Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

November 28, 2006

Freedom of Speech And The War On Terror

by Doug Mataconis

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke in Manchester, New Hampshire yesterday on the topic of freedom of speech. When it comes to applying freedom of speech to campaign finance laws, Gingrich made this excellent point:

MANCHESTER, N.H. –Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says First Amendment rights need to be expanded, and eliminating the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaign contributions would be a start.

Gingrich, a Republican, suggested allowing people to give any amount to any candidate as long as the donation was reported online within 24 hours.

“Just as tax lawyers always succeed in out-thinking the (Internal Revenue Service) because they stay after five and the IRS goes home, the private-sector lawyers will always out-think the (Federal Election Commission) because they stay after five and the FEC goes home,” Gingrich told about 400 people at the Nackey Scripps Loeb First Amendment Awards dinner Monday.

Newt’s absolutely right on this one. McCain-Feingold is one of the most egregious restrictions on political speech that Congress has passed in quite some time. The fact that it was upheld by the Supreme Court is even more distressing.

Where Gingrich falls apart, unfortunately, is when it comes to the issue of freedom of speech and the war on terror:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a “different set of rules” may be needed to reduce terrorists’ ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

“We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade,” said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP’s takeover of Congress in 1994.

I’m not quite sure what Newt means when he talks about “re-examining” freedom of speech, but it doesn’t sound good at all. In the wake of 9/11, we “re-examined” the Fourth Amendment and it brought us the Patriot Act. I hate to think what a re-examination of the First Amendment would bring us.

H/T: Hit & Run

Update 11/29/06: There has been discussion in the comments about whether the Union-Leader accurately reported what Gingrich said. A link to the speech can be found here, and here is the relevant part:

This is a serious long term war, and it will enviably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country, that will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear of biological weapons.

And, my prediction to you is that ether before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.

This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement.

And, I further think that we should propose a Genève convention for fighting terrorism which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism before it gains so much strength that it is truly horrendous.

This is a sober topic, but I think it is a topic we need a national dialogue about, and we need to get ahead of the curve rather than wait until actually we literary lose a city which could literally happen within the next decade if we are unfortunate

At the very least, Gingrich is theorizing that First Amendment right would be curtailed in the wake of another massive terror attack (a theory which I think is largely correct). On the other hand, though, I think it’s fair to say that he was advocating we at least look at doing this, and that’s where I have a problem.

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  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin

    and certain libertarians and classical liberals still want this guy to run for president.

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Kevin,

    I’ll admit I’ve been one of those people, more or less. At the very least, I’ve thought that adding Gingrich into the race would make it…..interesting. Of all the potential Republican candidates out there he’s clearly the most well-spoken and I like some of the things he says.

    Comments like what he said in Manchester, though, concern me greatly.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin

    My main problem with Newt isn’t really so much his positions on the issues, it’s really the same problem I have with both Mitt Romney and John McCain; all three men will take whatever position they need to take to win an election.

    For example, Newt right before the election put out a “Winning the Future” manifesto that outlined 12 proposals, all of which were Big Government Conservative in nature, to allow the Republicans to pander enough to keep their majority. Contrast that with the fact Newt has been the champion of limited government since November 8.

  • eddie

    The Union-Ledger article is probably wildly inaccurate concerning Gingrich’s statements about free speech and terrorism. First of all, it contains no in-context quotes to let us decide for ourselves what he actually said. Second, the AP wire report (read it here: http://www.accessnorthga.com/news/ap_newfullstory.asp?ID=83807 ) suggests that the context of the “different rules” quote was about treatment of prisoners, not the Internet or free speech:

    [quote]
    Gingrich also spoke about the need to create different laws for fighting terrorism.

    Noting the thwarted London terrorist attacks this summer, Gingrich said there should be a Geneva Convention for such actions that makes those people subject to “a totally different set of rules.”
    [/quote]

  • http://www.pubcrawler.blogspot.com/ tkc

    I’ve twice blogged about the 1st Amendment and terrorism.
    They are here
    http://pubcrawler.blogspot.com/2005/07/1st-amendment-question.html

    and here
    http://pubcrawler.blogspot.com/2005/08/talk-of-threats-versus-1st-amendment.html

    In short, my answer is that the 1st Amendment will protect you in saying pro-jihadsit sorts of crap. However, it will not protect you from being investigated to see if you really have the intent of making the steets run red with the blood of infidels.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    I’ve heard rumblings that Newt is a bit authoritarian, which I’ve been troubled by for a while.

    Simply put, I think Newt is probably the smartest, most able person for the job. I think he understands the policy and how to make serious reforms better than just about anyone else, and he’s actually serious about reform.

    But one issue worries me. If he’s got a big head to go along with that big brain, it’s quite possible he thinks he’s smart enough to be authoritarian without screwing it up. And that’s the most dangerous type of all.

    He’s still tops on my list, but that’s subject to change. I was 16 when the Contract With America came about, and didn’t really pay enough attention to Gingrich between then an 2000 to learn enough about him.

    Eddie, thanks for the context. If you find more, let us know.

  • http://www.pubcrawler.blogspot.com/ tkc

    Oh, one more thing. Some will say that the threat of a government investigation is a means to stifle dissent. To that I say, “Horseshit.” With freedom comes responsibility. If you want to spout off about violent jihad then you have to live with the consquences. Consquences which may include a visit from the FBI.

  • http://www.newt.org Joe DeSantis

    For the full version of Newt’s speech, you can visit newt.org – http://www.newt.org/backpage.asp?art=3819

    Joe DeSantis
    Deputy Communications Director
    Gingrich Communications

  • http://kingcast.net Christopher King

    I’m quite concerned about New Hampshire and free speech in a major way, and I have every right to be:

    I was an NAACP legal redress chair in New Hampshire who got indicted for Attempted Felony extortion for activity clearly protected by well-established case law of NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963) which provides that NAACP has a First Amendment Right to advise nonmembers on what we believe their legal rights to be and to seek licensed counsel to aid in that endeavor.

    That is precisely what I did.

    The criminal case was dropped prior to trial after I refused to take a plea after nearly two years of badgering by Jaffrey NH Police Chief Martin Dunn and Cheshire County Prosecutor Bill Albrecht; now the NH AG’s “Unauthorized Practice of Law” case is about to be dismissed as well.

    Check the background right here:

    http://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2006/11/christopher-kings-emancipation.html

    Peace.

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