Category Archives: 1st Amendment

The FBI’s Raid on James O’Keefe

WSJ  11/18/2021

Attorney General Merrick Garland still refuses to retract the memo he sent last month instructing the Department of Justice to scrutinize parents protesting at local school board meetings. Now his department may have committed another civil-liberties abuse with its raid on Project Veritas leader James O’Keefe.

Project Veritas is a right-wing media organization known for going undercover inside progressive institutions and using its findings to embarrass them. Early morning a week ago Saturday, FBI agents raided Mr. O’Keefe’s New York apartment, handcuffed him in the hallway and seized two cell phones. He has not been charged with a crime.

The subject of the investigation is apparently a diary believed to belong to President Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden. Project Veritas says it was given the diary by two individuals last year and chose not to publish it because its authenticity couldn’t be verified, then handed it over to law enforcement. The diary was later published by an obscure website.

It’s settled law that it’s not a crime for journalists to publish information that was obtained unlawfully. If it was a crime, most of America’s largest news organizations would be criminal enterprises. Project Veritas says the people who gave the group the diary said it was not stolen. How the diary was obtained, and how it came to be published by a different website, is still murky.

Yet the search warrant says Justice is investigating “possession of stolen goods” and related offenses, suggesting Project Veritas or its employees may be targets. Imagine if the Trump Administration raided New York Times editors’ homes after the publication of the President’s tax records—or even for an investigation into documents they did not ultimately publish.

Nothing that invasive ever happened. But partly in response to the furor over the Trump Administration’s supposed threat to press freedom, Mr. Garland published guidelines in July narrowing Justice’s ability to seize information from reporters. The policy said Justice “will no longer use compulsory legal process” against journalists “acting within the scope of newsgathering activities.”

There are exceptions for things like the threat of imminent terrorist acts, or where a reporter “has used criminal methods, such as breaking and entering” to obtain information. Mr. Garland’s deputy must also approve any searches.

The seizure of Mr. O’Keefe’s phones gives the FBI access to all of Project Veritas’ investigations, not just records related to the diary. When Mr. O’Keefe’s lawyer asked the government after the raid to pause its search for a day to address legal issues regarding “attorney client privileged information, material protected by the First Amendment, and confidential donor information,” the government refused.

Last Thursday federal Judge Analisa Torres ordered the government to pause. She’ll consider Mr. O’Keefe’s motion to have a court-appointed “special master” keep the FBI from snooping on protected records.

The government also confirmed in correspondence with Mr. O’Keefe’s attorney that it “complied with all applicable regulations and policies regarding potential members of the news media”—meaning Mr. Garland’s guidance—in executing the search warrant.

That suggests Mr. Garland’s policy supposedly expanding press protections does the opposite. Reporters who obtain potentially stolen documents related to a public figure may be subject to the same treatment as Mr. O’Keefe—homes raided and devices seized and searched with no special dispensation for journalistic activity.

Journalism isn’t a shield against lawbreaking, and if Mr. O’Keefe committed a crime in obtaining the diary, he is subject to prosecution. We don’t agree with or practice all of Mr. O’Keefe’s methods, but what he does is reporting that qualifies as journalism.

The circumstances of the FBI raid were punitive. Project Veritas was in the process of complying with a subpoena. On Monday the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a motion for the court to unseal the documents that were the basis for the search warrant.

Those documents better contain very strong evidence of a crime committed by Project Veritas to justify this behavior by a Democratic Administration toward a journalist. If not, the seizure of Mr. O’Keefe’s records is another abuse of civil liberties by Mr. Garland’s department, and Congress ought to ask what the Attorney General knew about it.


The Left Betrays the Working Class on Covid Mandates

Solidarity with working people is a core tenet of the left. The Democratic Party constantly reminds workers of its historical support for such advances as paid vacations, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance and overtime pay. So why do many Democratic politicians promote vaccine mandates that cause working people to lose their jobs?

“Of the nearly 80 million eligible Americans who have not gotten vaccinated, many said they were waiting for approval from the Food and Drug Administration—the FDA,” President Biden said on Sept. 9. “Well, last month, the FDA granted that approval. So the time for waiting is over.” Mr. Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would impose a vaccination mandate on companies with 100 or more employees. (Last week the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the mandate’s enforcement.) “This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Mr. Biden insisted.

Tell that to Karen Mason, 59, who has been a New York City public schoolteacher for 21 years. Ms. Mason, who is black, says she’s “very suspicious of the whole vaccination campaign” and cites “the history of America’s experimentation on African-Americans.” Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vaccine mandate has forced her on unpaid leave. She expects to retire early rather than comply.

I’m terrified of Covid-19 and have had four Pfizer shots. I think everyone should get vaccinated. But it’s not the role of government to force people to make good health decisions—especially by threatening their ability to earn a living.

In heavily Democratic areas like New York, coronavirus politics leaves workers who won’t or can’t be vaccinated without advocates. Some labor unions, whose mission is to defend employees, are abandoning their members. Workers and their allies should stand behind workers—period. Solidarity means everyone in your class, regardless of how they vote or what they choose to inject. No one should threaten hardworking people with poverty for their personal medical decisions. And no one who self-identifies as being on the left should tolerate, much less sign on to, such a project.

Democrats have a major problem with working-class voters. Polls show that Terry McAuliffe lost his bid for the Virginia governorship in large part because of lower-than-expected support among voters without college degrees, especially women. Vaccine mandates won’t help win them back.

In places like New York, vaccine politics don’t fit the stereotypical red-blue divide. The Bronx is mostly working-class, heavily minority and even more heavily Democratic. “People are wearing double masks, being really careful, but the vaccination rates in the neighborhood are still very low,” Andrew Rasmussen, an associate professor of psychology at Fordham University, told the Guardian. “That suggests that there’s something else going on there.” Marginalized groups distrust many institutions.

Ms. Mason, the teacher, feels vilified by a party for which she has voted in election after election: “I always thought the Democrats would be sympathetic to the working class. The unvaccinated don’t want to lose their jobs. Now it seems like conservatives are the only ones investigating” the safety of the vaccines.

Another New York high-school teacher, Ricardo Alexander, 51, says vaccines violate his religious beliefs: “My body is a temple.” As a student, Mr. Alexander received religious exemptions from vaccination requirements at City College of New York, Adelphi University and Columbia. But his request to the New York City Board of Education was summarily denied.

“Your application has failed to meet the criteria for a religious-based accommodation,” the board emailed him. “Per the Order of the Commissioner of Health, unvaccinated employees cannot work in a Department of Education (DOE) building or other site with contact with DOE students, employees, or families without posing a direct threat to health and safety. We cannot offer another worksite as an accommodation as that would impose an undue hardship (i.e. more than a minimal burden) on the DOE and its operations.” Regular free testing isn’t being offered as an alternative to the shot, making the New York mandate even more onerous for employees than OSHA’s.

“I didn’t commit any crime,” Mr. Alexander says. “I didn’t violate any rules in my contract. I’ve never been disciplined. I am a team player. I was treated worse than people accused of doing wrong things.” Unlike the United Federation of Teachers, other unions—he mentions those representing police and firefighters—are fighting for their members. Asked what he’ll do when he’s unemployed, he says God will provide.

Meanwhile, a substitute gives his former students a handout every day. An experienced teacher is gone; no one has replaced him. And crowded classrooms make a mockery of social distancing, Mr. Alexander says.

Registered nurse Donna Schmidt, 52, is on unpaid leave from her job at a Long Island-based healthcare system. She has both religious and scientific objections to Covid-19 vaccinations. “I’m not against vaccinations,” she told me. “Traditionally, the Covid-19 vaccine isn’t a vaccine. The CDC changed their definition of a vaccine. It’s truly gene therapy. The mRNA technology has never been used in human beings before.” A self-identified libertarian conservative, Ms. Schmidt says both major political parties have betrayed people like her.

Some of the mandates have been effective. According to the UFT, 97% of New York schoolteachers have received at least one shot. For many, however, it felt like coercion. “I had to do it for the finances of my family,” Queens elementary-school teacher Roxanne Rizzi, 55, told the Associated Press.

“There is a lot of hypocrisy going on among people of all political persuasions,” Ms. Schmidt says. “They support the vaccine mandate because the government and the media has done a good job of making people think this is the only way out.”

She adds: “Historically, government doesn’t give back power. What’s next?” Leftists used to make that argument.

Mr. Rall is a political cartoonist, columnist and author, most recently, of “The Stringer.” Nancy Siesel contributed to this article.


How will Muslim Nominee Protect Other Faiths?

Christianity Daily  11/21/2021

A Colorado-based group promoting religious freedom asked President Joe Biden’s Muslim nominee, Rashad Hussain, how will he and the administration protect other faiths and their rights.

WND said JihadWatch, through its director Robert Spencer, highlighted the 7-page open letter sent by Save The Persecuted Christians Coalition to Hussain questionimg his capacity to be truthful to his role as an “Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom” even to other religions, especially those being persecuted by Muslims.

The coalition is comprised of 124 American Christians and Jews that aims “to engage public officials and spread news of persecution” at the grassroots.

“He is, by all accounts, a devout Muslim. As Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, will he speak out and act for the religious freedom of non-Muslims in Shariah states who are discriminated against according to Shariah provisions? The establishment media will never ask him. So Save the Persecuted Christians has done so,” Spencer said.

The open letter pointed out some unaddressed areas on Hussain’s nomination to the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. The coalition raised the said areas out of its desire that clarity be made on the matter prior to Hussain receiving the United States Senate’s vote on his nomination.

Save The Persecuted Christians’ letter pointed out that one of the areas that were not addressed was Hussain’s beliefs on “certain tenets of Islamic Law.” One of the said tenets pertain to Islam having a “supremacist position” over other religions. This tenet compels Muslims adherance to the treatment of “infidels” or those who are non-Muslims as “inferior” to them such that they have limited rights and are subject to “severe punishment.”

Another tenet involves considering converts as “apostates” subject to death penalty. While another considers Muslims with a different interpretation of Islam as “apostates” who are similarly subjected to the same punishment as converts.

“As a committed Muslim, in the execution of your office as AAL, will you be able to consider members of all faiths or of no faith equally worthy of U.S. protection from persecution by state and non-state actors?” Save The Persecuted Christians said.

“In light of differences in the understanding of personal rights and freedoms under Sharia rules versus those protected under international laws concerning human rights and religious freedom, what standard would you advocate for when issues arise affecting the freedom of non-Muslims to practice their faith–especially in Muslim-majority nations–if confirmed as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom?” they added.

The letter also sought clarity in 17 other areas on Hussein’s history, ideologies, and statements, such as using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as his guide in implementing his role. The coalition said that this differs significantly” from the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights that was used by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to which Hussein was appointed to by former President Barack Obama as a Special Envoy.

The difference lies in the “legal and practical implications of its caveat that all human rights are to be observed only to the extent they are consistent with Sharia,” which is the Arabic name for the Islamic Law.

The coalition particularly cited that as OIC Special Envoy, Hussein was one of those who promoted a false narrative that a jihadist attack in Benghazi was “spontaneous” instead of it being “murderous and pre-planned.” The said attack actually led to the death of a U.S. Ambassador to Lydia among others. The coalition asked Hussein if he still holds the same position today.

The group also cited several instances that Hussein acted against justice by defending Muslims even though it was not the truth such as silencing those who spoke against persecution done by Islamic groups as “Islamophobic” during his stint as OIC Special Envoy.


‘Woke’ Is a Bad Word for a Real Threat to American Democracy – WSJ

WSJ, by Garry Kasparov

The search is on for new words for old ideas. “Cancel culture” and “woke” have become overused and abused, part of a struggle to define one’s political opponents in the harshest possible way, to dismiss ideas as not only wrong or harmful, but intolerable.

As a nonnative English speaker, I am content to avoid rhetorical fashion and use older phrases. Call it the mob mentality, groupthink, or punitive neo-Puritan orthodoxy. It is the abuse of power—mostly social, not yet governmental—to silence debate and paralyze the spread of any ideas that challenge the prevailing ideological dogma. It is the coordinated, coercive attempt to win a debate by ending debate—to punish, not to educate.

The leading practitioners of these tactics have two contradictory responses to criticism. First, they say it isn’t happening, that it doesn’t exist, that drawing attention to it is a rhetorical whine to silence critics of the establishment and shield the privileged from accountability. Second, they blame the victims, calling them bad people with bad ideas who should be banished to make room for more diverse voices. Claiming you are fighting fire with fire can be used to justify any excess; the only way to fight back is to take freedom away from someone else.

The politics of personal destruction have run amok online and off. Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Peter Thiel for years. I disagree with him on many things, especially lately, but the attacks on him have been disturbing. In his recent book “The Contrarian,” journalist Max Chafkin assigns an ideology to Mr. Thiel, then defines it as “fascist” and even tries to blame this concocted “Thielism” for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. There is little doubt that the book would never have come to be had Mr. Thiel not supported Donald Trump in 2016. Suddenly, a secretive libertarian tech investor with a complex history and identity—immigrant, gay, Stanford Law grad, coastal elite—became simply evil, and Mr. Chafkin was quickly paid to fill hundreds of pages to support that preordained conclusion.

Criticism of politically active billionaires and tech giants is essential. But as the left did with the Koch brothers and the right has done with George Soros, demonizing people for wealth and political activity can spin out of control. Muckraking books, screaming mobs—in person, not only online—and rumors about your personal life shouldn’t be the price of political involvement in a democracy.

Tearing down the powerful may be satisfying, if briefly, but remember who inevitably suffers most when justice is abandoned in favor of vengeance and destruction. Black Lives Matter, a necessary idea and important human-rights movement, has been hijacked by leaders who seek only power—and who are willing to sacrifice their supposed beneficiaries to achieve it. Who will be harmed most when the police are defunded, the public education system wrecked? Not the elites. The Russian Revolution dispatched some wealthy landowners, but its natural outcome was a new form of slavery under totalitarian Communism—all in the name of equality and freedom, of course.

Putting ideology and politics ahead of reason is as dangerous as putting them ahead of justice. Mr. Trump and his administration used the possibility that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory to bash China and deflect attention from his administration’s catastrophic pandemic response. A corresponding rise in hate crimes against Asians helped turn a crucial line of inquiry into a politicized bludgeon.

The left’s reaction to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was instructive. Anyone who mentioned the lab-leak theory was assailed as pro-Trump. Social-media companies removed posts mentioning it. By January 2021, it was obvious that shutting down debate was the true antiscience position. Invaluable months were lost, time the Chinese Communist Party used to destroy data and spread disinformation about the virus’s origins. We may never know the truth, but we do know there was a coverup.

Increasing numbers of Americans believe their freedom is under attack, and I agree. Antidemocratic forces are on the rise. Election results are treated as suspect. Threats of violence are becoming routine.

Schools are being pressured to remove books and cancel professors for spreading the “wrong” ideas. These sentiments are all too familiar to me, and to anyone who has survived life in a dictatorship. The only answer is more freedom, more speech, not less.

This is why the Renew Democracy Initiative launched the Frontlines of Freedom project, which gives voice to dissidents from authoritarian regimes around the world. Americans have the rights and self-determination that people in Russia, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe are literally dying for. We see the pillars of American democracy under attack from within, by rioters at the Capitol and online mobs. Rights are violated in the U.S. when the system fails. They are violated in dictatorships when the system works as intended. Heed this warning.

Destroying the mechanisms of democracy to preserve democracy won’t work. We can’t promote marginalized voices by telling them what is acceptable to say. We must fight to preserve the free flow of ideas, of debate and an open society, however uncomfortable it makes us. Democracy has never been a safe space.

Mr. Kasparov is chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative.

Appeared in the November 18, 2021, print edition.