woken up at gunpoint, and were told they could not tell a soul about the encounter.

Kittle quoted one of the victims, who said "every time I see an unmarked van driving on my street my heart stops." The alleged reason? These conservative groups were coordinating to support Scott Walker. The irony? "Coordination is what the Left does all the time," the Watchdog.org chief declared.

He explained that the "John Doe" investigations reveal a specific type of attack where the prosecution is itself the punishment. "If they cannot beat you with the law, they will try to prosecute the law into existence, and they will try to do that through intimidation, harassment, and very costly lawsuits," Kittle said.

Next Page: Clamping down on climate "deniers," and silencing dissent on college campuses.

2. RICO against climate skeptics.

Another "process is the punishment" case features climate change skeptics, against whom one professor actually called on the federal government to use racketeering laws (RICO). He argued that "corporations and other organizations have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change," and that such groups should be sanctioned by law.

Some state attorneys general have already started engaging in this kind of activity. In April, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker subpoenaed the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), demanding "essentially every document and communication related to climate change policy that we created, sent, or received during the 10-year period from 1997 to 2007," according to CEI's website. Walker eventually revoked his subpoena when challenged in court, but he added that he could reissue the subpoena at any time.

Such actions intend "to make it hugely costly for climate skeptics to speak out and to intimidate donors to stop giving," declared Coley Jackson, CEI's vice president of external affairs. He said such investigations are "all about politics," and warned that if the Left is able to use these tactics successfully against climate skeptics, they will employ bureaucracy against any dissenters. "If they win on this, it will serve as a blueprint for them."

No less than seventeen state and territorial attorneys general have already joined up to "leverage" state-based RICO laws to attack climate change skeptics for their views.

3. College campuses.

The leftist terms "safe space," "microaggression," and "trigger warning" should be infamous by now. The idea that colleges should be "safe spaces," where students are not challenged on their fundamental beliefs, is antithetical to the very idea of higher education. In order to avoid "microaggressions," words or actions which insult somebody without intending to do so, teachers are required to give "trigger warnings" about the books and subjects they will be examining in class, so as to alert sensitive students that they might be "triggered" by the material.

In the same vein, colleges have set up "free speech zones," with the assumption that every other place on campus does not have free speech. "Free speech zones have been ruled unconstitutional time and time again in Federal court, yet one in six colleges across the country have free speech zones," explained Caleb Bonham, national political commentator and co-founder of the political consulting firm D/CO Consulting.

Bonham went on to describe one student's attempt to pass out pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day (September 17). A private security officer stopped the student, telling him, "You need to have approval."

When the student was brought to the administrator's office, he protested that he had free speech. The administrator disagreed. "I don't remember you ever coming into my office to get approval. I don't have your ID [at this point, Bonham pointed out "you need to present identification to have free speech"]. You didn't fill out a free speech request to pass this stuff out on campus, and the material you're passing out hasn't been previously approved." At this point, the crowd burst out laughing.

"So, I can't remember if that's what our founders intended — I'm no scholar — but I don't recall them saying something to the effect of 'all free speech must be approved by THE MAN,'" Bonham mockingly declared.

Next Page: Why the Left's scare tactics about "dark money" is about free speech, and why they're using the same tactics segregationists used against the NAACP.

4. Campaign finance and donor anonymity.

"What does Hillary Clinton promise to do within 30 days of becoming president?" asked the Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel. "Introduce an amendment that gives the government the right to regulate speech. Now, she puts it a different way. She says, 'I'm going to introduce an amendment to overturn Citizens United.'"

Strassel explained that overturning that court case is really a way to restrict free speech in politics. "Those who would like to restrict speech spent a long time thinking about how you could get around that, and their answer was money. Money is a proxy for speech. If you listen to the Left, they love to talk about 'big money,' 'dark money' — they use 'big money' and 'dark money!' They don't want you to speak, and this is their hook to make it easier for them to silence you."

The Wall Street Journal editor explained that there is a connection between spending money and getting your message out, and she argued that "the Left loves to regulate money in politics, because that's a way of regulating their opponents." If free speech cases like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission are overturned, "the government can decide who can spend money in elections, which is the same as saying who can speak in elections."

"When you hear 'campaign finance reform' or 'dark money,' [the Left] is trying to silence you," declared Matt Nese, director of external relations at the Center for Competitive Politics. He defended each American's right to donate to political causes, explaining that giving money is another way of speaking out for what you believe in.

But the Left isn't just trying to overturn Citizens United. Various liberal leaders are also trying to pressure conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity to publicly reveal the list of their donors.

Strassel used the case of NAACP v. Alabama to explain why it is so important for donors to keep their anonymity. She explained the case, where "Jim Crow" Alabama Attorney General John Patterson "ginned up a phony case against the NAACP, and said that as part of his investigation, the NAACP needed to turn over a list of all its members to him."

"Why did he want those names? Not to send them thank-you notes," Strassel quipped, bitterly. "This was a time of firebombs, of shootings of lynchings," so it was very important for NAACP donors to remain anonymous. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court expanded the First Amendment. "They said not only do you have a right to free speech, not only do you have a right to free assembly, but you have the right to exercise those rights anonymously," Strassel explained. She added that "sometimes you can't exercise the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech unless you do so anonymously."

Fast forward to 2015. Victor Bernson, vice president and general council at AFP, recalled how the attorney general of California, Kamala Harris, tried to force his organization to release the names of its donors. In testifying on the matter, AFP officials and donors revealed the threats and intimidation they had already received, before any forced disclosure.

"Our chief operating officer, my boss, Chris Fink, ... testified about the threats to him and his family members. They're just horrible, and I'll just relate one typical thing that we showed in that courtroom," Bernson declared. "It was a video game produced by the Left, and the concept of the game is an active shooter goes into AFP headquarters, and you get points for killing AFP personnel."

According to Bernson, Harris wanted the information on AFP donors "to directly harass and intimidate our donors, maybe bring audits against them, maybe deny them permits that they're seeking — but it goes beyond that. She was also going to leak this stuff to her pals ... because they were going to get out their boycotting forces, and show up at people's businesses, and blockade their doors, and go into people's homes, destroy their property, and protest all day long, and just make their personal lives miserable."

This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it's actually quite a reasonable fear. After all, Brendan Eich was forced out of Mozilla for merely donating — one time — to a campaign against gay marriage. Black Lives Matter protesters — acting on very little evidence — burned down a gas station and destroyed cars in Milwaukee a few weeks ago. Last year, when the Internet learned a dentist had poached a lion, he was subject to death threats at his house. Oh, and there was an active shooter at a conservative non-profit, the Family Research Council.

Bernson explained that "anonymous speech is a right," and turned to the example of the founding fathers. "The Federalist Papers were published anonymously, and would not have worked otherwise." The AFP staffer suggested that if it were publicly known that one of the authors (Alexander Hamilton) was an immigrant, the papers might not have succeeded in defending the new Constitution.

Free speech is a fundamental right, and the Left's assault upon it cannot be dismissed. From "John Doe" to RICO to "safe spaces" to campaign finance, there is no denying it. Republicans and conservatives are not blameless, but these attacks should be infamous and well-known. This is how the Left operates, and how they attempt to shut down the debate. Let us all speak out against it.

Check out the disturbing video game targeting conservative groups on the next page.