Anyone familiar with the Bible is familiar with the Mark of the Beast: Without this mark, no man may buy or sell.
Regardless of one’s religious faith or lack thereof, there is an illustrative case in this biblical story: When one cannot buy or sell, one is metaphorically up the creek. Short of producing everything one needs oneself, buying and selling are necessary parts of virtually every modern person’s life.
In our modern world, we can begin to see a sort of Mark of the Beast: While ideas and even objects aren’t banned, they are increasingly difficult to come by, not due to government fiat, but due to the machinations of corporations hostile to the American values of freedom.
One can be in favor of the free market while recognizing a simple truth: There is no way that America’s Founding Fathers would have sat on their hands while five corporations dominated American discourse and commerce. It is hard to imagine, for example, the Founders suffering a single private bank processing most of the payments in the United States and refusing to do business with gun merchants. Alternately, one can scarcely imagine that the Founders would have sat still for three companies – all of them hostile toward American values and the Constitution – dominating political discourse and deplatforming anyone who opposed them.
This is the situation in which we find ourselves as a nation today: Guns are not illegal, but private companies will make it increasingly difficult to buy, sell or own them – up to and including pulling your bank account. You have all the freedom of speech you like, but prepare to be deplatformed or have your voice buried by large tech corporations with their thumb on the scale of American discourse.
As the American economy has become more corporatist – such that the market is controlled by the interrelation between monolithic mega-corporations, Wall Street and the state – and less capitalistic and dynamic, the American press and economy are now being dominated by forces hostile toward the American public and American values.
No less an authority than James Madison warned Americans that the First Amendment alone was not enough to protect free speech. In Federalist No. 47 and Federalist No. 51, he argued that the separation of powers was necessary to protect free speech by preventing one branch of government from accumulating too much power at the expense of the others and, indeed, the rest of society at large.
This is an important point to remember when considering the First Amendment implications of Big Tech and its war on free speech and gun freedom. The Founding Fathers did not live in a world where a few large corporations had more power than the (incredibly limited and power impoverished) government had, either at the federal or the state level. It’s doubtful that they could have conceived of such a thing.
But they did carefully consider the problem of centralized power as it pertained to the rights enshrined in the Constitution. At the end of the day, the Constitution is just a piece of paper with no ability to enforce itself. What’s more, if the Founders did not address the notion that the private sector could meaningfully and substantially circumvent rights for all Americans, it was simply because they could not conceive of such a thing, not because they were writing the private sector a blank check.
Corporate Big Brother: Banks as Gun Control
Who needs to pass gun control laws anymore? The left can simply appeal to payment systems, banks and processors as a method of non-state gun control.
Case in point: Andrew Ross Sorkin’s December 2018 article decrying credit card companies for “financing” mass shootings. As with many arguments from the left, the premise is flawed, but very simple: Because eight out of 13 shootings that killed more than 10 people in the 2010s involved a credit card purchase (though, as always, it is worth asking what counts as a mass shooting and what is being left out of the tally – more on this here), credit card companies have a responsibility to step up and stop allowing their customers to make purchases for firearms using credit cards.
This effectively amounts to a request for banks to begin surveilling the legal economic activity of their customers.
It’s not far-fetched to consider that some mass shootings have been facilitated by credit card purchases. The Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen as well as Aurora theater shooter James Holmes used credit cards to purchase the weapons and ammunition they ultimately used to commit mass murder.
But mass shootings, particularly those not part of urban gang warfare, are incredibly rare, despite the overwhelming amount of media attention paid to them. What’s more, while statistics for such would be difficult to formulate, the vast, overwhelming majority of firearms and ammunition purchases made with credit cards are made by law-abiding citizens for entirely legal purposes. For most Americans, firearms purchases can be a spike in their normal spending for the month. And what of it? The call for credit card companies and other payment processors to monitor the economic activity of law-abiding citizens would cause an outrage if the government were to do it, so why is the American public supposed to sit still for an invasion of their privacy simply because a private company is performing the surveillance?
Anyone who has ever made a firearms purchase knows that the bill can add up quickly. The oft-demonized AR-15 can easily top $4,000 when the price of a scope, rifle case and a decent cache of ammunition are added to the bill. Even a humble handgun purchase can quickly hit over $1,000 when a good holster and ammo are tacked on. This means that millions of Americans purchasing firearms for no reason other than recreation or self defense are going to have their personal finances investigated by a corporate Big Brother, with all the lack of transparency one can expect from a massive bank whose starting premise is “guilty until proven innocent.”
The attempt by the left to get banks to snoop on legal purchases amounts to nothing more than the stigmatization of the exercise of one of the rights enshrined in our Constitution. And while some would argue that the Constitution only limits the government’s actions, it must constantly be asked why we should allow for such an intrusion into our private lives simply because a private company is doing it.
“If you don’t like it, just make your own credit card company.”
After the Parkland Shooting, the American media entered into another round of its “something must be done” (read as: your guns must be taken away) propaganda. One result of this was some of the biggest banks in the United States dropping or scaling back their relations with gun manufacturers.
JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake crowed to reporters that the company’s relationship with firearms manufacturers “have come down significantly and are pretty limited.” Bank of America announced its intention to stop extending credit to business clients manufacturing “military-style weapons.” One must, of course, ask if this applies to companies engaged in supplying the United States military itself or the increasingly militarized police found in our nation’s cities.
Bank of America stopped short at stigmatizing the retailers who sell such weapons. Citigroup, however, took the step of requiring any of its business partners to restrict firearms sales to those over the age of 21, as well as those who have not passed a background check. They also barred their partners from selling so-called “high capacity magazines” and bump stocks, which were later banned.
Amalgamated Bank went perhaps the furthest of all, refusing to invest any of its assets in companies involved in the manufacture of “firearms, weaponry and ammunition.”
This leads into another aspect of corporate gun control: Not only is the left demanding that big banks snoop around in your legal purchases, the banks are also starting to make it more difficult for gun manufacturers to obtain the financial services banks would never dare to deny to any other law-abiding company simply on the basis of what they sell.
There is, of course, consumer push-back. For example, the somewhat successful boycott of Dick’s Sporting Goods after it ceased selling so-called “assault weapons.” But Dick’s is still in business and still not selling scary black rifles. And while you can do your business with a competitor, it still doesn’t change the fact that the message has been sent: Companies can remove legal items from their shelves in a politicized fashion with virtually no meaningful consequences.
There is also the growing specter of private companies banning customers from carrying in their stores. Huffington Post compiled a list of seven companies who do not want legal firearms being carried in their businesses. Outback Steakhouse was at the center of a story where a law enforcement officer was asked to leave because he was carrying, something that he is required to do when he is in uniform. Salesforce, a popular software platform for online retailers, will no longer do business with companies who sell virtually all forms of semi-automatic weapons.
Microsoft has put language in its Code of Conduct that prevents users from using them “in any way that promotes or facilitates the sale of ammunition and firearms.” This is another sweeping example of corporate attempts to infringe upon America’s Second Amendment rights. There is nothing illegal or immoral about owning, selling or promoting firearms. Indeed, the right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment.
This is a form of corporate coercion that shows the limitations of simply relying upon the Constitution and the free market to ensure one’s rights are respected. It’s hard to imagine that the Founders would simply have thrown up their hands and accepted that corporations were making it impossible for them to exercise their rights simply because there was nothing “unconstitutional” about it.
Beyond this, however, there are two rather frightening developments.
The first is several liberal state governments skinning the cat from the other end. Rather than making it difficult or impossible to purchase firearms, they are going after the National Rifle Association. While many well-meaning people in the Second Amendment movement consider the NRA to be weak tea (and not without good reason), the fact remains that the NRA is the most public and prominent opponent of gun grabbers. The fall of the NRA at the hands of gun grabbers (as opposed to more principled pro-Second Amendment groups) would spell disaster for gun rights in America, setting a precedent that would be used against other organizations protecting gun freedom.
The State of New York, led by Andrew Cuomo, has started attacking insurance programs offered by the NRA to its members. He has also attempted to threaten every insurer and bank in the state to not do business with the NRA. It is important to remember that the banking industry is largely centered in New York, meaning that the governor of that state has an outsized influence on how banking is done across the nation.
Another chilling example of corporate coercion goes beyond the Second Amendment and into the First: Popular veteran rights and gun blog “No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money” was removed from Blogger, a blogging platform owned by Google, on the grounds that it “promoted or sold regulated items.” The website was later restored with the explanation that it was removed by an automated system.
PayPal, the biggest payment processing system on the Internet, cannot be used for any exercise of your Second Amendment rights, nor to pay for dissident thinkers’ services such as Stefan Molyneux and Alex Jones or even Wikileaks. One is not obligated to support or defend the beliefs of any of these people or groups to see that a dangerous precedent is being set.
However, these are neither the first nor the only times that Big Tech has attempted to censor conservatives, libertarians, pro-gun freedom forces and others with opinions to the right of John McCain. Some have argued, not without solid evidence, that Big Tech is involved in a full-throttle war against conservatives and free speech on the Internet. We’re inclined to agree.
There is a war against free speech and Big Tech is the one waging it. Congress has looked into this, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas leading the charge, not allowing Facebook and other Big Tech companies to weasel out of answering hard questions that the public has about censorship on the Internet.
It’s less true to say that Facebook, Google and other Big Tech platforms “lean left” than it is to say that they push a globalist, neoliberal, corporatist line that eschews any sort of values or ethics other than growth. Edward Abbey has said that the philosophy of growth for the sake of growth is also the philosophy of the cancer cell.
The Big Tech war against free speech is nothing new and there have been canaries in the coal mine for years. Everyone remembers MILO being shown the door on Twitter for a dubious accusation that he led a mob against actress Leslie Jones. But the real test case was not him, it was hacker and troll Andrew Auernheimer, commonly known by his handle “weev.”
weev (always lowercase) is difficult to defend because he has unpopular viewpoints. To wit, he has a large swastika tattooed on his chest. However, proponents of the First Amendment and free speech shouldn’t be concerned with what weev thinks or says, because what he thinks or says is irrelevant to whether or not he has the right to think it and say it. But Twitter and other Big Tech platforms were smart in choosing such an ideological pariah to test the waters.
There is a direct line to be drawn from the deplatforming of weev on Twitter to the unpersoning of Alex Jones to the shadow banning and outright deplatforming of conservative voices all across the web. Mainstream, establishment conservatives have done themselves a disservice by attempting to defend themselves against deplatforming on the basis that “I’m not a Nazi” for two reasons.
First, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Nazi or not. All legal speech should be allowed on social media, or else Big Tech is an editorial content curator, which makes it liable for anything that is posted on there. This means that your ex-spouse lying about how you missed Little Timmy’s baseball game on Facebook can be construed as defamation, for which Facebook is liable because they didn’t remove the status update. Facebook’s pretense that it is a content-neutral platform, a claim that is patently false, is what protects it from being sued every time someone lies about someone else on the platform or from being hauled into court every time that ISIS uses WhatsApp to coordinate an attack.
But the other reason is that for many on the left, there is not a tangible difference between weev, MILO, Alex Jones, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Wayne LaPierre, Ted Cruz, Ben Sharpiro or the President of the United States. Anyone to the right of John McCain is seen as either a literal fascist, a fascist apologist, or a gatekeeper who opens the door to fascist ideology.
Big Tech will not stop at deplatforming actual, self-avowed fascists, nor will it stop at conspiracy theorists, edgy conservatives, or even “respectable” centrist types like Dave Rubin. To throw the far right under the bus in the hopes of satisfying Big Tech’s blood lust is a strategic mistake – it legitimizes the entire process of deplatforming, which will eventually swallow up anyone who believes in the Constitution and the rule of law. Big Tech and the left either see no difference between you and a Nazi, or pretend not to because it’s politically expedient.
This is doubly important because of how many Big Tech companies are actively spying on their users. The EFF maintains an annual detailed list of who is telling the government about its users and their data, who informs users that the government is sniffing around about them, and who even bothers to disclose their data retention policies.
What this means is that if and when the federal government begins compiling a list of “potential right-wing terrorists” or “right-wing extremists” (to the extent that they do not already maintain such lists), they will have a ready-made mine of data from Big Tech, who have shown themselves to be more than willing to cooperate with the federal government, with minimal or no arm-twisting on the part of the feds. Take, for example, the Philadelphia synagogue shooter. Self-proclaimed “free speech” platform Gab was more than willing to hand over all the data they had about his account to the feds without even being asked.
Sure, no one wants to be in the position of defending a synagogue shooter. But the point is that these platforms, even the ones who allegedly have your back, have shown themselves willing to roll on their users provided enough of a fever is whipped up in the press.
It’s worth showing just how many mainstream, run-of-the-mill conservatives have been censored by Big Tech – it’s not just the MILOs and the weevs of the world who are being shown the door. Indeed, we believe that these types are censored not out of any actual desire to suppress so-called “hate speech,” but instead to act as a test case for setting the precedent for suppressing legal speech. Here are some examples that are worth considering:
- Pastor Rich Penkoski: This pastor runs a popular Facebook page, “Warriors for Christ.” He was suspended mid-sermon for criticizing the rainbow flag. He was previously banned for calling an atheist a liar and sharing verses from the Quran that called for the killing of non-Muslims.
- Over Two Dozen Catholic Pages: In July 2017, Facebook banned several Catholic pages with millions of followers. Most were based in Brazil. Facebook removed the pages without explanation.
- Rep. Marsha Blackburn: Not even elected officials are immune from social media deplatforming. Facebook removed an ad for Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s campaign that attacked pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood.
- Alveda King: Facebook removed paid ads from Martin Luther King’s niece Alveda King for her documentary on Roe v. Wade.
- Ryan T. Anderson: Twitter refused to run several ads from Christian radio stations for an upcoming interview with Ryan T. Anderson. Anderson is a critic of transgenderism and radical gender ideology.
- Robert Spencer: The head of JihadWatch.org, a website covering radical Islam, was removed from social media and even had his credit cards canceled. He also claims that Google buries him in results for searches about “jihad.”
- Brian Fisher: The President of the Human Coalition notes that this anti-abortion group has had prayer apps removed from the Apple store and has had its content repeatedly removed from Twitter despite taking pains to ensure that all of it is within Twitter’s narrow, anti-First Amendment guidelines.
- PragerU: PragerU is very much the picture of mainstream, run-of-the-mill, completely non-edgy conservatism on the Internet. Despite this, they repeatedly have their content removed from YouTube. Dennis Prager, head of PragerU, is suing YouTube. He notes that Delta Air Lines couldn’t say “conservatives can’t fly with us,” but YouTube, ostensibly a neutral platform, is effectively allowed to say that conservatives can’t use their services.
- David Kyle Foster: David Kyle Foster is a leader in the “ex-gay” movement, a group of Christians who claim that their religion has “cured” their homosexuality. His Vimeo channel, featuring over 700 personal testimonials, was pulled from Vimeo for being “hateful.”
Even the Declaration of Independence has been removed from Facebook as “hate speech” due to their “filtering program.” Yes, really. Nor is it only conservative groups who have been targeted. Moderates and leftists who don’t toe the party line – like Andy Ngo, Tim Pool and Michael Tracey – have likewise been targeted by deplatforming and shadowbanning.
Deplatforming is not limited to social media. Chase Bank has been accused of depriving conservative voices of banking services. This returns us to the Mark of the Beast notion: What good is free speech if banks – banks – can keep you from receiving payments. And how far off are we from seeing conservative voices deprived of their ability to pay?
Imagine showing up at the grocery store and finding out that your money’s no good because you have a concealed carry permit. Sound far-fetched? So would have having your bank account closed for being a conservative activist.
Of course, it’s important to ask for a list of left-wing groups who have been banned from social media. But somehow, left-wing groups – even those who violate the terms of service, such as several accounts dedicated to doxing right-wing accounts and inciting violence against conservatives, libertarians and others on the right – are allowed to operate with impunity.
Indeed, it is worth asking who decides what is against the rules at Facebook, Twitter, etc. There is an answer to this question: For Twitter, it’s a “Trust and Safety Council” comprised of 12 left-wing groups and one conservative group you’ve probably never heard of: The Network of Enlightened Women. The 12 left-wing groups include the Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD, both of whom have labeled mainstream conservative groups as “hate groups.”
For Facebook, they rely upon a “fact-checking” process that leverages Snopes and PolitiFact as impartial “fact checkers.” YouTube uses the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center, both left-wing groups known for their attacks on mainstream conservative organizations. Facebook, for its part, deleted 57 of over 200 “hate groups” demanded by the SPLC in August 2017.
The question after reading this becomes: What should be done, if anything?
It’s difficult to imagine a situation where government interference in Big Tech is going to have the desired outcome. The result might be more and greater censorship than existed before. However, it is worth noting that Sen. Ted Cruz, not exactly known as a proponent of Big Government, has been at the forefront of attempts to hold Big Tech accountable for its censorship of conservative voices on the Internet.
But it’s quite possible that new laws and regulations are not required. What is instead required is a more rigorous enforcement of the laws and regulations that are already on the books. To wit: Are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube content-neutral platforms or are they editorial platforms? If the former, then it would seem that their case for being able to censor legal speech on their platforms is legally flimsy. If the latter, then they are responsible for everything posted on their platforms by every user. Similarly, if Google is intentionally manipulating its results to yield a politicized result, that is likely in violation of existing telecommunications statutes.
The American shift from capitalism to corporatism has had dire unintended consequences: Power has coalesced in both Washington, D.C. and many tech and media companies, such that the latter can undermine American rights and manipulate American political opinion with impunity, while the former abdicates its oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.
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