DHS “Misinformation Governance Board” Could Seek to Sway Gun Debate
In late April, Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), made a bizarre announcement during a congressional hearing that DHS was forming what it called a “Mis- and Disinformation Governance Board.” The statement came in response to a question about how DHS was responding to supposed Russian interference in American elections. Mayorkas said the Board was intended to counter threats to both election security and “homeland security.”
The DHS secretary did not, however, go into detail about what authorities the board would have and how it would exercise “governance” of the information, opinions, and narratives that reach the American people.
But the threats to American freedom and access to a diverse range of opinions and ideas are obvious. And this would be especially true for hotly contested and highly political issues like the right to keep and bear arms.
Perhaps only the Biden administration was surprised when voices from across the political and ideological spectrums immediately began raising alarms about the potential for government censorship, the chilling of speech, and the specter of official propaganda. Even a Washington Post columnist, while bemoaning what he considered the bane of disinformation, urged: “DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should pull the plug on the new board. Like, yesterday. And never speak of it again.”
Frequent comparisons have also been made to the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. That was the governmental entity of Big Brother’s oppressive regime responsible for falsifying events and history to correspond to the regime’s policies and establishing what was considered the “truth” that would govern the lives of its subjects. That truth, however, was often detached from – and directly counter to – objective reality.
Others reacted to the ever-so-convenient coincidence that the Biden administration was launching an initiative to counter “dis- and misinformation” just when heads were exploding throughout his political party over “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.
Besides the reality that “facts” are ever vulnerable to new discoveries and revelations and that many areas of public debate involve deep matters of philosophical, spiritual, and situational perspective that cannot be reduced to a universal “truth,” there is the matter of the First Amendment. Simply put, the Executive Branch does not have the authority and is in fact forbidden from suppressing ideas and opinions, even those it labels counterproductive to domestic tranquility and security.
Yet if the government does not use the “Governance Board” to curb or punish speech directly, it is still likely that its pronouncements could sway the stewards of the modern digital public square, whose orthodoxy is increasingly uniform amongst themselves but who the public widely distrusts.
So far, precious little information has emerged to allay the initial fears of bias, overreach, and abuse. The newly announced director of the board is partisan to the point of activism and idiosyncratic to the point of discomfort. Even the mainstream media is acknowledging that the board’s launch has been “messy” and “myste[ious].”
It’s not difficult to imagine how a “Mis- and Disinformation Board” could negatively affect Second Amendment rights.
For years, there was a disagreement over whether the Second Amendment protected a private, individual right to keep and bear arms. The media, legal establishment, and anti-gun politicians eagerly promoted the idea that the Second Amendment was only a “collective right” that could not be invoked by individuals, or, at most, could be invoked by individuals only to assert their right to bear arms in an organized militia.
Meanwhile, a small cadre of researchers of different political persuasions actually dug into the historical and legal records and came up with conclusions that diverged from the orthodoxy. This dissident view was then ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that the Second Amendment has always protected a fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms independent of service in an organized militia.
The “experts” and their conventional wisdom, in other words, did not prevail where it mattered most, nor – in their smug complacency on the issue – had they done the same quality of research, scholarship, and analysis that went into convincing the court that the weight of evidence proved them wrong.
But if the government could have actively suppressed those efforts, that outcome almost certainly would have been different.
Moreover, there are important questions of fact concerning the causes and dynamics of violent crime; the role of firearms in legitimate self-defense; the ways violent criminals obtain their crime guns; the nation’s history of firearm laws and policies; even what firearm laws are actually already on the books. These are but a sampling of the many areas of disagreement among policymakers and supposed “experts.”
And without rehashing every debate in one article, suffice to say that Joe Biden, and his former counterpart in the Chief Executive’s office (also a big advocate of suppressing “disinformation”), have both been called out repeatedly by even mainstream factcheckers for false or misleading gun claims.
Joe Biden is hardly a credible or knowledgeable source about firearms or the Second Amendment (among many other things). And he and his minions are also unfit to decide who else is credible and knowledgeable on those topics.
While the administration’s collaborators in the media have tried to portray objections to the board as merely partisan politics as usual, Americans have an instinctual aversion to being told what to think or of government efforts to silence alternative viewpoints.
So far, it seems like DHS’ attempts to enter into the information control arena are likely to prove more of an embarrassing liability to the Biden administration than to actually result in much censorship. It is perhaps a testament to the continued vitality of free speech that board itself has been the subject of voluminous criticism and ridicule, an apt reaction to such a foolhardy endeavor.
Certainly, as long as this website remains operational, gun owners can rest assured that truthful and accurate information about firearms and the issues that surround them will continue to be available.
© 2022 National Rifle Association of America, Institute for Legislative Action. This may be reproduced. This may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.