The West’s War on Dissent - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The West’s War on Dissent
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Protest against Norway’s COVID lockdown, Oslo, Norway, March 2020 (Petros Goulas/Shutterstock)

Every year, the Norwegian Police Security Service (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, or PST) issues a National Threat Assessment report. Its objective is to identify what kinds of individuals or groups, either domestic or foreign, are likely to commit acts of terrorism in Norway in the year to come. Since I live in Norway and care about this question, I try to keep up with these annual documents. Granted, they tend to be rather exasperating — leaving the absurd impression, for example, that neo-Nazism is as prevalent as jihadist Islam. But this year’s report, published on February 11, proved even more vexing than usual. “Over the past year,” it reads, “PST has registered growing activity among individuals who advocate anti-government ideas.”

Yes, “anti-government ideas.” To be sure, the term “anti-government” (anti-statlig) isn’t entirely new to PST reports. It has cropped up previously in two of them — eight times in 2018, thrice last year — but in both cases it appeared in the context of statements that “anti-government” individuals were unlikely to constitute a security threat. This year, however, the word “anti-government” can be found no fewer than twenty-two times, and the passages in which it occurs express serious concern about the danger of “anti-government convictions” (anti-statlige overbevisninger), “anti-government thoughts” (anti-statlig tankegods), “anti-government ideas” (anti-statlige ideer), “anti-government sympathizers” (anti-statlige sympatisører), “anti-government currents” (anti-stalige strømninger), “anti-government perceptions” (anti-statlige oppfatninger), and “anti-government propaganda” (anti-statlig propaganda). The point: Norwegians who dare to disagree with the positions held by their nation’s ruling parties are potentially dangerous.

Bill Wilson/The American Spectator

Bill Wilson/The American Spectator

It’s impossible not to notice that this rhetorical sea change comes at a time when left-wing governments and media in other purportedly free countries also have begun branding dissenters from the official line as enemies of the state and attaching to them such labels as “right-wing extremist.” Take the U.S., where these days, as Robert Spencer observed in February, “Everyone leftists don’t like is a Nazi.” During the Trump presidency, his supporters were routinely called “racists” and “xenophobes.” When a draft report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), leaked in September 2020, stated that the greatest terror threat facing the U.S. was posed by “white supremacists” — a group that had barely been known to exist in the U.S. a few years earlier — everyone knew to whom the DHS was referring. The utter irrationality of such name-calling is reflected in the fact that even pro-Trump black conservatives such as Larry Elder and Candace Owens have been identified as white supremacists. With equal illogic, Jennifer Ho, president of the Asian American Studies Association, has claimed that even though virtually all anti-Asian violence in America is committed by black people, it “has the same source as anti-Black racism: white supremacy.”

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These are only a few of the terms now used to smear dissenters. After America’s 2020 presidential election, Trump voters who scratched their heads over the many suspicious election night developments were called “conspiracy theorists” and spreaders of “disinformation.” The same accusation was leveled at those who didn’t embrace the official line on the Wuhan virus’s origins. And following the events of January 6, 2021, the two-thousand-odd people who entered the Capitol building were accused of being “insurrectionists” and “domestic terrorists” — terms that were soon applied as well to the millions of Trump supporters around the country. In late January of last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi contended that some of her Republican colleagues in the House constitute an “enemy … within”; last December, Attorney General Merrick Garland jumped to attention in response to a letter from the National School Boards Association demanding that he investigate as “domestic terrorists” those outspoken parents who don’t want their young children being indoctrinated into transgender ideology. On February 28 of this year, Fox News hack Juan Williams attributed the notion that President Joe Biden is “mentally incompetent, a weakling and a failure” to “conspiracy theories.”

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In the last couple of years, the term “anti-government” itself has been ubiquitous in the American media. In a recent article, two professors of political science darkly characterized January 6 as the culmination of “more than a half-century of anti-government rhetoric,” including “Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric.” You’d never know from their reproachful tone that the American suspicion of government goes back to Thomas Jefferson, who — in a famous 1788 letter referring to Shays’ Rebellion, which had taken place two years earlier in Massachusetts — wrote, “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion…. what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” Such thinking was once considered the essence of American patriotism; but in the eyes of today’s Left, it’s tantamount to treason. For these elites, indeed, “freedom” is now a dirty word — a rallying cry for dangerous subversives. As Joe Biden so memorably said in a scoffing reference to critics of lockdown rules: “I mean come on, freedom.”

Which brings us to Canada, about whose valiant truckers one CNN talking head sneered, “They want their freedom back, whatever that means.” In a February 21 op-ed for the Globe and Mail, perhaps Canada’s most prominent newspaper, Beverley McLachlin, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, noted that the truckers had waved “banners demanding ‘freedom.’ ” But freedom, she insisted, articulating an opinion that could not differ more profoundly from Jefferson’s, is not absolute:

Our governments must draw the difficult lines that mark the limits of freedom in a particular situation. When you must wear a mask. Whether you can cross a border without a vaccine certificate. How many people can attend a party and who gets to go to school…. The heady notion of freedom, defined as the unconstrained right to do what you want free of government limits, serves as a cloak for actions that harm women, men and children who are simply going about their business and trying to do the right thing. Freedom without limits slides imperceptibly into freedom to say and do what you want about people who don’t look like you or talk like you. Sadly, the Ottawa truckers’ convoy has revealed this ugly side of freedom…. True freedom — freedom subject to reasonable limits that allow us to live together — is essential to a peaceful and prosperous future for us all. Let’s not allow the freedoms we cherish to become ugly freedoms.

I wasn’t surprised to discover that McLachlin now sits on the Court of Final Appeals in Hong Kong, where she has been accused of “helping prop up a system used to erase basic freedoms.”

McLachlin’s take on freedom is consistent with that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who since taking office in 2015 has seemed as indifferent to the concept of individual freedom as he is gung-ho about communalism and diversity. During the COVID lockdown, however, he stepped things up, beginning to sound — and then, eventually, to act — like a dictator. Some opponents of vaccines, he said in a January interview (deliberately conflating opposition to vaccines with opposition to vaccine mandates), are “extremists who don’t believe in science. They’re also misogynists, also often racists…. Do we tolerate these people?” On January 26, he charged that the participants in the anti-mandate truck convoy from Vancouver to Ottawa “hold unacceptable views” — a supremely unsettling verdict from a so-called democratic leader. In a February 2 tweet, he accused protesting truckers, without the slightest evidence, of “antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, homophobia, and transphobia,” and concluded, “Together, let’s keep working to make Canada more inclusive.” In other words, dissent, formerly a mark of the inclusiveness of free societies, is now a threat to inclusivity. (Lost in Trudeau’s put-downs of Canadian truckers as racist, by the way, was the fact that roughly half of them are Sikhs.)

Instead of challenging Trudeau, his fellow Liberal politicians, along with the overwhelming majority of his country’s academics and legacy media, echoed his bile. On February 15, Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, accused several convoy activists of having “strong ties to a far-right extreme organization … driven by an extremist ideology,” only to back down when pressed for details. And a Canadian professor assured a CNN interviewer that the truck convoy “was never really about mandates” but about “anti-government views” as well as “racist and white supremacist views, conspiratorial worldviews.” In Parliament on February 16, Conservative member Melissa Lantsman chided Trudeau for maligning the truckers and wistfully recalled a 2015 statement by Trudeau: “If Canadians are going to trust their government, their government needs to trust Canadians.” In response, Trudeau doubled down, accusing Conservatives of “stand[ing] with people who wave swastikas.” Never mind that Lantsman is Jewish, a descendant of Holocaust survivors.

In many countries — most grimly, at this writing, in Canada — this Orwellian name-calling by public officials has been mere prelude to public crackdowns involving the restriction of individual rights, the freezing of bank accounts, the beating of innocent protesters by newly belligerent cops, mass arrests of innocents, threats to confiscate and exterminate pets, and — notably in the cases of the January 6 “insurrectionists” and the Canadian truckers — grotesque prosecutorial overreach.

What is behind all this dark authoritarian mischief? At least part of the answer, I think, is this. For a long time, partisan wrangling over relatively minor issues largely disguised the fact that Western political elites and their allies in the media, academy, financial and business sectors, and elsewhere shared a broad consensus of views on important issues that were never seriously put before the public.

It’s remarkable how quickly “conspiracy theorist” and other labels slapped on dissenters from left-wing government orthodoxy have spread around the globe.

They were, specifically, broadly globalist, supporting the exportation of jobs and the importation of cheap labor — activities that were beneficial for them but disastrous for millions of ordinary working people. The rise of alternative mass media — including, first, talk radio programs, and, later, online blogs and podcasts — broke the elite stranglehold on ideas, ultimately making possible the Brexit vote and the election of Trump. These two events, one on each side of the pond, were earthquakes on the political landscape — showing that free people were capable of seeing through official fictions, standing up to the multi-party and Deep State consensus, and voting for their own interests — and were recognized by the Davos elites as warnings that, barring dramatic action on their part, their power was in danger.

They responded, as we’ve seen, by playing rhetorical hardball — and eventually, in some cases, worse. The COVID-19 pandemic provided them with a perfect opportunity to double down on their coercion of citizens, and when ordinary people eventually rebelled against the unreasonable measures they imposed, as was the case with the trucker convoy in Canada, the elites, recognizing these mass reactions as explicit challenges to their entrenched power, responded, in many cases, with what a few years earlier would have seemed like breathtaking severity. Witness Australia’s vilification of tennis player Novak Djokovic and New Zealand’s refusal to let its own citizens back into the country.

So it is that citizens demanding nothing more than their constitutionally guaranteed freedom have been represented as imperiling freedom; objective facts have been dismissed as, yes, “conspiracy theories”; and mendacious official narratives have been presented as truths beyond doubt or question. Among the more dismaying examples of the latter outrage is the 2021 book The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Beltway veteran Jonathan Rauch, who is a fellow of the Brookings Institution, that quintessential D.C. think tank, and whom I have long admired as a straight shooter (full disclosure: he is also a longtime friend). Alas, the book turned out to be an pious defense not of truth but of the official narrative and an assertion of the privileged role of its credentialed interpreters, such as himself. Emblematic of Rauch’s audacity is the fact that one of his dust-jacket blurbs is from none other than former FBI Director James Comey, who let Hillary Clinton off the hook when evidence showed that she deserved to be tried for treason and other high crimes, and who, notwithstanding his reputedly photographic memory, said “I don’t know” 156 times, “I can’t remember” seventy-two times, and “I don’t recall” eight times in December 2018 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee about his agency’s Trump–Russia probe.

*****

Returning to Europe, let’s examine just one of the things that are now officially categorized as unsayable. According to Norway’s PST report, “right-wing extremists” in Norway have been taken in by “conspiracy theories” claiming that “Western culture will disappear” as a result of “immigration from non-Western countries and low birth rates among whites.” How is this a “conspiracy theory”? In point of fact, ethnic Norwegian birth rates are low, immigration and high Muslim birth rates are rapidly increasing Norway’s Muslim population, and a great many of these Muslims not only have values that diverge radically from Western values but (as the history of the post–9/11 era has shown) also are willing to kill and die for them. But to draw reasonable extrapolations from demographic facts, and to fret about those extrapolations, is, in the PST’s view, to buy into a “conspiracy theory.”

In France, this particular “theory” has a name. Known as the “Great Replacement” (Grand Remplacement) theory, it enjoys the support of upstart presidential candidates Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen. Reportedly, President Emmanuel Macron has affirmed it in private, and polls show that it’s credited by a sizable majority of French citizens. Yet when, in February, another presidential candidate, Valérie Pécresse, appeared to give her assent to the Great Replacement theory, Le Monde jumped on her for promoting (what else?) a “conspiracy theory” (théorie complotiste), while the government media organ Public Sénat called her position “xenophobic.

From Britain to Austria, ordinary citizens share a deep concern about the growing population and power of Muslims in Western Europe — but are savaged as racists if they dare to voice their feelings. In 2020, German politician Thilo Sarrazin was expelled from his country’s Social Democratic Party for daring to discuss the issue candidly in such books as Germany Abolishes Itself (Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab), a number one bestseller for twenty-one weeks; in Denmark, after the popular politician Pia Kjærsgaard and the historian Marten Uhrskov referred to the coming “replacement of the Danish people,” a 2019 article at a public-radio website firmly rejected their thesis, citing official statistics predicting that in 2040 Muslims, now 5.5 percent of Denmark’s population, will reach about 20 percent (as if this proved their concerns to be fallacious).

How to reconcile the plain reality of Western Europe’s swift, ongoing Islamization with the reflexive elite dismissal of the Great Replacement theory as extremist bigotry? It’s not easy. The new PST report is well-nigh schizophrenic on the subject. On the one hand, it warns darkly against “certain circles in Norway that help spread the notion that Islam, as a religion, is at odds with Norway’s lifestyle and culture”; on the other hand, it acknowledges that Norwegian Muslims as young as age twelve “are participating in … transnational online networks” that feature “extremist propaganda and instructions for making home-made explosives” as well as “[g]uidance” as to “how to carry out a terrorist attack.” Yes, pre-teen Muslims in Norway are learning how to commit massacres of the sort that took place in the Madrid train station in 2004, at the Bataclan in Paris in 2015, and at the Manchester Arena in 2017. But don’t dare get the idea that Islam is in any way “at odds with Norway’s lifestyle and culture”!

Of course, the “conspiracy theories” repudiated by the international Left involve much more than Islam. In accusing “right-wing extremists” of spreading “conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic and mass vaccinations,” the PST report echoes admonishments issued by governments around the world. With few exceptions, the governments of supposedly free countries have used the pandemic as an excuse to exercise power on a previously unheard-of scale. Two weeks of lockdown to “slow the curve” became two years — and reasonable criticism of this extreme and seemingly capricious policy evolution was treated like treason. For years, authorities have insisted that the virus had originated in a Wuhan wet market — but to point out that a good deal of evidence suggested it had escaped from the Wuhan lab was to proffer a “conspiracy theory.” Still verboten in many countries, at last notice, are any statements about mask efficacy or vaccine safety that deviate from the ever-shifting orthodoxy.

As noted, the new PST report was released on February 11. At a press conference that day, PST official Hans Sverre Sjøvold admitted that the biggest challenge facing Norway, in the agency’s view, is indeed “right-wing extremism,” and he cited the “freedom convoy” in Canada as an example of the kind of “anti-government” activity that PST fears. The next day, Norway’s major newspapers reported PST’s “findings” without a significant sign of demurral. It’s disquieting that Norway’s PST, its counterparts across the free West, and their media lackeys can seem to be more comfortable with jihadists who are out to destroy the West than with freedom-loving patriots who are out to preserve it. More broadly, it’s remarkable how quickly “conspiracy theorist” and other labels slapped on dissenters from left-wing government orthodoxy have spread around the globe and become indispensable entries in the leftist lexicon.

What’s perturbing is that this international rhetorical war on the deplorables appears increasingly to be only the first phase of what its perpetrators hope will be an all-out police-state suppression of the kind that Trudeau hinted at in his ruthless crushing of the truckers. In the face of such would-be totalitarianism, lovers of liberty in America and throughout the West would be well advised to keep their eyes open, to keep their powder dry, and — in whatever time remains before the fireworks begin — to do their best to awaken their friends and neighbors who, however inexplicably, have yet to recognize the somber reality before us.

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