The ability of Las Vegas to pop up in big far-away stories never ceases to amaze me. The same crew of White House plumbers caught breaking into the Watergate building for Richard Nixon in 1972 also may have tried to crack a safe in the offices of the Las Vegas Sun. Remember those two Eastern European cronies of Rudy Giuliani indicted in New York in 2019 on Ukraine-influence charges? They were also accused of campaign finance violations in Las Vegas concerning efforts to get a marijuana retailing license.
Now, in light of last week’s deadly invasion and riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald J. Trump, we have Apple, Google and Amazon shutting down access to Parler. That’s the right-wing version of Twitter/Facebook that may have been a platform for organizing and inciting what some are calling an attempted coup.
The Las Vegas connection? Why, Parler is headquartered here in the suburb of Henderson, in the Las Vegas Valley just a few miles from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. Parler was started there in 2018 by two young University of Denver alums, John Matze Jr. and Jared Thomson, with help and money from Rebekah Mercer, the Republican heiress and Trump supporter who now owns part of the right-wing Breitbart web operation.
But what also amazes me is the belief held by many–particularly, it seems, on the left–that shutting down a platform of free speech is a good policy idea after something bad happens. To me, the solution to objectionable speech is simple: more speech, not less.
Now, despite what a lot on folks on the right are saying, the shutting down of Parler is not a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment limits actions by governments. So long as they don’t collude, Apple, Google and Amazon are private businesses that have broad rights to decide who they will do business with, or not. And that includes with Parler.
With a Yale law degree and a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), that fist-pumping leader in last week’s failed effort to abort certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory, surely knows about the limits of First Amendment protections. Yet there he was screaming First Amendment violation after Simon and Schuster–another private company–said it would no longer publish his book entitled–you gotta love this–The Tyranny of Big Tech. I’m sure Hawley will be able to find another publisher.
Still, the wholesale muzzling of Parler clearly violates traditional notions of free speech. Even if some folks used the platform to plot their sedition–and what happened on Capitol Hill last week was attempted sedition–the vast majority of its 2.5 million daily users did not.
It’s almost like arguing for outlawing the auto industry because some cars have been used as get-away vehicles in bank robberies. The better course is to go after the bank robbers, and maybe beef up security. Or, in the case of Parler, go after those who might have used the platform to discuss the best way to build pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails, overwhelm U.S. Capitol police, shimmy up walls, break windows, locate key offices, steal stuff from Nancy Pelosi and capture Vice President Mike Pence.
On my cellphone I have a now-inactive Parler account. I didn’t look at it much. Aside from what appear to be a large number of false assertions of fact, there seems to be a lot of traditional conservative commentary mixed in with more extremist racial and religious hate speech. That’s not how I talk or think, but I am better informed for knowing a certain number of people hold these views. As for the lies, there’s not all that hard to sort out, especially if one looks for verification from reputable sources.
Similarly, I consider the banning of Trump from Twitter and Facebook to be permissible from a First Amendment standpoint but ill-advised on free speech grounds. He’ll find some other way to get out his lying messaging to supporters, and it might not be so visible to the public and media at large, where it can be addressed and rebutted.
Twitter, especially, at least gave us a direct, almost 24/7 line into Trump’s brain, perhaps the greatest trove of raw psychotherapy material since Sigmund Freud bought his first couch. I, along with many others, simply laughed at Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, when, after Trump beat impeachment last year, she claimed, “I believe that the president has learned from this case.” She apparently didn’t follow his tweets.
People on the left and maybe in the middle are cheering the throttling of Parler and Trump. But precedents can have a funny way of biting back. It’s not hard to imagine circumstances under which outlets and politicians catering to the left could be shut down, too. In fact, this happened during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s. It was wrong then, too.
Should the left be muzzled anew, I’ll be looking for the sure-to-appear Las Vegas angle.