Commentary: VDARE’s Fight Against Letitia James Is Our Fight, Too

New York AG
by Nate Hochman


For all its gesticulations about “free speech,” the conservative mainstream often plays a supporting role in America’s censorship regime. It’s a two-step dance: The Right styles itself as the sworn defender of free speech and the mortal enemy of censorship while simultaneously downplaying or outright ignoring brazen censorship of speech that ventures a bit too far outside the Overton window. By claiming to defend all free speech in principle but only defending some in practice, the Right concedes, by omission, that certain ideas fall outside the bounds of free expression — and that it’s perfectly appropriate (or, at least, not particularly objectionable) to bring the full force of regime power to bear against any individual so unwise as to express them.

In this sense, the conservative “opposition” to left-wing censorship actually legitimates and perpetuates it. The Right’s silence baptizes the operating premise of the new censorship: That ideas or individuals beyond the rigidly policed boundaries of acceptable opinion have, in effect, forfeited their right to participate in public discourse.

The irony, of course, is that the ideas and individuals in question — i.e., those who stray too far to the right — are often the subject of the most vigorous, aggressive, and consistent censorship, both from major tech platforms and the apparatus of the American state. But the so-called far Right tends to be a canary in the coal mine. Invariably, censorship of the right-wing fringe is only ever a pretext for much broader censorship of ideas and figures well within the conservative mainstream. In 2016, the first few rounds of permanent Twitter bans came for figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer (as well as Spencer’s think tank and journal). In 2017, the censors graduated to Roger Stone and Andrew Tate; in 2018, Alex Jones. By 2020, the scope of censorship had expanded to include factual reporting from the New York Post, and, by 2022, comedy from the Babylon Bee.

Last November, I wrote a column for the American Conservative criticizing the Right’s response to this phenomenon, in the specific context of social media censorship:

Many self-styled free speech advocates will speak about internet censorship in broad terms, while going to great lengths to avoid saying the names of the most frequent subjects of that censorship, for fear of being accused of harboring ideological sympathy for the far-right. But that fear represents its own kind of capitulation; by implicitly accepting ideological limits to the free speech we’ll defend, we accept the very framework that enables and justifies censorship in the first place. It’s impossible to fight censorship if you refuse to specify the instances in which it occurs. Free speech belongs to all of us.

The same could be said of the remarkable silence from conservative media outlets and pundits regarding VDARE, a prominent right-wing anti-immigration outlet. VDARE, which was founded in 1999, expresses views on race and immigration that often veer beyond the limits of acceptable opinion in modern America. As a result, New York Attorney General Letitia James has taken it upon herself to crush the outlet altogether, using the flimsy pretext of nonprofit law. (James’ appetite for lawfare has apparently only grown since she launched her campaign against Former President Donald Trump.) “VDARE has not been charged with any crime,” Christopher Brunet noted in the American Conservative earlier this week. But “[a]fter years of aimless fishing expeditions, what James has latched onto is VDARE’s real estate dealings,” revolving around a $1.4 million castle in West Virginia that VDARE purchased “to use as a conference space because hotels kept canceling their meetings.” Brunet continues:

As part of this investigation, Letitia James is demanding that VDARE hand over 40 gigabytes of emails which [could reveal VDARE’s anonymous donors and writers]. VDARE’s donors and writers wish to remain anonymous because they will lose their jobs—or worse—if their identities are linked to what they support online. While the court has ostensibly extended a courtesy by permitting VDARE to redact their names from these emails, the estimated fees for such redactions are projected to come to $150,000. This presents VDARE with a stark dilemma: incur a hefty $150,000 expense to protect the anonymity of its donors and writers, or risk revealing their identities. The lesson here is that if your speech falls outside the Overton window, the state of New York will aggressively attempt to bankrupt and/or doxx you.

The latest development in this scandal came on March 27, when VDARE was held “in Contempt of Court because we have not yet complied (because we were fighting it) with [James’] January 23, 2023 order that we meet NYAG James’ massive and crippling subpoena demands,” Peter Brimelow, VDARE’s founder and editor, wrote last week. “We have fought NYAG Letitia James, at a cost of up to $1 million, for nearly three years. But now we are literally hanging on the cross.”

VDARE has been the subject of a sustained campaign of harassment from powerful left-wing groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which went so far as to send activists to badger the residents of the small, 750-person West Virginia town where the outlet is based. Now, those activists and their allies in the governments of states like New York appear to have found their opening — and intend to take down every American who ever donated to, or wrote for, VDARE in the process. (After James’ office got ahold of Nikki Haley’s donor list in 2022, the list — “bearing a stamp from James’ office” — was mysteriously leaked to the media. One can only imagine whose hands the list of VDARE donors would accidentally fall into.)

L’affaire de VDARE has broad implications across any number of different issues: free speech and censorship, the unholy marriage — and subsequent weaponization — of public and private power, the limits of reasonable debate surrounding topics like immigration and race, and the use of nonprofit law to crush the speech of political dissidents. (It’s notable that the case against VDARE is being spearheaded by Rick Sawyer, New York’s “Special Counsel for Hate Crimes,” rather than anyone in the office’s charities bureau.) But at its heart, it’s a straightforward issue of basic and essential constitutional rights. If conservatives can’t be expected to defend those, then they can’t be expected to defend much of anything at all.

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Nate Hochman is a Writer at The American Spectator. Follow him on X at @njhochman).
Photo “Letitia James” by New York State Attorney General.





Appeared at and reprinted from The American Spectator

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