"The Most Dangerous People In America Right Now"
Excerpts of interviews with Die Welt and Weltwoche about the censorship-industrial complex
Two weeks ago, Matt Taibbi and I testified before Congress to reveal to the public the existence of a secret censorship-industrial complex. The hearings went viral on social media but were ignored by the mainstream media. There was, by contrast, significant interest in the hearings in Europe. Two leading German and Swiss newspapers interviewed me, Die Welt (The World) and Weltwoche (Weekly World). We have excerpted the interviews below.
Weltwoche: At your hearing in Congress, Democratic members of the committee attacked the credibility of you and your colleague, Matt Taibbi, claiming you were only reporting on the Twitter files for cash and clout. Were you surprised by this harsh treatment?
Michael Shellenberger: Traditionally, when experts take a significant amount of time out of their schedules to fly to Washington, DC to testify under oath, they are treated with respect. That didn’t happen.
This was the eighth time I've testified in front of Congress in the last three years. The second time I did so, in 2020 [after the publication of Apocalypse Never], I was insulted by members of Congress who then ended the hearing without giving me a chance to respond.
In both cases, they violated basic standards of decency that we used to expect from our elected leaders.
Welt: Hadn’t Democrats advocated for free speech in the past?
Shellenberger: That's why it was so confusing for me. When I was a boy, the Left was the great defender of freedom. It was progressives and Democrats who defended the burning of the flag in 1989, the year I graduated from high school. That was a defining moment for me as an adolescent.
Weltwoche: Why do you think they were so eager to attack you?
Shellenberger: The obvious answer is that we went to Congress with evidence of how the United States government is, directly and indirectly, violating the First Amendment. And we showed how Democrats are spreading misinformation and attempting to censor their political opponents.
Free speech is the fundamental freedom. It's the freedom that makes other freedoms possible. It’s the freedom that makes democracy possible. It's the freedom that makes capitalism possible because it allows for the free flow of information. The First Amendment protects your right to be wrong. In most cases, it protects your right to deceive unless you commit fraud. It allows you to say very terrible things about other people.
It's important for Europeans, in particular, to understand that you can buy Mein Kampf in the United States. You can be a neo-Nazi in the United States. You can be a racist in the United States. Those are all horrible things to want to be and to do. But we protect those rights in the United States and have protected them since 1791, two years after the ratification of the Constitution. Even before that, we had a culture that was strenuously and radically in favor of free speech. I'm honestly a bit surprised that I even have to remind my fellow Americans of how fundamental freedom of speech is.
The Supreme Court, over the centuries, has put very modest restrictions on what forms of speech are allowed. So, seeing the kinds of censorship our government engages in is terrifying. It must be denounced by a wide spectrum of people. Democrats need to get on the right side of this issue and move away from their pro-censorship position, which should be catastrophic for them politically.
WELT: “Censorship industrial complex” — what does that mean, exactly?
Shellenberger: It is a network of academic institutions and think tanks funded and controlled by U.S. government agencies, including intelligence agencies. They create secret blacklists and try to keep people off major social media platforms, particularly Twitter and Facebook. These individuals have very strong, undisclosed ties to national government surveillance agencies, including the CIA. Connections range from the Cold War-founded cybersecurity institutions in the computing and tech community since World War II, to new taxpayer-funded institutions created to justify government censorship.
WELT: What do these institutions do exactly?
Shellenberger: These institutions are now employing techniques that were formerly referred to as “psyops,” “psychological operations,” and are now referred to as “influence operations.” These are the same people who sounded the alarm about Russian disinformation and are now monitoring a domestic censorship network that has profit-making elements and can therefore be considered a censorship-industrial complex.
Welt: It emerged that just a week after the Twitter Files were first published in December, a government organization [Federal Trade Commission] had asked the company for information about the journalists involved.
Shellenberger: Well, that was very scary. I never thought I'd hear law enforcement asking Twitter to reveal which journalists the company spoke to. It's none of the government's business. I see this as an attack on the First Amendment, one of many shocking attacks on our basic understanding of democracy.
Weltwoche: Who are the key players of the censorship industrial complex? What is their intention?
Shellenberger: We've seen a turning inward of the kind of propaganda efforts the United States carried out worldwide for 100 years. As the war on terrorism was won — as it became successful — you had people look for new avenues for their propaganda and censorship campaigns.
The second phenomenon is the seismic upheavals of 2016, the Brexit election in Britain, and then the election of Donald Trump. They resulted in a consensus among American and Western elites that social media, in particular, but internet platforms more broadly, needed to be restrained because Donald Trump's election resulted from Facebook and Twitter allowing him to communicate and spread misinformation.
I don't believe senior intelligence officials believed the Russians had much influence over the 2016 elections. Rather, they used it as a pretext for engaging in censorship and propaganda.
This was all perfectly explained by former CIA media analyst Martin Gurri in his landmark book Revolt of the Public, where he argues that the demand for censorship, repression, and propaganda is a revolt of the elites against the populist uprising enabled by Internet technologies, in general, and by social media in particular. Elites are effectively attempting to undermine freedoms and democracy to save them.
I should add that I support NATO, the Western alliance, and the Ukrainians fighting against the Russians. I did not vote for Trump, and I am, in many ways, a global elite. At the same time, I am sympathetic to the populist backlash to the elites, particularly when they abuse their powers, as they have on this issue, but also issues relating to food and energy through shadowy organizations like the World Economic Forum. I think populism, in some cases, is perfectly appropriate.
Welt: Who are the decision-makers?